We’ve gone into Colombo’s Chinese restaurant schism before – the rift between the Sri Lankan-Chinese long-players and the more authentic upstarts from the mainland. The spice, the butter (hot butter), and curry kick of the island vs the more subtle, and lightly spiced offerings from the Middle Kingdom. It’s a pretty intense culinary tussle but there is another way – a middle way. Somewhere between the Sri Lankanized stylings of Flower Drum, Chopsticks etc and the dumplings and noodley broths of Minhan and Fortune Boat is 88.
It’s Malaysian (Malaysian Chinese) owned – so really Chinese food from somewhere between Sri Lanka and China. There’s more spice than you find at mainland places but also more authenticity than you get in Sri-Lankan Chinese joints – you’ll find abalone, chicken feet, hainan chicken rice, and char kway teow. It’s really a very happy medium – particularly conducive to joy because the food is well priced and consistently very good.
On our last visit we had some char kway teow, sizzling bean curd and fried belly pork. The kway teow – the Singpaorean Malaysian chopped/fried flat-noodle kottu equivalent, was smoky and satisfying. While it lacked the lard and clams you get at the best Malaysian hawker centres it was still good and pretty close to a home-style Singaporean kitchen effort. The sizzling bean curd was silky smooth and soft with a rich, dark and slightly sweet sauce though it could have had a little more crispy fried egg at the base. The belly pork was as the layers of fat from the belly of a delicious animal must be – greasy and rather delicious.
The best part however was the price – enough food for four people with ample cokes and lime sodas for less than Rs. 2800. At less than Rs. 700 each for food and drink that’s competitive with streetside biryani/kottu joints. While the interior isn’t posh it’s got a rather classic Chinese restaurant feel – close, usually crowded tables, a bustling, busy kitchen and Chinese (Chinese Malaysian?) chefs working vigorously at the back. It actually feels something like a Chinese hole-in-the-wall you’d find in say Ipoh or Melacca, and on our last visit a large group of mainland tourists were busily unfurling a Chinese flag to celebrate Chinese new year – that’s a pretty glowing endorsement. This really is one of the best Chinese restaurants in the city and interestingly its neither Sri Lankan nor mainland Chinese – so perhaps the middle is the way forward.