Sun, September 10th, 2017

Darshan’s first memory of prawns: men by roadsides displaying wet, succulent, freshly hauled crustaceans, waiting patiently for a car to slow down. The grey, brown creatures of the deep, tinged faintly with orange, would gleam with a magical allure. The sight would get burned into the mind of the young boy for prawns, which would reach ultimate culmination much later in his signature dishes as an international celebrity Chef Dharshan has always loved prawns and he prefers this crustacean to lobster. These days, he travels to far corners of the country to procure what restaurants. We accompanied him on one of these collecting trips toa ‘spawning ground’ of prawns. This was in reality a calm rippling stretch of water nestled amidst gentle yellow-green mountains, one of the more pleasurable features of the landscape in the area lying between Kurunegala and Dambulla. The reservoir was reached through tracks that curved through wild scrubland. This is territory where fishing is a traditional way of living, but where they once used to angle for finfish now prawns are netted. Prawns hatched in a hatchery are allowed to roam wild and free in the island’s freshwater lakes.

The variety mostly fished here is the Giant Freshwater Prawn, which in size can outsmart a crab. The prawn being a bottom feeder active at night, the nets have to be laid in the cusp of the evening – usually at six o’clock. The fishermen return in the early hours of the morning, typically at four, to gather the catch. It is often a very satisfying haul that makes the fishermen’s faces crease with smiles, given the size of most specimens. Among Dharshan’s prawn dishes, what he thinks brings out the element of the prawn best is Nihonbashi’s Ebi Shioyaki, prawns cooked with sweet natural salt on hard wood charcoal. But the Ministry of Crab’s claypot curry takes the cake as the most popular. Made of two types of prawns, this savoury potful, served with hunks of bona fide kade bread, has consistently been a bestseller and called by diners the ‘best prawn curry in the country’.  The Garlic Chilli Prawns are yet another favourite. But really altogether, there are so many delectable options. At MOC you are offered six sizes from the 150gram ‘Big prawn’ to the Prawnzilla which exceeds 500g. The dishes also explore all the tastes inherent to the delicacy. You will discover that the prawn has just as much amazing potential as its big red cousin with the claws.