Derby street food trader opens new Sri Lankan restaurant

A former Bombardier worker who set up a street food business has now taken it a step further to open a restaurant. Sri Lankan-born Pasan Nissanka, who first came to the UK to study aerospace engineering at university, is now sharing the food from his homeland with a wider crowd. Pasan, who lives in Derby, has opened what he believes to be the first Sri Lankan restaurant in the East Midlands, based in Nottingham.

Colombo Street serves street food during the day and and home-cooked classics in the evenings, with a whole new vocabulary of flavoursome dishes to get acquainted with, from hoppers and sambals to kottu and gothamba rotis. The 29-year-old, who first came to Derby to work at Rolls-Royce, joined Bombardier (now Alstom) and soon he was working every day of the week, going out to food festivals and markets across the Midlands, including Bustler Street Food Market in Derby. stories about food in Derbyshire

He started with a gazebo, graduating to a brightly coloured food truck. “In 2019 we traded nearly every weekend. It was challenging, but good fun”, said Pasan.

He said: “When I first moved to the UK something I really missed was Sri Lankan food. It’s not very common here. I started cooking as a hobby for myself and my mates and fed a lot of people.”

When Covid hit in 2020 the business pivoted to offer home delivery, with many fans saying he should open a restaurant. He wanted to quit his job as an engineering project manager at Alstom but his boss asked him to continue part-time due to a major rail project supplying 100 new trains. “I did until May and wanted to resign, but they gave me a sabbatical until the end of the year and asked me to think about it,” he said.

The food is as vibrant and colourful as Colombo Street’s van

However, he’s likely to be busy at the new 80-seater restaurant in Nottingham’s Adams Walk, off Fletcher Gate – previously Rub Smokehouse, an American barbecue restaurant which introduced Nottingham to Nugzilla, a giant chicken nugget, and epic food combinations.

After a massive overhaul from top to toe, Colombo Street is decorated with vibrant pop art, designed by Sri Lankan architect Charith Wijesundara, covering the walls, colourful masks and a huge rattan chandelier. Kottu is one of the most popular dishes, a roti chopped and stir fried with vegetables and curry spices, served with chicken, fish, mutton or jackfruit and pots of homemade coconut chutney and sambal, a traditional condiment packed with flavour. Hoppers are crispy paper-thin pancakes shaped like a bowl, which come with a variety of accompaniments, from eggs at brunch time to curries in the evening.

Coconut-based curries include Ceylon mutton, jumbo prawns, chicken, white fish and jackfruit. For starters there’s classic snacks such as lentil wadey, chickpea sizzle, calamari, and chicken wings or a veggie version with cauliflower.

Derby street food trader opens new Sri Lankan restaurantPopular Sri Lankan kottu

Vegans have a healthy choice and there’s a stack of gluten-free dishes. For diners whose stomachs aren’t at bursting point, there’s a dessert menu to tackle.

No matter what the cuisine, there’s usually chocolate involved and here it’s a pudding made layers of biscuits and mousse. For something lighter and less rich try watalappan, a creamy coconut custard sweetened with jaggery, the sugary sap from palm trees traditionally gathered by workers on high wires. Pasan said: “The cuisine has evolved quite a bit over hundreds of years and because it’s a small island there was lot of influence from other countries.

Derby street food trader opens new Sri Lankan restaurantThe restaurant has an open kitchen and colourful decor

“For example we have empanadas, but we have made them our own with Sri Lankan spices, and croquettes as well – but we have done our own thing.

“There’s a bit of a blend of South Indian, Indonesian and Thai. It’s a bit of a melting pot of different flavours.” Dishes are flavoured by Colombo Street’s own spice blend, imported from Sri Lanka.

“It’s really about the flavours – that’s what we are passionate about. It’s not just about making it hot. Sri Lankan food is known to be quite spicy, but it’s not about blowing your head off.

Derby street food trader opens new Sri Lankan restaurantHoppers are bowl-shaped crispy pancakes

“We have been working quite hard to get the right balance and make it a nice enjoyable experience,” said Pasan.

There’s beer, wine, spirits and soft drinks plus a number of classic cocktails, but for an authentic Sri Lankan tipple go for Cosmic Colombo, which uses arrack, made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers. It’s not the end for the street food side of the business, which reached the finals of the 2020 British Street Food Awards. Pasan plans to continue it and expand into catering for events such as weddings.

“I want to keep the van as it’s a great way to reach people. Sri Lankan food is not very accessible and we want to get to as many people and that’s the best way. “There’s no true Sri Lankan restaurants.

There’s south Indian restaurants that do Sri Lankan dishes but that’s it,” he said.

Investors are already interested in the hope that the restaurant model can be expanded further afield.

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