29 February 2024

Five minutes with Nelson and Lakshitha, Little Lanka

| Claire Sams
Bowl of lentils

Lakshitha ‘Lak’ Katale Gedara says Little Lanka brings authentic Sri Lankan food to Canberra’s north. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Who are you?

LAK: I’m Lakshitha ‘Lak’ Katale Gedara and Nelson Katale Gedara is the chef.

What is the story of your venue?

NELSON: I started working in kitchens in 1989. I started as a kitchen hand and worked in different places in Sri Lanka. After that, I got the opportunity to come to Australia and Banana Leaf restaurant [in Civic]. I worked there for 13 years before starting Little Lanka.

LAK: The food that we sell at Little Lanka is a variety of different dishes from Sri Lanka, including street foods, traditional foods, and home-cooked-style foods. We want to give the Canberra community an authentic experience of Sri Lankan cuisine, which is quite diverse.

What are the top menu items that really show what your venue can do?

LAK: Our top three are hoppers, a lamprais and kottu roti.

The hoppers are pancakes made from rice, while a lamprais is a rice dish with a bunch of curries wrapped in a banana leaf. A kottu roti is a street food that is shredded roti mixed with a bunch of vegetables and tossed with meat.

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What ingredients do you always have in your pantry?

LAK: Most of the time, it’s pretty much the main Sri Lankan spices – we don’t try to modify the dishes or make fusions.

NELSON: We use spices like chilli powder, ground coriander powder, cumin powder, roasted and unroasted curry powder, green chillis, cinnamon, cardamom, and tamarind.

What is your food philosophy?

LAK: We believe that good quality foods result in a healthy life. When we choose our ingredients, we try to make them as fresh as possible and of the best quality.

We are what we eat, so we have to eat good, healthy foods to have good, healthy lives.

Plate of kottu

Kottu is a popular Sri Lankan street food that is shredded roti, stir-fried with egg, vegetables and curried chicken. Photo: Lak Katale Gedara.

What is your favourite meal to eat?

LAK: In our Sri Lankan household – and many Sri Lankan households – the go-to item is rice with various curries.

The main one is a lentil curry – we have that pretty often. We’d have a chicken curry for a meat curry, and then on the side, we’ll have a coconut sambal, which is like a coconut salad, I suppose. Sometimes on special occasions, we have papadams.

What are Canberra’s best-kept food secrets?

LAK: The Chimney Nepalese Restaurant here in Gungahlin is very good. It has a very nice atmosphere that takes you to Nepal. In Fyshwick, there is a very nice bánh mì place called the Vietnamese Bakery and Cafe – I always get the bánh mì there.

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What do you wish people understood about your restaurant?

LAK: A lot of people think Sri Lankan food is very similar to Indian food, but we want to stress that it’s not. One of the main differences is that Indian cuisines tend to use cow’s milk, whereas Sri Lankan food is more like Thai food with a coconut influence. This means almost all of our menu items have a vegan or vegetarian option, and we’re also halal.

ramekin of coconut with cashews

Ramekin of coconut with cashews – be daring! Try new things! Photo: Lucy Ridge.

What is your cooking advice?

NELSON: Don’t be afraid to try new things and venture out to new dishes. When cooking meat, try to cook it for longer so you get that soft and tender meat.

Who are your biggest culinary influences or inspirations?

LAK: He [Nelson] says almost all of his food is influenced by his mum. We have a very home-style feeling in our food and that’s one of the reviews that we get. I think that’s coming from the chef being influenced by his mum’s cooking.

Little Lanka is located at Unit 82/2 Manning Clark Cresent in Franklin and is open from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm (lunch service) and 5 pm to 9 pm (dinner service) on Tuesdays to Sundays for dine-in or takeaway.

Original Article published by Claire Sams on Riotact.

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