When Murray recently got a restaurant recommendation from a Sri Lankan diplomat, we were intrigued, and so a couple of weeks ago we met our son, Ben, and his boyfriend, Joe, for dinner at Sigiri, on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. According to the diplomat, Sigiri is the restaurant serving the most authentic Sri Lankan food in New York City.
I needed a quick geography and political lesson in order to feel at all legitimate in writing about Sigiri. Fortunately, my husband and my son were able to fill me in. Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon, is an island nation east of southern India. During its history, it was colonized by Portugal, Holland, and then Britain, finally gaining independence after World War II. For over 25 years, and officially ending only last May, Sri Lanka was embroiled in a civil war between the two main ethnic groups, the governing Sinhalese (who represent over 70% of the population) and the Tamil minority (about 20% of the population).
Both its geographic location and the countries that colonized Sri Lanka have contributed to its cuisine. Spices are used liberally; in fact, some Sri Lankan dishes are considered to be among the hottest in the world. Rice accompanies most items, and coconut milk is frequently used.
This is what we ate at Sigiri, items we selected in order to sample a range of dishes on the menu, and also including some recommendations
from our helpful waiter:
- Appetizer Sampler, which includes Dhal Vade (lentil patties), fish cutlet (salmon and potato), vegetable rolls (fried crepes filled with potato, carrot, leek and onion), and fish rolls (tuna and potato)
- Vegetarian String Hopper Kotthu, rice noodles stir-fried with onion, tomato, cabbage and egg
- Chicken Kotthu Roti, a Sri Lankan roadside specialty prepared from doughy pancakes shredded and stir fried with vegetables, onions, egg, and chicken
- Sri Lankan Style Pork Stew
- Dhal (lentil) curry, slow-cooked lentils in a coconut milk sauce
- Aapa, wafer-thin, bowl-shaped pancakes made from a fermented batter of rice flour and coconut milk
- Saffron rice with cashew nuts and raisins
And, yes, we also had dessert, as recommended by our waiter:
- Watalappam, a rich pudding of coconut milk, brown palm
sugar, cashew nuts, eggs, and various spices including cinnamon, cloves, cardamoms
- Banana Fritters, deep-fried crêpes filled with banana,
and served with ice cream
The food was all quite delicious. It was spicy, but not at all overwhelming, although I suspect it had been toned down for our American palates. The servings were ample, but not huge; we had a little left over to take home for lunch the following day. And the bill for the four of us, including tip but not including any beverage other than water, totaled only $110. We had been forewarned that Sigiri does not serve alcohol; still, you can bring your own beer or wine, which is exactly what we did.
We also had been forewarned that the restaurant is small
and very busy and sometimes requires that you wait before being seated. I tried to reserve a table in advance, but learned then that Sigiri does not accept reservations. Since our time was limited, we chose to
arrive early (around 6:00 pm) and had no issue getting a table. By the time we left, however, the restaurant was filled and people were signing up to wait for one of the 10-12 tables to free up.
By the way, in case it’s not already obvious, let me add that Sigiri is a perfect place for a vegetarian. And all major credit cards are accepted.
Where and When
91 First Avenue (between 5th and 6th streets)
New York, NY 10003
Open 7 days
12:30 pm to 11:00 pm
Dining room closed Sundays 3:30 pm - 5:30 pm to reset after buffet.