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The Crying Pan’s guide to Sri Lankan food at Redbox, Ghusais.

People, I CAN talk about topics other than food. I swear. I really, truly can.

Mom has blamed me in the past for boring people to bits with my kabab and curry chatter – but it wasn’t me mamma, I’m telling you, IT WASN’T ME. I land up at places, and somehow, it’s the other people who trap me into a food conversation. And before you know it, the entire evening has whizzed past in this heated discussion of how to get your hands on the best kaati rolls in the city or personal shawarma joint picks.*

*both instances are based on real-life incidents. The first was at a family get-together where I walked in determined to NOT talk about food – until a generous friend debuted my food blog on our dinner table. I responded to restaurant questions in total fear that mommy on the other table would catch me in the midst of a sundry chatter-->food obsessing crime that I hadn’t committed. The second instance happened with a bunch of friends at a rooftop bar - drunk friends who were clearly not drunk enough to discuss shawarmas, but too drunk to remember the conversation the morning after. I don’t know who started the shawarma conversation, but I’m sure it was their fault.

Now that I’ve announced to the world that I am capable of conversing in complete coherent sentences without ‘crispy’ or ‘buns’ or ‘cheese’ shoved somewhere in the middle…let me tell you about this Sri Lankan restaurant in Ghusais called Redbox, that our corporate banker tipped me off about when he was down at our offices….yeah don’t say it...I know.

Sri Lankan food tends to have flavours that echo the ones in South Indian food – peppery spices, coconut, tons of rice flour…but it’s waaay spicier. My past experiences have brought me to tears, and this time, I decided that I’d be equipped with a backup plan…an exit mechanism…an ASS [Anti-Spice Strategy]. I called the restaurant to confirm whether they had yogurt in house to rescue me if needed, the mouth-foaming ear-smoking eye-tearing spice wimp that I am. They didn’t. And so, to avoid becoming the crying pan (™ vineetpabreja), I brought my own little yogurt cup from home. Laugh people, laugh. But when you have some of this stuff and wake up the next morning with a flaming tummy, come back to my blog and read this:

BURN Busta, BURRRRNNNN.

For the rest of you wise ‘uns, walk in with a mini tub of yogurt and this list of what to order…and what to skip.

ORDER: The Hoppers. 3 plain ones, 1 egg one. Served with a chutney-like side of red hot chilly katta sambol.

I’d suggest that you barbarically rip through one of these delicate little rice flour cups, just so you can feel how the crackly outer rim suddenly gets mushier and mushier until it becomes this baby soft coconutty-milky-sweet centre, so subtly milky soft that it inspires you – the once shameless hopper barbarian – to return to the table with newfound civility. With the violent act now a thing of the past, discreetly tug away little hopper pieces and dip into the closest curry or chutney-like thing you can find on the table.

Now every hopper order comes with 3 plain hoppers and 1 egg hopper. The coveted egg one was neatly divided between the six of us on the table. By the time I tasted it, and realized what it needed to go from good to great, my smidgen of the egg hopper was gone. DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN TO YOU. If you’re forced to go 1/6ths with friends on an egg hopper, salt and pepper the damn thing before you scarf it down. All eggs are born wanting a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and the one on an hopper will be no different.

SKIP: The Devilled Kingfish. A bunch of kingfish chunks dunked in a sweet and sour sauce, with red hot chilli flakes glistening through the orange saucey sheen. I’d ordinarily love this sauce at a Chinese restaurant, but when matched with the other classic Sri Lankan flavours on the table (coconut, chilli, cumin, coriander, black pepper…), it jangled my taste buds.

Also SKIP: The fried Prawns in Hot Garlic Sauce…in aforementioned sweet-sour sauce. Read above for why I’d do this sauce in China, but not in Sri Lanka.

ORDER: The Dhal Curry. Definitely got a big fat thumbs up from all the six on the table – and four of the thumbs were one with discerning Indian roots, ones who really know their details when it comes to daal. Redbox did this so well, keeping the spice on the down-low, amping up the earthiness, and tinging it with a background sweetness (coconut milk – amen.) that I will include in my daals someday…when I cook...something other than a turkey and lettuce sandwich…in some future state of my adulthood…lightyears away.

SKIP: The String Hoppers. Not because there’s something wrong with steamed strings of rice flour, but…but let’s put it this way: if I had a wall of rice flour fame and just one spot left on it, it’d go to the more texturally complex and coconutty hopper.

SKIP: An order of Godamba Roti, doughy elastic parcels of wheat that I’d much rather eat when they’re all shredded up and thrown together with chicken, beef, veggies, whatever you choose, as…

...ORDER: Kotthu Roti. This peppery mountain of shredded elasticky gothamba roti tangled up with meat and veggies is something that sort of grows on you…*chomp*…hmmm interesting…*chomp chomp*…mmm pretty decent…*chomp chomp chomp*…one more spoon mmmmmm….*chomp chomp chomp chomp*…acccck I CANTSTOPthisthinghascrackinit!! I don’t know why I kept eating it, I just don’t know why, but I continued picking at the plate and swirling the roti shreds in dollops of my home-brought yogurt…until the server finally snatched the few desolate roti strings away from me because it was dessert time. I may have to go back to put my finger on precisely what was so addictive.

ORDER: The Chicken Lamprais. Order it, because I damn well couldn’t. This banana-leaf wrapped bundle of steamed rice and fish cutlets that I’d fallen in love with when I first tried Sri Lankan food (ironically, in New York.) is a weekend special only – and Saturday is not a Redbox weekend. I left lamprais-less, and it broke my heart.  I can’t write it loud enough, if you go here, GO ON A FRIDAY because I can bet this lamprais ROCKS. And if it doesn’t, just pleasure yourself with a pile of kottu roti and all will be well.

ORDER: The Woodapple drink. Just because it’s a great dinner topic and a post-dinner facebook wall discussion debate. Didi was adventurous enough to order it, and generous enough to let everyone have a sampler taste. Reactions:Tastes like eggnog, sans alcohol…interesting, wonder what woodapple looks like……ACK, peptobismol…I sorta like it …*WRETCH* waaattt—errr! (that last one would be me).

SKIP: The exotic-sounding, suspense-inducing Wattalappam, which was really just a pseudonym for grayish-brownish flan. What a tease.

ORDER [only if you must have something sweet to extinguish the fire. Else SKIP.]: The Bibikkan coconut cake. Moist, fruity, coconutty…not the most spectacular of desserts, but I do like a slice of sweet-soaked fruit cake on occasion, so why not. Plus, it sort of jived well with the skippy Abba music they had playing the background.

With five Orders, five Skips, 1 Order…else Skip, and an empty cup of yogurt, I’m divided on whether I’d go back to Redbox. I’d almost HAVE to, just for the traditional Sri Lankan chicken lamprais that I’ve hoisted high on this shining pedestal at the centre of my food loving brain. Redbox also had these store-baked buns and pastries and crazy crocodile bread that sadly hadn’t lasted through till dinner time, so I still need to go back and do some carb-sampling. Plus Vineet admitted lusting after the kottu roti and daal two days later. Methinks I’ll be back at Redbox at some point, with an ambition to try the untested dishes on the menu, with insider knowledge on the hoppers and kottu roti and daal…and with my trusty tub of yogurt.

[psssst...thanks to my dining partners in crime: Vineet, Amin, Angela, Didi and Kat!]

Redbox
Phone: +971 (4) 258 3318
Directions:  Drive to Dubai Grand Hotel on Damascus Street in Ghusais (directions here). Dubai Grand Hotel should be on your left. Continue driving to the next main traffic light, cross the light and take the first right into the service road. As you drive into the service lane, you will see a Dominos, and then Redbox.





12 Comments

  1. The first one looks like appam that we make in Kerala and then the rice noodles too.. There are such similarities between the food that we (keralites and Sri Lankans) eat. I would like to check out a Srilankan restaurant in Bahrain, if there is one.

  2. Now I know what to order at other Sri Lankan restos. And the woodapple drink will not be on that order list I tellya!

  3. Farwin

    Good thinking on you part being armed with a tub of yogurt,Arva.I must admit,being a Srilankan,most of these dishes make me shed tears too.We normally work around it.
    As for the hoppers,a light brush of katta sambal will be more than enough.Or avoid it altogether and dunk the piece of hopper in a curry or dhal.
    I normally avoid the devilled stuff,it makes me do a devillish dance,frantically searching for something to soothe my foaming mouth.
    As you said,the Gothamba roti is much pleasent in a kotthu or soaked in loads of gravy.It’s a mix of flour,oil and water and way different than the coconut roti in my post.
    As for the string hoppers,what I don’t see is a very mild,coconut milk gravy(called ’pal aanam’ or milk curry) to soak the threads in.String hoppers without milk curry and a side of coconut sambal is simply unacceptable.
    Bravo Didi,for ordering the woodapple drink,too bad you didn’t like it.We normally don’t order those stuff coz I know I will never be satisfied with the restaurant versions.It’s normally made of woodapple pulp,coconut milk and jaggery,strained and chilled,and served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream back at home.Like a delicious smoothie.
    Don’t bother ordering the desserts next time,you’re better off with a bar of Bounty.Trust me!
    Just my two cents,guys :)

    • Hahaha! I really want the authentic Sri Lankan drink Farwin. But IF you would prepare another drink as you’ve described, I think I would be give it a second chance :-)

    • Farwin

      sure,Didi.Wait till I find some woodapple.Never saw any here.

    • InaFryingPan

      @Didi & @Farwin – Wow, the woodapple drinks takes the limelight yet again and makes Comment Headlines. I think if the flavour was totally morphed with coconut milk and jaggery and ice cream, hells yeah, I would chug it down.

      …and darling @Farwin – Thanks for the super informative comment! To Redbox’s credit, they did serve the string hoppers with coconut sambal and dhal curry…but no coconut milk gravy reached our table. Had the string hoppers been dunked in sweet coconutty gravy, that *might* have tipped the scales in favour of them …but without that tinge of coconut flavour, my carb-of-choice award still goes to the hoppers.
      And I’m with you on the Bounty. Looove bounty.
      [Yep, if it wasn’t obvious already, I’m nuts over coconut.]

  4. Saleem

    Can’t remember the name of the small Sri Lankan Joint we had dinner in Karama, food was great and we had to wait to get a table – it was a very small and authentic resturant.

    Redbox looks to be more cleaner than the one we had been to in Karama, guess need to explore them out.

  5. Arva, I love Sri Lankan food, and totally agree, it is way up on the spice hill!! Brilliant idea to take your own yoghurt, and this is one tip I will be doing very often!! I really enjoyed reading this post and am definitely gonna try this place, you made me hungry and totally drooling right now!! Thanks for this fab find :)

    • InaFryingPan

      @Saleem – dad, that was Chef Lanka :) loved it too, though I need to try both Redbox and Chef Lanka again to figure out which one I like better. Next trip to Redbox will be with you!

      @Dima Sharif – Tell me what you think when you’ve tried it Dima, and try Chef Lanka in Karama too, it’s got my discerning daddy’s approval! ;) [see comment above!]

  6. Oh, I have only recently had Sri Lankan food but I absolutely love it. This meal looks insanely good!

  7. Panda cabral

    I have heard lanki food is spicy -very spicy but haven’t tried it yet. Will have to explore places here in London I cud use some spice to the food I eat everyday!

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