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!]
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.