Our adventures in Sri Lanka had almost come to an end. We had 24 hours left in Colombo, Sri Lanka before we left for Bangkok, Thailand. Colombo is the capital city of Sri Lanka. It’s similar to larger cities in the states – public transportation (bus), hotels, bars, restaurants, cultural highlights. It was the biggest city we stayed in while in Sri Lanka. So how did we spend our precious time?
The Red Mosque
We checked into our hotel in Colombo then got to walking around. Our first stop was “The Red Mosque” or Jami-Ul Alfar Mosque.
As you can tell from the exterior, the red color is why the nickname sticks. With its geometric designs and bright color it is truly a sight to see in real life. We were unsure if we were allowed to go in. There was a man who noticed us taking photos from the other side of the street to get the “perfect picture.” He said, “Go inside, go inside!” We asked, “Oh, can we go inside?” He was a Muslim man and he said, “Yes! Everyone is welcome to go inside, every one is welcome in the mosque.” I’m glad he reassured us, because I don’t know if we would’ve peeked in – we never want to appear like we are tourists barging in to somewhere not for tourists.
At the main entrance we took off our shoes and I wrapped my head and shoulders in the elephant shawl/wrap we bought in Hikkaduwa. It just happened to be afternoon prayer time, so many men were in the mosque praying on their knees and reciting prayers led by a clergyman. It was powerful to hear the voices echo against the beautiful interior of the mosque. The mosque has many floors and an open air ceiling. There was what looked to be a large wading pool that people were washing their feet off in.
After our visit we went back to the hotel, cooled off (it was hot! In the 80s that day), charged our cell phones and left for the scheduled Geoffrey Bawa House tour.
I had never heard of Geoffrey Bawa before. One of Paul’s old bosses is from Thailand and mentioned we should go to the Bawa house while in Sri Lanka. Bawa was a Sri Lankan architect. He is most famously known for being the father of tropical modernism; this is a design movement in which local context (local structures, design, lifestyle) combines with the principles of modernism. This style emphasizes building the architecture to compliment natural surroundings, rather than knock down nature for building. For example – on the tour he had a lot of small ponds and beautiful trees in his home. His style reflects the combination of East and West architecture, decoration and design.
The tour lasted about an hour and that included a 10 minute video at the beginning. The video explained Bawa’s biography and career. Then you get to explore the house with a tour guide. Space is limited and there are only two tours a day – so book ahead.
Personally, my favorite things I saw in Bawa’s house was how he combined east and west design/decor. His design colors in this particular house were mostly black and white, so the tropical details (big green palm fronds, bamboo structures) and colors stood out against the black and white colors. I love that he planned his bed to line up directly with a huge frangipani tree outside his window, so in the morning he awoke to that nice view.
You can even rent a room and stay in Bawa’s house during your vacation. It’s reasonably priced, but book ahead because everyone is clamoring to stay in this historic home. Book tour and hotel room via the site http://www.geoffreybawa.com/
After the tour we went back to our hotel, showered and got dressed up a bit nicer than usual for a night out on the town. By nicer I mean abandoning my stretchy elephant pants and tank tops.
We began the evening at the Sky Lounge rooftop bar at The Kingsbury Hotel. The hotel looks very luxurious from the inside. Bouquets of roses and columns that are fish aquariums.
Once you get past the lobby, go to the elevator and treat yourself to some cocktails. This is not an inexpensive bar choice, but the sunset view over Colombo while sipping a tasty cocktail is worth the $20 you will spend.
After the bar we headed to Ministry of Crab.
Ministry Of Crab
We’d seen the restaurant sign at breakfast time when we were at the Old Dutch Hospital. As you can guess from the name, this is an outdoor restaurant, boutique area that was converted from an Old Dutch hospital building built in 1677.
We didn’t know what to expect, but we did know we wanted to eat crab. The place was busy and we had to wait 15 minutes for a table. After that meal was done, I would’ve waited an hour or more for this dinner. This was hands down one of the best meals I have had during this 5+ month journey around the world.
Everything about this restaurant is on point. Presentation, wait staff, food. The vibe is a touch of kitsch with high-end culinary adventures.
We started the meal out with Lion beer and oyster shooters. The restaurant doesn’t call them shooters though, they are “oyster sixers” – served with an aged soy sauce that the head chef started 20 years ago, and a homemade hot sauce. You can add vodka or not for 2,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($12.00). The dish comes out in the best shooter presentation I’ve seen. You get six shot glasses containing an oyster each. Next to this is a cup of ice with glass test tubes filled with the aged soy sauce, the homemade hot sauce, and vodka. You are free to experiment with each, mix and match so every shooter you have has a different combo or taste.
For our mains we got Pepper Crab and Garlic Chili crab. Pepper curry is a classic Sri Lankan dish. This dish was made using hand crushed peppercorns, whole peppercorns, and a pepper stock, fused with Sri Lankan spices. The Garlic Chilli Crab was a blend of Italian olive oil, garlic, Sri Lankan chilli flakes, and Japanese soy sauce. On the side, we got Kade bread – wood fired Sri Lankan bread drizzled with butter and olive oil.
The crab we ate was the best crab I’ve eaten in my life. The crab they catch eat coconuts and you can taste that sweetness in the meat. The crabs were huge, juicy, and oh so flavorful. Both sauces were epic, b my favorite was the Garlic Chili sauce. Even though I was full we were sopping up the leftover sauce with the kade bread till the plate was spotless.
As we were in the Nirvana of our meal, I saw that they offered aprons, t-shirts for sale at the restaurant. The sales go to a local charity. My dad is a great cook and I knew he’d love this souvenir. We asked the waiter for one. The aprons have different styles designed by the different chefs at the restaurant. I picked the head chef’s. His name is Dharshan Munidasa. He was featured on “Parts Unknown” with Anthony Bourdain. The waiter said, “Oh he is here tonight if you’d like him to sign the apron as well?” Of Course! I replied. Then, Chef Munidasa CAME TO OUR TABLE, signed the apron and chatted with us. We were able to tell him how much we loved the meal and the restaurant. He asked where we were from and he said, “Oh I went to John Hopkins in Baltimore.” It’s a small world. What a treat it was to have such a special souvenir to bring back to my Dad. A perfect ending, to the perfect 24 hours in Colombo.