Hands up if you think spicy food in Japan could do with being (a whole lot) spicier?
My hand is up — both of them, in fact, and I’m not alone.
Ajith Prasanna Rodrigo, owner of Nuwara Kade, a Sri Lankan bar and restaurant located roughly midway between the Osaka districts of Umeda and Namba, is of the same mind.
Rodrigo, who hails from the inland city of Kandy in Sri Lanka, gets many of his herbs and spices — everything from red and green chilies and curry and coriander leaves to the seeds of cumin and fennel — from his hometown, and more specifically, from his mother.
While Rodrigo’s chefs don’t compromise on the levels of spice in their food, nothing I ate on a recent visit would have the average diner reaching for a fire extinguisher. Rather, it’s the zeal of the spices, even in their paucity, that’s so refreshing.
Probably the best place to start if you’re new to Sri Lankan cooking is with Rodrigo himself. He can be found installed to the left of the flat-screen TV, keeping one eye on the soap operas. He’s affable and will help you find your way around the menu — and the country. Along with his brother Rodrigo operates the Rodda Group, which organizes tours to Sri Lanka.
On a lunch visit that extended easily into the afternoon we started out with the house specialty, the Nuwara plate, which is ideal for sharing. With this plate you can choose from a variety of fish or meat options. Rodrigo recommended the deer and the mutton, and we went with the latter.
While waiting we started on a plate of chicken nankotsu (cartilage), a dish I rarely opt for, as I find it has more texture (think tough and crunchy) than flavor.
On this occasion, however, it was not a problem: The cartilage came submerged in oil, chili and curry sauce. I’m now a happy convert to Nuwara’s nankotsu.
Along with the mutton, which comes slathered in a deep green curry, there’s a whole lot to sample and savor on the Nuwara plate. The base of basmati rice is barely visible through its accompanying host, which included pickled beetroot, roasted coconut, green beans, cucumbers and of course chunks of curried mutton.
Rodrigo advised us to mix it all together in one big fine mess, but we chose not to, as we wanted to get a hold on some of those fantastic flavors individually.
Do also try the dosa, a pancake not unlike a crepe but made from rice. It’s thicker than a crepe, stodgier even, but not in a pejorative sense. Tucked inside the masala dosa was coconut chutney, along with spices, herbs and nuts.
I found myself calling on Rodrigo to decipher the exact elements of nearly every dish, but suffice to say that this is a pancake that is deeply satisfying.
For alcohol, there’s Kirin beer on tap, as well as Lion beer and stout in bottles.
Nuwara’s food prices are a bit higher than those of other continental Asian restaurants, but you’ll not mind when the food is this good.
Closed Wed.; Nuwara plate from ¥1,500; Japanese and English menu; Japanese and English spoken