Sunday, June 9, 2013

NY Times: Sri Lankans in Staten Island

And so, while many New Yorkers may be surprised to hear that Staten Island has one of the highest concentrations of Sri Lankans outside Sri Lanka, connoisseurs of ethnic food began mapping that population, or at least its food, years ago. They wrote lyrically of the lampries and string hopper kothus, the fried lentil cakes and pithus, and the godamba rotis and dhosas, as if sending reports from a distant land. Sri Lankans, many fleeing the civil war in their country, began settling in Staten Island several decades ago; by some estimates, more than 5,000 people of Sri Lankan descent live in the borough. They are scattered throughout the island, though the commercial focus of the population is a short stretch of Victory Boulevard where it intersects with Cebra Street.
Lakruwana Restaurant

There are three Sri Lankan restaurants at that intersection alongside two grocery stores selling Sri Lankan staples and specialty products like dry fish and jaggery, lotus root and banana blossoms. A third grocery store is further down Victory Boulevard, and two other restaurants are on Bay Street including San Rasa (226 Bay Street; 718-420-0027) and Lakruwana (668 Bay Street; 347- 857-6619), which was reviewed in The New York Times by the restaurant critic Pete Wells this year. On weekends, Sri Lankan men play cricket on the grounds of the South Beach Psychiatric Center and elsewhere.

On a recent Sunday, hundreds of Sri Lankans gathered at a campground in Staten Island for their New Year celebrations, which included a traditional oil-lighting ceremony, live baila music and competitive events, including coconut-scraping and bun-eating contests. The biggest-belly competition was canceled because of the lateness of the hour.

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