Colombo has a bazillion Chinese restaurants, with new ones seemingly popping up every week. Sadly though, hardly any of 'em serve truly authentic Chinese cuisine, with most establishments serving up what has now been named "Sri lankanized Chinese". Min Han, hidden away in a small house on Deanstone place, is one of those rare exceptions. If you want to experience truly authentic Chinese cuisine, we can't think of a better place.
The menu at Min Han is quite extensive and can be a bit overwhelming at first since there are like 10 choices for each type of meat, fish, etc. so you may find yourself a bit confused, but a bit of searching will find you some familiar choices. That being said though, don't be afraid to try out something new from the menu, there's good chance you'll love it. This being the equivalent of a Chinese buth kade (fan guan), you can expect some pretty reasonable prices as well, with small portions ranging from Rs.350 - Rs. 650 and large portions from Rs. 700 - Rs. 1300. Now that may not seem very much different from other places, but it should be noted that unlike others, the small portions at Min Han are enough for 4.
We ordered the Mixed Fried Rice (Rs. 680 for L), Spicy Pork Belly (Rs. 600 for S), Prawns in sweet sauce (Rs. 650 for S), Modha in soy sauce (Rs. 1280 for L), Sweet potato leaves/Bathala Kola (Rs. 350 for S) and Steamed pork dumplings (Rs. 350 for 10!). First things first, the steamed dumplings at 35 bucks a pop, is an absolute steal. Dammit you can't even buy a samosa for 35 bucks anymore. They were tasty, soft and packed perfectly so as to hold in all the juices until you bite down on it.
Prawns in sweet sauce
The mixed fried rice was seasoned well, had a ton of seafood and chicken, and the portion was easily enough for at least 6 people. Another thing we liked was that they had used a Thai Jasmine rice which was slightly sticky and aromatic. Bathala kola isn't something that you find on every menu, but Min Han has got quite a reputation for it, and once we tried it we could see why. Its texture is somewhat like a mix of kangkung and spinach and it tastes kinda' like chicken!
The Pork belly was cut into thin slices with a few pieces of fat ('coz that's where the flavour is) and prepared like stir fry with shallots, chillies and capsicums. The pork was tender and cooked perfectly to the point where it melted in your mouth, and the dried chilli flakes added just right amount of heat so as to not overpower the other flavours.
Both the modha and the prawns were batter fried, with the latter being served with a sweet sauce. We made the mistake of ordering a large portion of the modha and ended up taking some of it home. In hindsight we feel we should have gone with the spicy option for the modha, but those of you who aren't huge fans of chilli will love the soy sauce version. The prawns were exceptionally good as well, with the sweet sauce marrying beautifully with the spiciness of the pork belly.
One more thing, in a time where other establishments don't even offer free water, Min Han has an endless supply of free green tea which goes really well with the food.
Ambience & Service
Min Han isn't the kind of place you go for the ambience. Like we said, it kind of feels like you've entered a bath kade in China. It's mostly just a room with seating for around 40 people, with some very questionable hot pink tablecloths and seat covers. They also have a TV which permenantly switched on to Chinese channels, which also adds to the authentic experience.
Ever heard of one man waiting on 8 tables? Well that's how things work at Min Han. The cooking is done by a Chinese couple from Hubei and waiting is done by one Sri lankan gentleman. He knows the menu like the back of his hand, he speaks English, Sinhalese and Chinese, and he'll even explain the preparation of dishes should you ask him. This guy is so crazy efficient that we think he should be carrying out lectures on hospitality management.
Min Han is a very welcomed change from the “Sri Lankanized” Chinese we’ve all gotten so used to. If you can look past the lack of ambience, Min Han offers one of the most authentic Chinese dining experiences in Colombo. An establishment we would recommend to any food lover without a moment of hesitation.
We’ve recently devoted some space to the apparent fall of Sri Lankan Chinese food. Recently it seems the majority of our beloved local Chinese restaurants – Flower Drum, Chinese Dragon, Flower Lounge etc have either closed down or let standards slip. I can’t even find Chinese Park View anymore (I’m told it has gone to Maradana) and the prospect of a fried rice and sweet and sour pork just doesn’t generate the excitement or satisfaction that it used to.
Does this mean that getting your fix of Chinese food in Colombo has gotten that much harder? Must we now subsist on a diet of curry alone? No, not at all. The fall of local Chinese food has been matched by the rise of the mainland restaurant. That’s right, the inexorable geopolitical rise of China can be felt even on the streets of Colombo. As China’s wealth, power and global ambition has grown, so has the amount of money it spends trying to win friends or cultivate friendly governments in distant parts of the world. So the past decade has seen a massive inflow of Chinese aid into Sri Lanka and with this largesse has come thousands of Chinese. Scores of diplomats, engineers, managers, foreman, labourers, their spouses and other assorted camp followers from the People’s Republic now call this island, temporary, home.
The first sign of this influx was that across Colombo, particularly Colpetty, small often very discreet restaurants began popping up. While many Colombars failed to notice, there are internet cafes that are actually restaurants, half-closed seeming shop fronts that house busy hot-pot centres and karaoke lounges that will cook up a good gu lao ruo all around this city. One of the first of these underground eateries to be noticed by the broader Colombar community was Min Han.
Nestled at the bottom of Deanstone Place it’s little more than a room that serves authentic home-style Chinese food prepared by a couple from Hubei. And while the interior is really just five tables, excessively bright lighting and a TV constantly tuned to Chinese satellite channels, it’s clean enough and the food is absolutely authentic. This is Chinese food as you’d find in China (northern China). No hot butter cuttle fish, chop suey, or beef in oyster sauce but lots of potatoes, and meat. They do excellent guo tie(gyoza) aka fried dumplings (rs 200 for 10!), probably the best in the city.
Everything else on the menu is also pretty inexpensive and generally tasty. This is a fan guan basically theChinese equivalent of a buth kade so you’re not going to get high cuisine. But it’s simple tasty food. The pork belly is excellent, the fried rice reliable, they do di san xian (an aubergine and potato dish) well and their tofu tastes fresher than elsewhere in Colombo.
You can eat well for Rs 500 something you haven’t been able to do at Flower Drum for years. The food tastes fresher and seems less laden with the colours and preservatives you find in Sri Lankan Chinese restaurants. In terms of value for money and taste Min Han now is more than a match for any of our local Chinese restaurants. While the decor is er... basic, it’s another urban-anthropological experience watching our nascent mainland Chinese community gradually evolve and adapt to local conditions. Just watching Min Han’s Chinese couple dealing/communicating with their one waiter, a local man who’s been there for years, is pretty amusing.