That’s when chef Dharshan Munidasa, who grew up in Colombo, started serious about how he might return one of Sri Lanka’s most iconic exports again to the individuals who made it famous.
Munidasa would not essentially have the identical resume as your typical superstar chef.
He did not develop up being serious about meals, he did not go to culinary faculty, and he wasn’t raised in an accepted foodie capital. But that is precisely what made him the suitable particular person to single-handedly change the way in which the broader world seen Sri Lankan cooking.
Ministry of Crab’s signature colour is yellow, which is discovered all over the place from the partitions to the coasters.
Courtesy of Ministry of Crab
The unintended chef
Munidasa was born in Tokyo and raised in Colombo by a Japanese mom and Sri Lankan father. But it wasn’t till he went to the United States within the Nineteen Nineties to check at Johns Hopkins University that he first began cooking. He could not abide cafeteria meals, so he figured it was time to be taught to cook dinner.
“It was not like the kid from Sri Lanka went to the US and missed his home-cooked food. It was just regular food that was not good in dorms,” he says. “There was no WhatsApp or Google or YouTube or anything like that. I had to physically call people, my aunts in Japan, my mom, my grandmother, to ask about something here and how they cook this.”
Through trial and error, plus obsessive documentation of what labored and what did not, Munidasa went from cooking for survival to cooking for pleasure. And when he returned to Sri Lanka after getting his diploma in laptop engineering, he began serious about cooking for a residing.
First up was high-end Japanese restaurant Nihonbashi, which he opened in Colombo in 1995.
Thanks to sturdy diplomatic ties between the 2 international locations, there was a small however lively Japanese expat group in Sri Lanka, and so they started patronizing Nihonbashi. The locals quickly adopted. If meals had been the Grammys, Munidasa wasn’t making an attempt to win Best New Artist — he was aiming for a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ministry of Crab opened in 2011. Both eating places landed the first-ever Sri Lankan slots on the annual Asia’s Best Restaurants checklist — Nihonbashi in 2013 and MOC two years later — placing the small nation on the worldwide foodie radar in a manner it hadn’t been earlier than.
MOC is inside central Colombo’s historic Old Dutch Hospital advanced.
Courtesy of Ministry of Crab
A restricted menu with limitless flavors
Some eating places, particularly ones in crowded markets which might be making an attempt to face out, depend on fixed innovation to maintain visitors coming in.
There’s all the time a hunt for the subsequent large pattern — cronut, anybody? — or a photogenic ingredient that appears extra designed for social media buzz than taste.
But the very first thing anybody strolling into Ministry of Crab notices is the menu — it’s small, tightly edited and fully centered round one predominant ingredient. That ingredient is the Sri Lankan mud crab, also referred to as the lagoon crab. For a very long time, these crabs had been a staple of each Sri Lankan kitchen, however as soon as they grew to become extra worthwhile to promote abroad than to maintain at residence they started disappearing from eating tables on the island.
For an indecisive diner who will get overwhelmed by too many decisions, MOC is a dream.
You select one dimension of crab based mostly on what’s accessible — from the small at 500 grams all the way in which as much as the coveted “Crabzilla” at 2 kg plus — and resolve which of six or so accessible preparations sounds greatest to you.
Options embody a Singaporean-style chilli crab, black pepper crab and a “risotto-esque” baked crab that needs to be ordered not less than three hours upfront.
There are additionally one or two appetizers — akin to a crab salad served inside a recent, partially scooped-out avocado — and one dessert, a coconut creme brulee — served inside a recent coconut, as you is perhaps noticing a theme right here. And that is it.
With such a condensed menu, there’s nowhere to cover. Crabs are as recent as they are often, caught every day by fishermen Munidasa has constructed relationships with. The restaurant has a coverage in opposition to by no means serving a crab that weighs lower than 500 grams — not simply so there’s extra meat to work with, however as a result of these smaller crabs are too younger.
The style of Sri Lanka
How do you set a life onto a plate? How do you distil a rustic and its folks down to 1 single ingredient? Reclaiming Sri Lankan mud crabs for the individuals who farm and domesticate them is a method.
Following his successes, Munidasha has additionally develop into an envoy for Sri Lankan meals.
“I think there’s a huge, huge, huge notion that Sri Lankan food is 90% Indian,” he says.
“Our rices are different, how we cook is different. We eat everything. We eat beef, we eat fish, we eat pig, we eat chicken. Many people think Sri Lanka is ‘India light.’ There are certain similarities, yes. But again, it’s different because the distances are so small. You can go from 12 degrees in the hills to 32 degrees on the beach in matter of three and a half hours.”
Munidasha has additionally been capable of take his present on the street. MOC now has outposts in Bangkok, Mumbai, Shanghai, Manila and the Maldives, all of which he oversees. He additionally organizes pop-ups around the globe as a solution to train folks about Sri Lankan meals and the particular flavors of Sri Lankan mud crabs.
Being the lone consultant of his nation on the Asia’s 50 Best checklist comes with each pressures and privileges.
Despite the accolades, Munidasa remains to be working in a meals world that’s vastly Western-centric. In Sri Lanka, he says, no one has heard of the Asia’s 50 Best checklist or plans their summer season vacation round touring to a single restaurant.
And odds are excessive he won’t ever win a Michelin star — not as a result of of lack of expertise, however as a result of Michelin has by no means coated Sri Lanka.
Yet in some methods, it is this lack of mainstream pedigree that has enabled Munidasa to hunt reward from inside. He hasn’t bought licensing rights to his title to a large conglomerate, and there is no stress to create a line of branded merchandise.
“If you always try to meet other people’s expectations, you’ll never grow. You’ll never outdo yourself.”