My first impression of New York was, frankly speaking, terrible. I had expected to see the high rises everywhere, with tall people in overcoats bustling down busy Manhattan streets, people shopping on 5th Avenue – all those movies created this fabulous illusion of New York in my mind. And it took roughly one quarter of a second to break that image when I first found myself standing in what appeared to be an unkempt kitchen of a middle class Bangalee living in the US in some part of Queens, NY. I do not blame them; the atmosphere felt horrible since it fell so short of my expectations and the New York cooked Bangalee food tasted awful. Two entire days of driving through the boroughs did me no favor either. My mind had created a very strong negative attitude about New York and I was glad to be back to my honking and smoking Dhaka.
When I finally did end up in New York (again, thanks to college), I realized that I was pretty idiotic before. My previous experience had led me on to believe that New York was limited to the Queens and specifically Jackson Heights only. So this will be the first of what might be a series of my food ventures in this food haven that everyone eventually comes to love – New York City.
When it comes to South Asian cuisine, I always thought it was limited to Jackson Heights, Jamaica, and an over-load of Indian food. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a Sri Lankan restaurant, Sigiri, in downtown Manhattan on 1st Avenue. Nestled in between a couple of other South Asian shops, a Dunkin Donuts, a few mosquitoes and a cool psychic nearby (more on the psychic later), the place showed the basic evidences of brown living around. I was pretty skeptic about the food as I entered Sigiri (since I have lost faith in Yelp and its reviews long time back), but the clean atmosphere and cool ensemble threw me off. There was light Sri Lankan music playing in the background and the decorations were minimalistic yet pure. Going with non-brown people, I had to choose medium “spicy” dishes and after about a 15 minutes wait, the long awaited food came in clean traditional plates (and clean cutleries). The appetizers were pretty generic (egg rolls, fish cutlets, beef patties – something that you would expect at any South Asian restaurant). The main dishes included Kotthu roti (a kind of shredded bread fried with chicken, pepper, vegetables and some spices), which was an immediate favorite among all (brown, non-brown); the cashew-saffron rice and the basmati rice, which were highly appreciated after the hot Kotthu roti; and chicken biriyani, which just left everyone gasping for more. The sides included a dhal curry, a chicken curry and a fish curry – although most of us fought for the pieces, it was the gravy from these curries which was hit everyone right on the taste buds. One of my non-brown friend ended up finishing the dhal curry from its dish by putting extra rice there (very typical Bangalee habit…wonder how she got it!).
This lip smacking lunch, followed by an addictive chocolate mousse torte cake, left the entire party bloated. However, it was the prices which was the best part of it all. With 10 different dishes ordered and nine people to gobble them down, the check came down to a modest 2-figure that all of us were willing to spare (I mean, that amazing chef deserved more). Although there were a few down sides, like the seating space (very limited, I tell you) and no credit card usage, this place was successful in providing me (and my peeps) a wonderful insight of Sri Lankan cuisine (complete with their very own Elephant House Cream Soda and all). Some of my friends have never heard of coconut and spice in the same sentence before; Sigiri provided them and me a very scrumptious example of this coconut loving cuisine. A 4.5 stars and a definite must go for any spice-loving maniac.