Finding Sri Lankan Food in OC

Finding Sri Lankan Food in OC
Dave Lieberman

We had a lot of love for Wadiya, Orange County's only place to get Sri Lankan food. I raved about the hopper nights, and Gustavo reviewed it in 2009 and named it #5 in our 100 Favorites from 2010. Sadly, Wadiya closed in April and has been replaced by the new, buffet-less incarnation of Victory Bakery. It was exciting, then, to see that there was a Sri Lankan business still open in OC.

Unfortunately, it's not a restaurant; Safe Mart is a grocery store behind the garish Mad Greek on bleak Beach Boulevard in "el Estánton." In talking with Denzil Anthony, who owns Safe Mart with his wife Charmaine, I discovered that he was the owner of the now-defunct Wadiya.

Sadly, OC's Sri Lankan community is very small; the space was too large for the clientele, the rent kept climbing, and Anthony finally made the agonizing decision to stop hemorrhaging money and close it.

While there's no prepared food available at Safe Mart, there are frozen prepared entrees, including string hoppers (red and white), fish biryani, and, of course, the amazing sambals that make devotees of Sri Lankan food out of people who may never travel to the island. Once a month, a member of the community makes lampreis (rice and meat baked in banana leaves) and sells it through the store.

At the moment, Denzil has Sri Lankan Christmas cake available; it is to fruitcake what a steak at Peter Luger is to a hamburger at McDonalds. It's sticky but not too dense, full of citrus zest, dates, and dried fruits--Denzil showed me the array of dried and preserved fruits used for it. There is also jaggery cake, a sweet confection made with the unrefined sugar Mexicans know as piloncillo.

While we still mourn the loss of Wadiya, it's comforting to know that at least the flavors are available.

Safe Mart, 12126 Beach Blvd., Stanton; (714) 899-9994.

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