Discover the exotic taste of Sri Lankan food

Lunch is an appetising affair with crab curry, a fresh tasting pegaga salad, tangy sambal prawns, chicken peratal, minced shark meat and crispy pappadums with rasam. — Pictures by Choo Choy May
Lunch is an appetising affair with crab curry, a fresh tasting pegaga salad, tangy sambal prawns, chicken peratal, minced shark meat and crispy pappadums with rasam. — Pictures by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 — We love how Malaysians are passionate about good food and sharing where you can find it, like this particular Secret Eat which serves Sri Lankan Tamil food.

You know you’re on to a good thing when your email inbox is flooded with multiple recommendations from readers all pointing to this place in Kuala Lumpur. Each email was peppered with various tips on what to eat there. I even discovered the origin of its name that pays tribute to the Tamil word for a particular area in Sri Lanka.

It took me some time to spot this place though, since I was not familiar with the surrounding area. Located smack in the busy city, the eatery is just next to two 4D shops that have a continuous stream of punters trying their luck. Even though it’s been around for two years, the place still has a temporary feel about it since it has no proper signboard but just a banner proclaiming its name.

The place is run by N. Pratheepan, 33, who migrated from Sri Lanka about 10 years ago. He insists that his food tastes different from that at other places, since he uses fresh coconut milk and no MSG. Occasionally you see him popping into the kitchen, as he also juggles looking after the front-of-the-house. His trusty assistant in the kitchen is his camera-shy aunt, R. Radha.

Owner N. Pratheephan with the lunch spread.
Owner N. Pratheephan with the lunch spread.

Previously, the eatery operated from a shack for four years before it relocated to the present premises. In addition, they also cater food for a private college’s canteen located in Petaling Jaya. On weekdays, curries and vegetables served in their daily lunch spread is packed and transported down to the Petaling Jaya stall. Customers also get them to do catering at their homes where they’ll cook appam and Sri Lankan thosai on the spot.

Breakfast -- served from 7am to 10.30am daily -- is an eye opener, since it’s not the usual ho-hum fare. They do serve standard items like roti canai (a not oily layered version) but most patrons go for the more unusual items. You get a range of putu items here, like the familiar putu mayam or string hoppers made from steaming delicate strings of rice flour paste extruded from a special mould.

The putu mayam is eaten with brown sugar or curry. For a more substantial meal, some patrons pair it with vegetarian fried spring rolls. The string hoppers are also transformed into a rarely seen putu goreng where the thin vermicelli-like strands are stir-fried with chopped ingredients. We tried the vegetarian version, a mild tasting dish with diced carrots, aubergines, onions and curry leaves. What uplifts the rather bland dish is the addition of the bright orange coconut sambal.

Another putu variant is shaped like a cylinder, layered with grated coconut and wrapped in banana leaf. Unlike the smooth putu mayam, this putu has a coarser texture that crumbles into small bits when you break it up with your fork. Since we were at a loss on how to eat this, some helpful patrons taught us to pair it with bananas. You mash and mix it with the ripe bananas to give it a slight sweet taste. If you prefer an even sweeter taste, sprinkle a little brown sugar over the mix. For a savoury breakfast, the putu can be paired with curry and coconut sambal.

For an unusual breakfast, try the putu goreng with the unique coconut sambal (left). You get a sweet tasting breakfast by mixing putu with mashed bananas and a little brown sugar (right).
For an unusual breakfast, try the putu goreng with the unique coconut sambal (left). You get a sweet tasting breakfast by mixing putu with mashed bananas and a little brown sugar (right).

Being unfamiliar with the food served here, we observed what the other patrons were eating and discovered the Sri Lankan thosai. Unlike the usual thosai served in Indian shops, the texture is akin to a soft pancake rather than the usual thin crispy crepe. It’s also tinged yellow from turmeric powder and sprinkled with chopped onions.

According to Pratheepan, the Sri Lankan version uses urad dhal and rice flour, coconut milk and turmeric rather than a urad dhal and rice paste. It’s an appetising item especially with the aromatic coconut chutney and their dhal which is a watery version with visible chickpeas rather than a processed paste. 

The chicken peratal or dry chicken curry is a must for all households (left). Similar to a pancake, the Sri Lankan thosai is paired with dhal, coconut sambal and chutney (right).
The chicken peratal or dry chicken curry is a must for all households (left). Similar to a pancake, the Sri Lankan thosai is paired with dhal, coconut sambal and chutney (right).

Bring a big appetite for breakfast as the restaurant also serves delicate appams or hoppers cooked upon order. You can order the hoppers cooked with the coconut milk or served on the side as a dip. It’s best cooked with the milk, as the edges of the appam are crispy while the center is still soft and slightly wobbly. If the milk is omitted, the centre’s texture is spongier.

As we tuck into our breakfast, one of the patrons next to us started explaining all the unusual items. Kana Galingam, 71, is a regular who comes here for the putu goreng and the coconut sambal. According to him, the food here is unique since it’s the only place that serves the coconut sambal – freshly grated coconut mixed with a blend of red chillies, ginger and onions. He also points out that their coconut chutney also packs a fragrant punch compared to that in other places. The mix of coconut, coriander and chillies with a hint of tamarind makes it extremely addictive and I end up finishing the portion with the Sri Lankan thosai.

It’s hard to stop at just one brown sugar appam with its soft wobbly centre.
It’s hard to stop at just one brown sugar appam with its soft wobbly centre.

Once breakfast is over, the patrons look forward to the lunch offering which is rolled out by noon. It’s a huge spread of vegetables and curries all kept in unglazed clay pots rotated on a daily basis. What draws the crowds here is their delicious crab curry. According to Pratheepan, unlike other places where the crabs are cooked whole, he prefers to cut the crabs into pieces. The sweet taste of the crustaceans infuses the pungent curry, making every spoonful a tasty one.

The crab curry is available on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays.

Regulars also flock here on Sunday for kool, a Sri Lankan seafood stew. The version served here uses red snapper fish, long beans and tapioca in the spicy stew. Pratheepan brings in odiyal flour from Sri Lanka to thicken the tasty broth.

The shark meat is shredded and cooked with turmeric, coconut and spices.
The shark meat is shredded and cooked with turmeric, coconut and spices.

One of my favourite items is their minced shark’s meat mixed with coconut, spices and turmeric, that pairs well with rice. Another appetising item is the sambal prawns that has a hint of tamarind taste with a spicy kick. The restaurant also serves two kinds of rice, the usual white rice and a healthier Indian parboiled rice where the starch has been extracted. Try the latter for a lighter meal.

N. Pratheephan with his crew.
N. Pratheephan with his crew.

Look also for the refreshing pegaga salad where the fresh green leaves are mixed with grated fresh coconut, chopped onions and green chillies with a dash of lime juice to perk it up. Another recommended dish is the dry chicken curry or chicken peratal, often served in homes. Unlike other places, you’ve got to wait for your pappadums here. There’s a good reason for the wait as they’re only fried upon request to keep them crispy for the diners.

Since the place is an all-day eatery, they start serving the night session from 4.30pm to 10.30pm. You get kothu roti, a Sri Lankan dish where the roti is made from a special grain flour cut into pieces and fried with various ingredients. They also serve putu goreng, masala thosai and chapatis for dinner.

The no frills place is patronised by regulars who enjoy the Sri Lankan fare.
The no frills place is patronised by regulars who enjoy the Sri Lankan fare.

It’s hard to stay away from this place since everything is tasty. According to Kana, the eatery is also the only place in town that serves a special tapioca dessert on occasional Sundays. It’s only prepared whenever they can get a supply of tapioca.

  • If you’re interested in dining here, how about an exchange for this secret eat’s location? You can email me your own secret eat or a place you like to frequent for good food at [email protected] and I’ll reveal to you this secret eat.