Try Sri Lankan Vegetarian Fare at Sigiri in the East Village

Vegetable fried rice at Sigiri | Tara Mahadevan
Vegetable fried rice at Sigiri | Tara Mahadevan

Sigiri (91 First Avenue; 212-614-9333) has been an East Village establishment for the last ten years. However, five years ago, the restaurant switched hands to brothers Shashika Sudasinghe and Nalinda Peiris, who have kept the restaurant and its menu relatively the same.

Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country; the owners are Buddhist too. The name of the restaurant ties directly in to their religion, denoting the ancient Sri Lankan city called Sigiriya, meaning "lion rock," which was first built to house King Kasyapa's palace and capital during the fifth century, and later adopted as a Buddhist monastery until the fourteenth century.

Though Sigiri's menu features many vegetarian dishes, most Sri Lankans aren't vegetarian. "Lot of people don't eat the beef and pork [in Sri Lanka], but everything else, everybody eats. There's only like few people that are vegetarian in Sri Lanka — there isn't a big vegetarian community [there]," says Peiris.

"[We've included vegetarian dishes because] we cater to everybody...Even in Sri Lanka, we eat the [vegetarian] soups. The rice and curry, we eat it every day, so the vegetables and the curries [are vegetarian]."

Sri Lankan cuisine is heavily influenced by the Chinese — according to Peiris, there are a lot of Chinese restaurants in Sri Lanka. Chinese dishes, such as fried rice, have become authentic to Sri Lankan cuisine, and now employ ingredients and spices that are traditional in Sri Lanka.

Sigiri's vegetable fried rice ($11.50), for instance, features egg and a mix of vegetables like a typical Chinese fried rice, but also includes cashews and raisins, ingredients often found in South Asian cuisine. Because of the cashews and raisins, the overall flavor of the fried rice is nuanced and aromatic, with a lightly nutty and sugary finish.

Khottu roti at Sigiri | Tara Mahadevan
Khottu roti at Sigiri | Tara Mahadevan

The kottu roti ($14.50) is a popular specialty: a Sri Lankan stir-fry that includes a host of vegetables, scrambled egg, and shredded pieces of roti bread, a type of flatbread common to the Indian subcontinent.

The roti is doughy, while the vegetables provide a crunch. The dish is fairly spicy, but is served with a gravy made of coconut, yellow curry powder, and saffron. The gravy, when poured over the stir-fry, adequately subdues the spices, while also adding a hint of sweetness.

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