Not really around anymore
So much of the attraction and appeal of any city lies int its subcultures. New York's sprawling Caribbean neighborhoods, London's Bengali Brick Lane, the Gothic Lolitas in Tokyo's Harajuku. While its certainly no world city even Colombo's 15 postal codes conceal several worlds within worlds- Slave island's Malay labyrinth, Pettah's mind boggling eco-system, Wellawatte's high-rise Little Jaffna and so on.
However the city's fastest growing sub-culture is less indigenous. This is the world of the Chinese. No not the cult of hot butter cuttlefish (though that is worth investigating) but of 'real Chinese' from the mainland increasing numbers of whom are now settling in and passing through this city. The enormous amount of Chinese aid, investment and loans that have been poured into this country's infrastructure have brought thousands of Chinese workers, officials, engineers, labourers and everyone else you need to build ports, airports, highways, power plants and suchlike. Behind this flood of officially sanctioned ex-pats have come camp followers. Those who run the restaurants, karaoke parlors, beauty salons and shops that serve the needs of the sudden influx. With more awareness of our little paradise slowly filtering back to the Middle Kingdom, still more migrants have come seeking opportunities in a land that might not be as competitive and unforgiving as the cities of Zhejiang or Shandong.
Today there are thousands of Chinese in Sri Lanka (no one gives official figures) very likely well over 10,000 and they exist for the most part in a separate and self-contained world. Colombars might see them in the street or on the bus, but the language barrier and a centuries-old migration strategy that has always involved keeping a low profile means they seldom interact with ordinary people. While there's a concentration of mainland oriented eateries and amenities clustered in Colpetty, it's still a discreet second world. One that your average city-dweller is barely aware of and rarely comes into contact with. But sometimes in the way that cities throws lives together you get a sudden glimpse into this parallel universe.
The other day while heading down Sea View Avenue on a quest for Vespa Sports Club (amazing but actually on Sea Lane) we found a large Karaoke Parlor emblazoned with Chinese Characters. While we had little use for a music lounge of dubious repute we stepped into the car park to ask for directions only to discover a middle-aged Chinese couple busily making and selling Chuanr. Chuanr is China's street food staple, basically just about anything (though often chicken and lamb) and everything on a stick covered in cumin, chili sauce and grilled on charcoal brazier. In north China Chuanr stands are utterly ubiquitous. For two or three Yuan (Rs. 40-60) a stick you can pick up a bag full and head off clutching char-grilled sustenance at any time of the day or night.
These two car park based vendors from Dalian have imported the concept- basically sticks, meat and a tray full of coal. Its completely authentic, tastes like it does in China, and while they don't seem to speak Sinhala, Tamil or English, they have a bilingual menu card so just point to whatever it is you want on your stick; pork belly (yum), mackerel (excellent), mutton pieces (good), chicken wing (very good) sheep testicles (for real), and they grill it up for you with care and skill. The only real problem is that their major business comes from the karaoke lounge of dubious repute next to which they are situated so the prices seem inflated. At Rs. 100/= a stick its double what you'd pay in Beijing still for 500 bucks you get five meaty sticks and a little glimpse into a world most Sri Lankans rarely see.
For a bit of urban adventure/anthropology in your own backyard, this is an excellent and tasty excursion and it is so central- 17th lane is so near Colpetty junction that you dont need to go too far out of your way.
They open after 8. try the mackerel, the pork belly and the testicles if you've got them.