I have just experienced the world’s greatest condiment: sambol. It’s a Sri Lankan specialty involving lime juice, onions, dried fish, coconut shavings and enough chiles to constitute a baby nuke. Bracing, fiery, sweet, fresh—once you taste it, you’ll discard pepper and salt forever. “In my country, we use it for all of our meals,” the kind owner of Wadiya told me. “Breakfast, lunch, dinner, rich, poor—all we need is some sambol, and anything is delicious!”
Wadiya is the county’s first Sri Lankan restaurant, one of a precious few in Southern California and even the United States. Its space is massive and elegant, and on its wall is a removable mural that’s the most colorful, bucolic image you’ll ever see, a panorama of the coast painted in swirls and watercolors that’s about 20 feet long. This is an apt metaphor for the island’s stunning cuisine, one that will seem vaguely familiar to fans of Indian food but with otherworldly flavors that draw from the country formerly known as Ceylon’s legendary trade-route reputation. Seriously, folks: I can barely contain my enthusiasm for Wadiya, not just because of the rarity of Sri Lankan dives ’round these parts, but also because it’s some of the best food I’ve had in a while.
They sell curries: oily, black concoctions that trick you into thinking they’re as sweet as mole, all the while building up a blistering heat that radiates for hours. Perhaps the most famous Sri Lankan course is lampriam, a Dutch-influenced meal of curried rice and meat sitting on a banana leaf, a proto-pilaf that gives Persians a run for their grains. Any fans of mutton out there? Wadiya offers it either intricately spiced or as a curry. Even stranger are the hilariously named hoppers, an injera-like bread you use to scoop up food—unless it’s the string hoppers, disks of compacted, steamed noodles upon which you pile food.
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Wadiya’s chefs make their sambol from scratch, going so far as to offer multiple versions. Even the Sri Lankan sodas impress: Elephant Brand cream soda is like sipping sherbet. Finish with dessert: I will return for more of their wattalapan, a flan made of coconut milk and jaggery, a sugar drawn from palm trees with a taste somewhere between chocolate and sweet yam.
I never knew there was enough of a Sri Lankan community to sustain a restaurant serving their grub, and the dining room was empty the last time I visited for lunch. So, a challenge: If you frequently read this column but rarely try my recommendations, I urge you to break that habit and visit Wadiya. Support what is unique about Orange County. And go easy on the sambol: It’s masochism in a bowl.
Wadiya at 949 S. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 635-0005; www.wadiyausa.com.