Little Sri Lanka

Exploring Cultural Diversity

Moving with the Past by Dona Kiriella

A Cultural Sketch: Dining Experience

The Sri Lankan community has a thriving cultural center in Tompkinsville along the business strip of Victory Boulevard.

Among the Sri Lankan establishments springing up across New York, the most popular of them is New Asha. The décor of New Asha fits better with American culture: personal tables that seat four with a white doily table cloth and a pleasant flowerpot centerpiece; a counter with food display and a coca-cola fridge behind the counter; and a menu written in English with pictures of the food being offered. It is an American establishment that serves ethnic food, catering to Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus.  The food is clearly ethnic although other than the patrons and workers, there the atmosphere isn’t all that different from any other small restaurant.

Sri Lankan food reflects a mix of cultures. It is similar to Indian food; it uses many of the same ingredients and flavors, but also draws upon influences from England as well as other traders. The foods are rich with spices, it is in fact said to be spicier than Indian food. Rice is prevalent as well as curry. This establishment offers authentic Sri Lankan dishes as well as vegetarian meals. It was surprising to find that the menu did not include any American food.

An item popular in Sri Lankan dishes is a type of bread called appam. It was once offered to Hindu deities. It is a bowl-shaped bread that is usually served with breakfast or dinner. Appam can be served simply with eggs or onions, or be part of a more complicated dish with noodles called idiyappam.

New Asha is primarily visited by Sri Lankans in the community. It is a place for them to talk to other Sri Lankans in their native language and enjoy ethnic foods. Despite its small size, New Asha is well known within the city for its food. As such, it does have a stream of non-Sri Lankan visitors, but this is not its primary audience. Its offers take-out. The service is courteous and friendly.

Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the restaurant is Lanka Grocery. There is a concentration of Sri Lankan establishments here in the knot of businesses along this part of Victory Boulevard. The awning of the grocery store displays both an American and Sri Lankan flag. Though the store is called “Lanka” Grocery, it also offers Mexican and Asian spices aside from Sri Lankan ones.

The store offers a large variety of rices and spices. Additionally, you can find lotus root, fresh banana blossoms, Maldive fish, jaggery- also known as palm sugar- as well as a cornucopia of spices. It seems as though whatever product you can find on the island of Sri Lanka you can find on the island of Staten.