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9 Jul 2011

Ceylon Inn - Not 'Ceylon', Not 'Inn'

A dear friend of mine, who I stayed with during one of my travels,
introduced me to Sri Lankan cuisine. One dinner was all it took to get
me hooked. Hops and curries! Coconut Sambol. Finger-licking yummy.
I've been craving for Sri Lankan food ever since.

There is a great degree of similarity between Sri Lankan and South
Indian cuisine. It is a fine line, so it's easy to confuse one with
the other. The difference is easier to spot in the curries more easily
than any other dish. Sri Lankan curries have a distinctive flavour
that is simply not Indian. I cannot think of a way of describing the
subtle difference, you must try it to know what I mean.

Standing at a traffic light last week, when I went grocery shopping,
my eyes fell upon a brightly lit sign that read "Ceylon Inn". After
days of wandering in search of a Sri Lankan restaurant, imagine my
excitement to find one at walking distance from where I live! Shopping
and all other plans were immediately postponed as I headed straight to
the restaurant. I already had an idea of what I was going to order.
Hops and sambol, for sure. "Must try a new curry", I thought, as I
restlessly waited for the lights to turn green.

The ambience of the restaurant was warm. Not too harshly lit nor dark.
Once we were seated (my husband was with me) and ordered our drinks, I
quickly moved to the curries section of the menu. For the first 10
seconds, I told myself that the dishes with Indian names were merely
due to the similarity between the two cuisines. Then I thought it
might be possible that the restaurant catered to both cuisines. After
browsing through the entire menu twice and finding neither hops nor
sambol, I looked desperately for anything that did not sound Indian.
The only thing "Ceylon" was a signature dish of the restaurant which,
for all I know, was called Ceylon-something as in Ceylon Inn the
restaurant rather than Ceylon the country/cuisine. To say we were
disappointed is an understatement.

My husband wanted to leave but my stomach was growling and we had
ordered our drinks. It was too late. We shared a garlic naan, plain
paratha and a chicken dish. For our second course, we chose lamb
biryani. The food was good. My husband is not a big fan of the lamb
but he enjoyed the biryani, even had some of the lamb pieces in it.
The only paratha they had was not the stuffed variety you find in
Indian. For a second, I wondered if this was a Sri Lankan restaurant
after all. Maybe not the traditional kind. Maybe it was tailored for
the Aussie crowd.

Who am I kidding? It was an Indian restaurant with a name that was a
complete misnomer!

The restaurant was not too crowded but more than half the tables were
occupied. The staff was courteous. We didn't have to wait too long for
our food. Although we enjoyed the food, the dinner left us
unsatisfied. The kind of wanting that remains when you are looking for
something specific and have to settle for something else that is
equally good but not what you had in mind. A slight sense of feeling
cheated slipped in.

Tipping the waiters is not mandatory in the Aussie culture. It's
optional. In this instance, we felt like we owed them a tip. A funny
sense of obligation for not completely enjoying the experience despite
the fact that they did their best. So we did. I guess you could say it
scrubbed a bit of the guilt off me and I don't feel bad saying I'm
never going back there again. I would recommend it if someone asked me
for an Indian restaurant in the area. However, I don't think I can
ever enjoy a meal there. It's always going to remind me of the night I
went looking for Sri Lankan and was served Indian.