Tucked away near the end of busy Glebe Point Road, about a few minutes walk before you hit the Glebe foreshore, is this unassuming Sri Lankan Street Food restaurant that is the second outpost of the Dish Dining restaurants [there’s another one at Toongabbie]. It’s next to a vintage Cafe, a deli and an IGA, and is only a block down from the well established Toxteth Hotel pub.
With a street banner sign that looks like it was written in giant black texta for a school assignment, and a quiet dark interior with minimal decor, this place is easy to miss, and that would be a mistake.
Dish dining Sri Lankan Street Food Restaurant is a surprise delight and a welcome addition to Sydney’s demanding food scene.
Before I ate here, all I knew about Sri Lankan food was that they used a lot of coconut and shared cultural underpinnings with South Indian cuisine. And I have to confess that Sri Lankan cuisine is not the top of my favourite foods list. This wasn’t my culinary pick.
I came here to meet a good friend, ‘Pimp my Plate’ tour guide Awia Markey, who is quite the chef herself, and a true gastronome. She picked this on the recommendation of a friend, and I was tentatively hopeful but dubious. A place that claims to be Sri Lankan Street food better live up to the hype.
For those who don’t know, Sri Lankan food is an aromatic, spiced cross between South Indian Food and Malaysian cuisine but less of the extreme burning spice that scares some Westerners off South East Asian cuisine.
A cursury glance at the menu showed some reasonably priced dosas, hoppers, rotis, curries and finger foods. And the drinks ranged from chic herbal and iced teas to the gold standard of mango lassis garnished with cashews.
We ordered a koti gala hopper and a balun musa dosa, some rotis and mango lassis. We wavered over the Lamprais, and the begum feast.
We weren’t sure what to expect but what we got was delicious savoury food that felt healthy and hearty without being heavy.
The Koti gala hopper was some fine lacy noodle doilies, with turmeric infused scrambled eggs, and grilled tomatoes with a dhal and coriander salsa.
The balun dosa was a mustard coloured yellow savoury crepe made with rice flour, and a came with a mild green coconut chutney, another red tangy chutney, an avocado salsa, and what looked like a small broth of samba curry. The rotis’ were accompanied by small side dishes of chickpea curry and yellow dhal. I am now officially on the roti train and shall seek them out next time.
For those who have never eaten a roti, they are a round flatbread that come straight off a hot plate. that taste similar to chapatis but they are lighter and flakier. Commonly eaten in India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. The Sri Lankan style roti is a paler affair than the Indian ones i’ve seen, and I much prefer it.
I had to ask for raita to accompany the meal which is mystifying as I felt it should automatically come with it. But then I always feel that about Indian, Nepalese and Sri Lankan curries and flatbreads – raita, the indian cucumber and yoghurt side dish that is similar to tzatziki, improves everything. I was brought up to have a yoghurt side dish with all curries and dosas, as it gentles the stomach so that you don’t rush to the toilet after consuming spicy savoury food, and it’s an pleasant edible contrast to the earthiness of the curries.
Street Food is the new trend hitting the food scene around the world, with Aussie chef, Luke Nguyen, touring the streets of Asia and discovering tasty delicacies you don’t get in the kitchens of Sydney, and Brit chef, Ainslie Harriot has gotten in on the act with his off-the-beaten-track food discoveries across Africa. I’ve been waiting for this trend to sweep Sydney. It hasn’t yet but it’s slowly trickling in. I’ve seen lots of Thai Street Food joints opening up such as Bangkok Bites in Newtown.
But the driving force behind the international renaissance of Street Food is this social push to get back to the basics – fast, cheap-ish, healthy, food that you’d eat on the streets of the big cities, or the hideaways in village towns.
Street Food is about throwing away the snobbery of haute cuisine and rediscovering what the locals have always known – that finger food and meals from the food carts, street stalls, and backyard kitchens, are super tasty, fresh and inventive, and far more egalitarian than the stuff you pay $100 per head to consume. Street Food is everywhere across Asia, and Africa, and South America. It’s the stories that backpackers treasure, and tourists dare the backwater routes to experience.
I’m not sure how ‘street’ this Dish Dining Sri Lankan place is, but it’s a start. The lamprai, a mixture of meat, eggs and rice and spices wrapped in banana leafs like a pillow, that our adjoining customers ordered, looked very tempting indeed. And the dosa we shared was smaller than the usual massive sized dosa I’d get at Maya’s on Cleveland street or Kammadhenu’s in Newtown. Those dosas are like large savoury crepe rolls the size of the Magna Carta. I almost suspect that the chefs do write an agreement on them when they’re bored.
And whilst the prices weren’t as cheap as true street food. [You buy these delicacies for a few dollars on the streets of Asia – but then they don’t have the astronomical rents that afflict Sydney]. At $16 and $18 a dish – they were affordable. Most dishes fall between $12 to $20. That won’t break the bank for an afternoon lunch outside.
We need to reclaim food diversity in Sydney. More street food places and uncommon cuisines are needed if we are to have any chance of being the premier city that we keep saying we are. At the moment, Melbourne and Hobart have stolen the culinary crown that should have rightfully been ours.
I looked at our lacy looking hoppers, and our yellow mid-sized dosa and though I could travel down the streets of Asia eating these.
Certainly they looked like something I would buy from a street stall in Sri Lanka. And that is a start.