Saturday, June 27, 2009

Malay Food Festival at Galadari Coffee Shop

The festival is on till tonight (Sat 27th Jun 09)

When I was homesick for some Sri Lankan food, I used to go to a Malaysian restaurant. They had godamba roti (called it roti canai) and the chicken curry was identical to Sri Lankan chicken curry.

In Sri Lanka, though, there are almost no places to eat Malay food. So when I heard about the the (Sri Lankan) Malay Food Festival at the Galadari Coffee Shop (LKR 1400 nett per head), I didn't hesitate to bundle my wife into the car and go.

To ensure the food's authenticity, they had got actual Sri Lankan Malay housewives to stay in the hotel and assist the chefs.

I noticed two things about the food. The first is how different Sri Lankan Malay food is from Malaysian food. It seems like Sri Lankan Malay food started at Malaysian and evolved in its own way from there.

The second is how ordinary many of the Sri Lankan Malay dishes feel. Dishes like chicken curry, peanut and cashew curry, curried ash plantains, pittu, malay pickle and dodol are standard fare at the average Sinhala Buddhist table. To me, that signifies just how much the influence of the Malays, a relatively tiny minority, has shaped Sri Lankan cuisine.

They also had Malay songs and dances. Even these songs and dances feel very Sri Lankan.

When foreigners ask me about Sri Lankan cuisine, I always emphasise its Malay connections and downplay its similarities to Indian food. To me, our food is nothing like Indian food but a helluva lot like Malaysian. Go tonight and see for yourself.

PS: The Sri Lankan Malay community was out in force, dressed up to the nines - salwars, kurtas and cheongsams. Wear something nice and go.

PPS: If you know of any Malay restaurants (or eating places or holes in the wall) in Colombo, let me know in the comments...

Restaurant Name: Galadari Coffee Shop
Address: Galadari Hotel, 64 Lotus Road, Colombo 1
Phone: call +94 112 544 544 and ask for the Coffee Shop
Price: LKR 1,400 nett per head


  1. Yes, know the Malay roti canai and chicken curry thing as well and always order it when I go to Chinatown in NYC. Theres a lot more similarites, even as far as Philippines where Kankun and Bibika(n) common words.

    Regards Malay Restaurant: isnt there one next to Majestic Theatre in Bambalapitiya.

  2. That Malay restaurant is closed...but I've heard of one in Kotte. Am trying to visit there soon.

  3. It's Friday night and I'm stuck at work, VERY hungry and just stumbled on to your excellent website. I went to the Malay food festival too and yes, the food was remarkably close to Sri Lankan food. Did you have those sticky toffee-like things you'd posted a pic of? I loved them! And I remember seeing a dodol dish called dodol in Malay too.

  4. thanks for the blog.
    'When foreigners ask me about Sri Lankan cuisine, I always emphasise its Malay connections and downplay its similarities to Indian food'
    I find that strange. Sri Lankan food is very similar to Malay and Indian food too. They have all cross pollinated each other.
    Roti canai - Is a export that Tamils who went to Malaysia gave to the national malay cuisine - Canai- Chennai- formerly known as Madras in English but always known as Chennai by Tamils.
    I am always shocked that how very people know that most of our basic food is also shared by Indians ( especially Keralans and people from Tamiil Nadu - Pittu, Appa(m) and Indiyappa(m) are also eaten in Kerala and Tamil Nadu
    Coconut milk is a staple in most coastal Indian food too like Sri lnakan food.