We were waiting. We’d called the number on the card and were waiting outside the Sham Shui Po MTR station Exit D1 as instructed. My friend knew who we were looking for as he had already been to the place. But I scanned the crowd anxiously trying to identify the face of the boy who would “pick us up” and lead us down the maze of streets and alleys into his living room that doubled as a 1 table restaurant for those in the know.
I’d never been there before but we knew it was BYOB, so while we were waiting for the owner’s son to retrieve us we ducked into the closest Seven Eleven and bought a few large bottles of beer to share. Which beer goes best with homemade Sri Lankan food? Better to be on the safe side and get 1 of each: 1 Carlsberg, 1 Tsingtao, and 1 mystery beer that I can’t remember.
The boy we were waiting for had no trouble identifying us as that evening’s customers. Three white people in the middle of a Chinese electronics neighborhood stand out quite a bit I guess, if you know what you’re looking for. He didn’t blend in much either, as a slightly chubby Sri Lankan middle schooler in a crowd of locals on the hunt for cheap cell phones.
The boy led us through the Friday night street market activity and past stores closing up shop; stores the size of closets that sold electrical outlets, or plastic buckets; or pre-used pre-fab furniture. Once we arrived at the front of his apartment building, a dingy and poorly lit concrete affair from too many decades ago, I had a moment of hesitation before following the others up the stairs. Headlines about foreigner’s lured into mysterious places just to wake up without a kidney or two ran through my head. But there was little time to weigh risks as my fearless friends were already disappearing up the staircase.
After more stairs than I would have preferred climbing in the infamous double threat of Hong Kong heat and humidity we were led into a flat that was crowded with the life and business of this unknown family. From what I gathered they were a Sri Lankan family that did private catering – cooking up big batches of delicousness and sending it off by the trayfull to whoever their customers were. We were lucky enough to have a seat at the lone table in their living room, shoe horned into a corner past a mattress and an antiquated looking laptop which my friend told me our guide does his homework at some nights while the guests eat their fill.
We cracked open a beer and shared it in small cups that our child waiter brought us as he told us about what food was available that night. I don’t know much about Sri Lankan food so I let my friend do the ordering; one of everything and two of others. There were chicken dishes and veggie dishes and rice dishes and I remember thinking that Sri Lankan food, at least this Sri Lankan food was not as similar to stereotypical Indian cuisine as I had thought it might be. We stayed for a few hours in this living room in Sham Shui Po, enjoying the home cooked meal and warm Sri Lankan hospitality. They even went out to buy us more beer, Heineken, once our original supply ran out.
We’ve tried to make another appointment to dine there again, but they were always booked and then we lost the piece of paper that their number was on. Although it’s not far from our apartment I could never locate it by myself without the help of the boy whose name I regret not learning. I guess it’ll just have to be the little Sri Lankan place that we’ll never find again.