Being a Muslim foodie in Colombo can be somewhat limiting, but when you stop to count your blessings, it turns out there's quite a variety of cuisine to be had. We've checked, double-checked and made sure that the following places are so halal that even the chef is circumcised. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but, for real, these places are legit halal. We called them and asked whether they use halal ingredients and take care to ensure hygiene in their preparation. So leave your worries at the door, say 'bismillah' and dig in.
If you love mayo, which apparently most of you do, you'll probably enjoy Dinemore's submarines. And even if you're not a particular fan of the creamy condiment, you might be willing to make the occasional exception. The chicken is tasty - I think it's sautéed with pepper, onions and capsicum – and there's a good bread to filling ratio. Not many seem aware of this, but they've also got a mean beef chop on their Indian menu that's great value for money. You get some naan with it and there's a thick, creamy sauce that's super filling.
Cafe Beverly is a very cosy dining space inside the Beverly Street shopping complex in Rajagiriya. If you're in that part of town, it's not a bad place to chill out and grab a meal. These guys get points for presentation with every plate. We recommend you get the cuttlefish, curled up in fried onion, golden-brown crisp and smothered in that lovely sweet tang of tamarind. They do fish and chips pretty well with a fillet so wonderfully soft and well seasoned with a very thin crisp skin, going well with the coleslaw and mayo. They take special care of their meat servings.
August by Mama Aida's is a Middle Eastern restaurant that shares a space with Shirohana on Dudley Senanayake Mawatha. It's a lovely spot for a romantic dinner. Wooden furniture, hanging vines and candlelit lamps come together to create a sophisticated and relaxing atmosphere. Do try the slow cooked lamb. It's a small portion but the meat is just so tender and juicy. They’re pricey, but you’re getting well-executed dishes with high quality of ingredients.
Tom Yum soup at Tom Yum is the best you'll find in Colombo. Despite having a tiny menu with very limited options, all the dishes are executed well and taste pretty authentic. Think banana fritters, pad thai and peanut sauce. What's not to love? Their space is pretty small and it's not great for a big gathering, but a family of four can manage, though you might want to call and ask that they keep the big table for you.
Aahaara gives you enough biryani to last half a week. If you have a hungry horde over for a weekend lunch or something, this is definitely the thing to get. This flavoursome rice smells absolutely delicious. Piled at least five to seven inches high on a sawan, the generousity is overwhelming. The rice is soft, fluffy, and infused with spice. You get hit with waves of heat a few bites in, but it isn't overpowering, giving just that right amount of subtle Sri Lankan davilla.
Run by a couple of Iranian women and friends, Saffron serves authentic Iranian food at the Good Market on Saturdays. Their biriyani is legit and their falafel is super tasty with a lovely tang bursting through the pickles. You can also grab some of the Iranian snacks that they offer. Oh, and they do catering, too, so, if you want to make things interesting at your next function, hit them up!
Hazari's offers a little more variety than other Middle Eastern restaurants with the inclusion of Arabic pizzas. We once feasted on a whole roast chicken and it was just too good - super moist and flavourful. You can also try the kasbah rice and the beef fatteh which is a hummus dish served with chunks of grilled beef, chickpeas, toasted kubz, caramelized onions and chillies. Call ahead if you're taking a crowd, cause they're a small place, or just order delivery.
If you dare venture into the suburban wilderness that is Colombo 12 at night, you can binge on a variety of mouth-watering and extremely reasonably priced food. There's cuttlefish curry, chicken parts, mutton brain, grilled fish and beef kebabs. It's kind of like Nana's, but not by the beach.
Growing from a little streetside stop to an extremely efficient restaurant-ish takeaway joint, with even a little seating space indoors, Burger's King still serves up tasty, affordable burgers. They've got a wider range of burgers than the franchises, and the splinter cell Burger's Hut in Dehiwela is just as good. We're fans of the chicken charlie.
Best described as extravagant on the outside and classy on the inside, Maharaja Palace is a fine dining restaurant offering up Indian fare. Try their crab meat bhuna, if you're serious about your spice. The flavours and the spices are intense to the point that it threatens the would be hero of the dish. Otherwise, you can't go wrong with the chicken korma. It's got plenty of boneless chicken cooked just right, in a well seasoned, thick and creamy gravy that you'd happily eat with a spoon.
A Singaporean franchise that serves up its own take on fried chicken and comfort food, Tenderfresh is on the pricey side, the food is quite good. They've got a sambal sauce that's quite a treat and their flavours are pretty unique. If you're into fried chicken and Singaporean flavours, check out their sambal fried chicken, it's quite good.
Paan Paan is a bakery which rapidly expanded to three outlets and a range of items. Their sandwich bar makes excellent, healthy sandwiches, melts and submarines as well as offering breads, pastries and sweets. Their sandwiches stand out because they bake the bread themselves, and the bread is really good. Bread is what you're getting the most of in any sandwich, so that definitely helps the cause.
Big Bite in Mount Lavinia is one of the few places where you can get yourself a proper Pakistani biriyani. It's spicier than most, but it's still damn good, especially coupled with their barbequed chicken. They offer the two things that Sri Lankans expect when it comes to any rice dish - massive portions at an affordable price. Their barbecue chicken is also phenomenal. Cooked just right on a charcoal barbeque, the real secret to this one is in the marinade they use which clearly has quite a bit chilli going on.
Pot Biriyani is a small home cookery which specializes in biriyani. Chicken, mutton, prawn and vegetarian options are available for takeaway or delivery. It's meant for groups with each pot feeding eight people. As the name implies, everything comes in clay pots. You get the usual biriyani pot, kottu pot, pittu baabath pot, even dessert pot. They are nice pots, which you get to keep, and the food inside is excellent. The rice alone is fragrant and delicious. There's a good amount of egg, greens and raisins in there, along with quite a few pieces of meat at the bottom. Dig for those.
Rio Ice Cream is a Jaffna franchise that's about forty years old is fun and affordable for ice cream lovers. They're creative with flavours and mix it up for fun with jelly and smarties. Try the Rio Sundae - a combo of chocolate and strawberry ice cream, covered in chocolate and strawberry sauce, cherries, smarties, chocolate chips, cashew nuts and biscuit. At night, it's not uncommon to spot a procession of suits and saris walking over from the nearby wedding halls to their Marine Drive outlet.
Chana's on W.A. Silva Mawatha is a small North Indian restaurant that has found it's way into two of our Top-5 lists (biriyani and samosas). So they're pretty good. What's exciting is that they've got pani puri which are small puris stuffed with potatoes, onions and green gram, served with a tamarind dip that you'd otherwise only find at Indian Chaat Corner. Obviously, Chana's is a bigger space and much better for pani puri ambiance. Oh, and they've got gulab jamun. Exciting!
Like Maharaja Palace, Agra also does fine dining Indian cuisine. Try the prawn kadhai to go with your naan or biriyani. It's a safe bet for most locals since the curry has all the quintessential Indian ingredients and condiments like coriander, cumin, clove and garam masala. They do a legit butter chicken too with a creamy curry and a great balance of flavours. The interior is beautiful. It's a got a classic Indian motif that's tasteful. There's a small stage in the center of the restaurant where they have three musicians on the flute, tabla and serpina, playing some classic Indian and Sri Lankan music, making for a relaxed atmosphere.
Galle Caterers are one of the oldest caterers in Colombo with quite a large customer-base. Focusing on biryani and sawans, their sawans come with a full roast chicken, green pea and cashew curry, achcharu, maldive fish sambol, a bit of pineapple and a bowl of wattalapam for dessert. They offer great value for money and consistently tasty foods. What has made Galle Caterers so popular is the prices, still some of the most affordable around. Note that these are portions that can easily feed a group of 10. They are ridiculously busy come eid.
People love Subway because you feel like you're getting exactly what you want. The sandwich makers will ask you what bread you want, what meat and veggies you want, and which sauces. There's a range of options: five types of bread, an epic host of veggies and pickles, chicken, beef, turkey, tuna, and sauces like red chili, honey mustard and sweet onion. The fillings are plenty and delicious. We suggest you go for the Parmesan Oregano bread every time - it's heavier than the other breads and tastes better.
Malay Restaurant has to be one of the best places to have a family meal, because of their affordable rates, tasty food and huge portions. It's also one of the only places that specializes in Malay cuisine. They've got a cuttlefish with peanut sauce that's surprisingly good. Definitely try their fried baabath in hot garlic sauce. It's one of their Malay specials and it tastes stellar. What really brings this dish together is the thick garlic sauce which has a great balance of sweetness from the sugar, spice from the chilli and the slight acidity of the oyster sauce. They are not very reliable when it comes to delivery, though, so it's best to swing by for take-away.
Kandoori's biriyani is definitely among the best in Colombo. It's spicy with pastey bits of masala chutney in it, and you get a big portion that's okay for two if you're not in the mood to pig out. The chicken is well cooked and incredibly soft. Check out their prawn masala. It's a good pick to curry up your rice or as dip for your naan. The highlight is the masala gravy itself which is very thick and a treat for spice lovers. Oh, and you cannot miss out on the pepper beef on their Chinese menu. There's an obvious inclination towards Indian seasoning and a spicy mix of veggies that the Sri Lankan palate knows and loves, so that makes it work.
The Manhattan Fish Market has delicious seafood and ridiculously friendly staff - it's an awesome place to dine at if you can handle the bill. The sexy hot whole fish is sexy as hell. It's huge and comes wrapped in aluminium foil. Your waiter will unwrap it carefully, as the mouth-watering fragrance of steaming whole fish wafts out of it. It comes poached in a soupy broth of veggies, scallops and calamari, and plenty of bread to dip into it. The fish is soft and just falls off to the touch. The broth, spicy and delicious with the bread, is the best part about this dish.
If you're in Colombo 7 and you're craving a good biriyani, Raheema is one of the first places that will come to mind. If you're a past pupil of either Royal College or Thurstan College, heading back here will most likely be accompanied with a good dose of nostalgia. You'll also notice that they've upgraded their biryani from samba rice to basmati. Be sure to hit up some of their muscat for dessert.
It goes without saying, but, in case you were wondering, all saivar kadeys are halal as they do not involve meat. At most places, it's okay to ask whether the meat is halal and that your dish is prepared without any contact with haram products. Dietary preferences ought to be respected, regardless of whether you're vegan or Muslim, so don't ever feel bad about it. Do you know of other restaurants serving halal food? Let us know in the comments.
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