On Chungshan N Rd and Chungcheng Rd in Taipei's Tienmu district, big and popular restaurants are everywhere, a sign that this foreigners' enclave has become more commercialized. But if you prefer the older look of Tienmu -- a place where you can find small, cozy houses with exotic food -- many would recommend a place like Lanka Restaurant.
Fourteen years ago, Lanka Restaurant was the first restaurant in the area to serve authentic curries. Other curry houses have come and gone, but Lanka remains, on quiet Chungyi street, near Yangming Hospital. It is still Taipei's only Sri Lankan restaurant.
Owner Damian Chee (齊興盛), an overseas Chinese from Sri Lanka, settled in Tienmu with his Korean wife, Clarissa Kim (金福順). Finding it hard to find a decent curry house, Chee decided to bring Sri Lanka's home-style cuisine to Taipei.
Pumpkin curry, mutton curry and seafood curry are the most popular dishes in the house. The pumpkins have a tender and sweet taste despite being steeped in spicy gravy. It's a tasty vegetarian dish.
Apart from stew curry, Lanka also offers sauteed curry dishes. Here, the meat is sauteed with curry flavor spices and coconut meat. Dishes in this category include sauteed chicken with coconut and curry fried rice with beef. For those who are used to Chinese-style fried rice, the coconut curry flavored fried rice can offer a new taste sensation for the palate to savor.
One major feature of Sri Lankan curry cuisine is its use of coconut milk. This usually adds a smooth and sweet flavor. But it does not mean that Lanka's curries are less hot and spicy than Indian food. In fact, Lanka's "devil dishes" can give you more spice than Sichuan spicy hot pot. One peek at the red color of the dishes should give you enough warning as to the heat you are about to experience.
Address: 48, Chungyi St, Tienmu, Taipei (台北市忠義街48號)
Open: 1am to 2pm, 5pm to 9pm (Closed Monday lunch time)
Average meal: NT$200
Details: English menu, credit cards not accepted
Chee insists on using spices brought in by his brothers from Sri Lanka and he also grows curry leaves at his Taipei home, making sure Lanka's authentic tastes are maintained.
Lanka's reasonable prices are another plus. Sharing with four, having a few different curry dishes, a few coconut roti (coconut-flavored bread, also a must-try) and yellow rice, and maybe a glass of wine, will set you back around NT$ 300 -- much cheaper than any Indian restaurant in Taipei.
Finally, don't forget the side dishes of the house. Fried eggplant is sauteed pre-fried eggplant, with spices and coconut milk. Okra Fried is a cold dish, mixing lemon juice and tomatoes with pre-fried okra. These two are favorite dishes among foreigners. A cup of Ceylon milk tea and a pumpkin pudding can make for a nice ending to the meal.