[Penang, Malaysia] Sri Lankan dinner at ๐— ๐˜‚๐—ป๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ถ ๐— ๐—ฒ๐˜„๐˜€

We dropped into Muntri Mews for a Sri Lankan dinner, made possible by its newly-appointed head chef, Dumindu Bamunu, who was previously the head chef at the award-winning Galle Fort Hotel back in Sri Lanka.

Started off with some cocktails - no Sri Lankan specialties offered, so we settled for a margarita and a mojito.

The starter was Kottu Roti - griddle-fried paratha pieces with shrimps and vegetables. Itโ€™s weird to have Sri Lankan street food transferred onto a formal dining table as a starter.

I remembered having the kottu roti prepared the way itโ€™s done in the streets - noisy clanging of two metal spatulas on the griddle - at Nanaโ€™s Toyna in Colombo, Sri Lanka, last year. That was also where the late Anthony Bourdain came for his fill of Sri Lankan street food.

Our main course was served as an all-in-one dinner platter of rice, surrounded by a selection of curried meats and vegetables.

The spice level, I must say, has been dialed down to cater to the local Penang palate. Penangites are already on the upper tier of Malaysians with a high threshold for chilis but, believe me, the Sri Lankans are in a totally different league up there compared to the Malaysians or Singaporeans.

The desserts were the classic Sri Lankan creme brulee: Watalappam, and a soothing yoghurt with jaggery, perfect for calming oneโ€™s tongue after the baptism of fire by the fiery curries.

Address
Muntri Mews Cafe
77, Muntri Street, 10200 George Town, Penang
Tel: +04-263 6125
Opening hours: 8am to 11pm daily

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The platter looks so good. The crockery is colourful.

Is Sri Lankan food in Sri Lanka even too spicy for you?

I have never tasted Sri Lankan food before. Am waiting to eat it at the source. Hope itโ€™s not similar to Indian food, which my system canโ€™t tolerate.

There was a similar dish on the menu of the SL restaurant we went to the other night. Apparently a traditional preparation dating back to the Dutch colonial period and, specifically, the Burgher community (mixed race Dutch/SL folk). Made me wonder if it was similar to the Dutch colonial influences that get you the rijstaffel in Indonesian restaurants in the Netherands.

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Oh yes, but I always knew that. I had my baptism of fire where Sri Lankan food is concerned back in the early 1980s during my university days in Australia. We had quite a few Sri Lankan college mates and, one evening, on the last day of the final Test cricket match between Australia and Sri Lanka, one of them invited us over to his place for a Sri Lankan dinner, right after the televised match. His wife cooked for us all - 5 dinner guests, and I was the only non-Sri Lankan.

The meal was so spicy - NOTHING I ever tasted in Singapore or Malaysia came ANYWHERE near to the spice levels I experienced that evening! My tongue was totally anesthetized. :joy:

I remembered my friend looking pretty concerned at my expression during the meal, so he offered me the cucumber salad , which he said would cool me down. Thanks a heap - the cucumber saladโ€™s dressing was concentrated birdโ€™s eye chili puree!! It made his wifeโ€™s Devil curry seemed harmless in comparison!

I was in Sri Lanka last year, and had a wonderful time, with very interesting food finds every day! I was supposed to be back there this April, but had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. Iโ€™m waiting for all this COVID nightmare to be over so I can go back there again.

Sri Lankan food is quite similar to Keralan (and some Tamil) food in Southern India.

I think you may not be able to take Sri Lankan, as I myself found the dishes a bit too spicy for my liking.

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The Indonesian rijstaffel meal is much more elaborate, John, with the curries sometimes laid out in different plates like a buffet spread on the dining table, for one to pick and choose from.

The signature Burgher meal in Sri Lanka would be the Lamprais, where different curried meats and vegetables were wrapped together with rice in a banana leaf parcel, then baked. We had that at the Pagoda Tea Rooms in Colombo last year:

Yep, Iโ€™ve had rijstaffel a couple of times in Amsterdam. First time, really good. They had the dishes arranged from mild to hot and advised eating it in that order, so you didnt kill your taste buds too soon. Second time, last year - very much a tourist trap.

Lamprais! Thatโ€™s it - couldnt recall the name. Guy on the next table was having it - definitely one to try next time.

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When you reach the point which you canโ€™t taste the food then itโ€™s not enjoyable anymore. But some people have extremely high spice/heat tolerance and itโ€™s enjoyable to them.

In this case Iโ€™d gladly accept the tourists versions of the local dishes.

PS: interesting that the word โ€œlompโ€ is used in โ€œlomprijstโ€ which โ€œLampraisโ€ derives from. Itโ€™s an old word, almost no longer used nowadays. Just means rude, or coarse.

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I vaguely remember the name. Is there a hotel on site? If so, I think we stayed there 1 or 2 nights as a splurge before departing Penang. I remember the food being delicious but pricey (with a lovely atmosphere to boot). But maybe the cafe is completely different from the hotel which Iโ€™m (poorly) remembering. I probably posted on CH some years ago.

Fortunately, B and I both like spice.

Itโ€™s amazing how old Europeans words which had disappeared from modern-day usage still pop up in their pidgin versions.

I had a couple of Portuguese friends who holidayed in Malaysia, and I asked them to visit Malacca, which was a former Portuguese colony in the 16th-century. There is also still a Portuguese-Eurasian community there who speak a language called Kristang (Macauโ€™s own Creole-Portuguese language, Patua, was also very much influenced by Kristang).

My friends met a group of young boys in their early teens at the Portuguese Square, who were busking with their guitars, and tried to speak to them in Portuguese, but realized that the boys could not understand the language. So, they asked the boys to sing any old Kristang songs that they may know. The boys sung an old childrenโ€™s nursery rhyme - and my friends were astonished to hear really old Portuguese words, dating back centuries, being used!

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Muntri Mews have rooms, too, so you may have stayed there.

But, could you also have stayed at the Seven Terraces? Itโ€™s on Stewart Lane, just 5 minutesโ€™ walk up the road from Muntri Street. It has its own restaurant, too - Kebaya.

I remember a documentary a few years back where someone who could speak โ€œold Englishโ€ (Anglo-Saxon) was introduced to someone who could speak โ€œold Dutchโ€. They could understand each other perfectly well.

By the by, I wondered if our word here, lomp, had the same derivation as the English word โ€œlumpenโ€ - an out of use word for ugly, or similar. Marx & Engels used it, in similar fashion, to describe the "lumpen proletariat ".

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I had to check CH because my memory is not cooperating. Yep, we did in fact stay at Muntri Mews back in Jan 2012. However, we didnโ€™t have Sri Lankan food - we ordered asam laksa and gado-gado. I donโ€™t remember if they were serving Sri Lankan at that time but now, if they were, I wish had tried it out.

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No, Muntri Mews only offered Malay cuisine when you were there. Towards the end of last year, the whole kitchen team upped and left. I later found out that they joined the Lagenda Malay restaurant team, and opened a new Malay restaurant, Irama Dining:

The new Sri Lankan head chef, Dumindu Bamunu, just came on board right afterwards.

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Day 31 of the COVID lockdown here in Penang. Lunch was take-out from Muntri Mews - the Sri Lankan set for two, priced at MYR60 (US$14.60), inclusive of free home delivery. An absolute bargain, compared to those from other hotels/restaurants which are priced 40%-50% higher.

  1. ๐Š๐ฎ๐ค๐ฎ๐ฅ ๐Œ๐š๐ฌ ๐Œ๐ข๐ซ๐š๐ฌ๐š๐ญ๐š (spicy red chicken curry) - lesser-spiced than I expected. I think the Sri Lankan spice-level has been reduced to cater to the Penang palate. Mind you, Penangites do have a very high chili-tolerance, just not at the gelignite-level of the Sri Lankans.

  2. ๐Œ๐š๐ฅ๐ฎ ๐Š๐ฎ๐ญ๐ฅ๐ž๐ญ๐ฌ (crisp-fried fish cutlets) - the crispy crust shattered at the lightest bite, to yield moist, flavorsome mashed potato-fish-meat interior.

  3. ๐Š๐จ๐ฌ ๐Š๐ข๐ซ๐š๐ญ๐š (young jackfruit curry in coconut milk) - this was my favorite dish for the meal: the unripe jackfruit has a nice, firm texture, and very nicely complemented by the subtly-spiced, coconut milk-enriched, turmeric-scented gravy.

  4. ๐Š๐š๐ซ๐ข๐ฐ๐ข๐ฅ๐š ๐’๐š๐ฆ๐›๐จ๐ฅ (bitter-gourd salad) - a rather sharp-tasting salad, with nice crunchy textures.

Authentic Sri Lankan flavours were ensured by its Head Chef, Dumindu Bamunu, who was previously the sous chef at the award-winning Galle Fort Hotel in Sri Lanka.

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Day 535 since Malaysia started its Movement Control Order (MCO) back in 18 March 2020.

We ordered Muntri Mewsโ€™ take-out Sri Lankan lunch set for two today, with complimentary home delivery.

Todayโ€™s lunch set consisted of:
๐™†๐™ช๐™ ๐™ช๐™ก ๐™ˆ๐™–๐™จ ๐™†๐™ž๐™ง๐™–๐™ฉ๐™– - chicken curry with coconut milk. Sri Lankan chicken curry is pretty similar to Indonesian or Malay chicken curries: they used small pieces of chicken, de-skinned, and cooked in a blend of dry spices: cumin, coriander, chili powder, fennel, cardamom, etc. Slow-cooked, caramelized onions/shallots provided the sweetness, and coconut milk lends a comforting richness. The version here was pretty good, but the chicken seemed tougher/drier than Iโ€™d expected - as if the chicken pieces were twice-cooked, i.e. pre-fried or baked, before adding to the curry sauce.

๐™„๐™จ๐™จ๐™ค ๐˜ฝ๐™–๐™™๐™ช๐™ข๐™– - devilled prawns. This is one of the iconic local street food stir-fries that seemed pretty ubiquitous when one eats out in Sri Lanka: basically prawns cooked with green and red peppers, and quite a lot of onions, all flavored with chili power, turmeric and, get this, ketchup! The rendition here was spicier than Iโ€™d expected, but quite tasty.

๐™๐™–๐™ฉ๐™๐™ช๐™–๐™ก๐™– ๐™†๐™–๐™ง๐™ž๐™ฎ๐™– - beetroot curry. This dry curry derived its rich flavors from the addition of copious amounts of fresh coconut milk. Iโ€™d always loved beetroot and will eat it in any form - but the Sri Lankans were the first people to introduced me to curried beetroot.
The word โ€œcurryโ€ may be a bit for misnomer here - in Sinhalese, the dish was called beetroot vyanjanaya and seemed more like a relish. Flavored with tempered spices like turmeric and cinnamon, and perhaps the tiniest smidgen of curry powder, it gets its sweetness from caramelized onions, its fragrance from curry leaves and pandan leaves, and with some sharp flavors from garlic and green chilis.
This was my favorite dish at lunch today.

๐™‚๐™ค๐™ฉ๐™ช ๐™†๐™ค๐™ก๐™– ๐™Ž๐™–๐™ข๐™—๐™ค๐™ก - pennywort salad. Iโ€™m not a massive fan of pennywort, and this version did not change my mind. The shredded pennywort leaves were tossed with freshly-grated coconut, sliced shallots, green chilis, garlic, ginger, pepper and perhaps some cumin. Lime juice were added to give the salad a lip-puckering sourness. Not a fan.

To cook these at home oneself, I always go back to one of Publis Silva (Sri Lankaโ€™s own culinary legend)'s cookbooks. Heโ€™s written 25 cookbooks at the last count!

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Making noodles. Phongdien Town, Cantho City, Southern Vietnam.
Credit: CiaoHo