If Burmese food is seen as a traffic accident between Indian and East Asian sort of traditions – then I suppose Sri Lankan cuisine is a traffic accident of Southeast Asian and South Asian traditions. Of course, I am probably just talking out of my .. uh … whatever. All I know is that I had a lot of the pangs of my South Indian heritage when I went to Shakthi in beautiful Del Ray, Alexandria. I had heard about this place from the usual sources (Tyler Cowen), and the life partner had visited Sri Lanka before, so the intrigue was there. Of course, growing up in a Tamil household, I was curious whether Sri Lankan food offered something different AT ALL. Indeed, it does – Sri Lankan as Shakthi does it is both totally new yet remarkably familiar, much of the basics of South Indian cooking with very specific differences which fit with its geographic specifics.
I have had both take away and dining experiences, so I will stick with discussing the food. The menu has Thai and Indian sections – the former since it was a Thai place under prior management, the latter since how the hell will you sell a Sri Lankan restaurant to the masses? (like many other good places, it masks its true love under something more accessible) From the experience with the samosas, a bit sweet but very yummy, Shakthi negotiates standard issue Indian quite efectively. But the Sri Lankan stuff is the blocking and tackling here – and it is not at all unfamiliar to those familiar with Indian or Indian-Chinese food.
One of the major delicacies are the string hoppers – Idiyappam in my Tamil vernacular. However, instead of a sambhar based sauce -these are served with a sambal-coconut milk and either potato or fish curry. We’ve had both, and the heat is serious – but so is the flavor. The coconut and sambal combination allow for that heat with enough coconut sweetness keep it from being insane. The rice stick bundles sop it up wonderfully. It is a terrific, homey dish – but for me the star is the kotthu roti. This is a sort of inside out roti, where the roti instead of being a filled flatbread – is torn and cooked in with lamb and pepper and spices. This is an absolute knockout – the cumin comes through particularly – and the roti acts in almost the same way that noodles in a mee goreng do. It is such spaghetti and meatballs sort of comfort food – I could have eaten the whole box. Let’s stop discussing it now. The jackfruit curry in cocounut milk was also lovely – with a sneaky spice from black pepper which gives it more dimension than they had to.
It’s not dirt cheap, but the entrees were in the $8-14 range, so not unreasonable. I’ve had their Devil Shrimp – which is a solid stir fry Indian-Chinese sort of shrimp wok dish. It’s worthwhile but I’d stick with the other stuff. Just a taste of home with some totally different dimensions. It’s too far away to be a go-to for us, but when I can do it opportunistically, I must.