Leslie Gunaratne was a young man in 1967 when he found himself on Staten Island, New York City’s smallest borough by population. The Sri Lankan accountant traveled to New York in search of better possibilities.
He got US citizenship six years later and assisted his family in relocating to Staten Island. By 1979, he stated that 80% of Sri Lankans on the island were related to him by “blood or marriage.”
Staten Island’s Tompkinsville and Stapleton communities have morphed into a type of Little Sri Lanka. Sri Lankans now number more than 4,000 on the island. Recent arrivals represent the major ethnic groups on the island: Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims.
The flavor of Home Staten Island
Vijayakumari Devadas, or Viji as her customers refer to her, decided to create a restaurant in 2009. She is currently co-owner of the business alongside her husband Devdas Ceruphatie, her brother, and sister-in-law.
New Asha serves classic rice and curry sets and string hoppers (rice noodles), kothu (diced roti stir-fried with eggs, spices, veggies, and meat), and fish buns. Viji, who is of Tamil descent, is self-taught in the kitchen, yet her frequent customer lauds her authenticity.
The rustic décor of New Asha evokes the feel of a tiny eatery in the South Asian nation. Dishani Silva, a Sri Lankan student who arrived on Staten Island in 2019, says, “It’s the closest thing to home for me.” Additionally, the restaurant serves north and south Indian cuisines, which are popular with Sri Lankans.
Silva occasionally dines at the more upscale Lakruwana restaurant, which started in 1995 as a modest eatery seating just 20 people in Manhattan’s Theater District. The first restaurant closed in 2004 due to a fire.
Since relocating to its current Staten Island location in 2010, Lakruwana has risen in popularity.
Also, owing in part to consumers’ conviction that the ingredients in Sri Lankan cuisine might help “avoid numerous ailments.”
Lakruwana Wijesinghe, the restaurant’s owner, likewise desired to provide his patrons with an authentic taste of his native country. With this in mind, he transported the restaurant’s decorations and tableware in a 40-foot container from Sri Lanka to New York. Lakruwana’s most popular menu item is its Sunday brunch buffet, which features over 20 island-inspired dishes.
Wijesinghe is involved in the Sri Lankan community’s cultural life. He supports his daughter Julia’s desire to open New York’s only Sri Lankan museum and donate artwork to the Staten Island Buddhist Vihara Meditation Center and Healing Garden.
Other restaurants on Staten Island feature South Asian fusion cuisine and Sri Lankan cuisine adapted to the American palate.
Anthony Bourdain was one of several celebrities that visited Sri Lanka and dined at several Sri Lankan eateries. However, the epidemic has affected. Several of them, including Lak Bojun, well-known for its Lamprais — a rice dish associated with Sri Lanka’s Dutch colonial heritage — has closed.