Known by the British as Ceylon, by the Arabs as Serendib and by everyone as a country of bloody good cricketers, Sri Lanka has had dealings with the UK capital for two centuries. Whether arriving under the patronage of the Commonwealth, fleeing the island’s near-30-year civil war or seeking education and employment, Sri Lankans now make up nearly 1 percent of Londoners, often interspersed in largely South Indian communities.
The island’s two major ethnic groups – Sinhalese and Tamils – come together every April to celebrate new year, which used to mark the end of the harvest season. You’ll see all the traditional celebrations in places like East Ham, Hounslow, Walthamstow and Croydon: sweets, games, music, rituals and the ‘New Year Princess’ competition. Don’t forget to wish your Sri Lankan friends a happy and prosperous new year. Zaynab Zubair (@CeyLonista)
Did you know? Rare Ceylon blue sapphires are found in the Imperial State Crown, housed in the Tower of London, and also in the Duchess of Cambridge’s engagement ring.
Zaynab’s favourite Sri Lankan places in London
London has recently experienced a boom in Sri Lankan cuisine, with restaurants like Hoppers in Soho playing a key role. Go for the devilled shrimp, bone marrow and a hopper, which is a crispy, bowl-shaped pancake made of fermented rice flour.
Renowned Sri Lankan chef Jerome Tissera arrives at Carousel on April 23 for a feast-filled residency.
To shop for Sri Lankan ingredients take a trip to East Ham on the District line and visit Seelans, where you can get anything from oil lamps to the best cinnamon in the world.
To appreciate the nuances of our culture and have a laugh, watch out for live dates by comedian Romesh Ranganathan, who traverses the Sri Lankan diaspora landscape impeded by his lovely mother.
Try some original Ceylon tea – my favourite is at Sketch in Mayfair. At home, drink it black with ginger and a tiny bite of jaggery or palm sugar for the full local effect. Perfect for winter chills!
The best of Sri Lankan London, according to you
‘Pamban Cafe in Camden Market is good for chai and snacks.’ Tracey-Anne K via Facebook