Colombo isn't exactly known worldwide as a foodie destination. The food here is definitely good, especially if it's roti kottu, string hoppers or rice and curry you're after, but it's not like Colombo is swimming with world-class restaurants. But, there is one. Ministry of Crab is not only one of the most renowned restaurants in Sri Lanka, it's also number 29 on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants List for 2017. As the name suggests, the restaurant is serious about its crab to the point that it's almost a religion.
Ministry of Crab is located in the old Dutch Hospital area, one of the more upmarket parts of the city. The restaurant has a minimalistic style. There's a large open kitchen that you can peer into while you eat, and there are of course tanks with live crabs that might just become your meal. The Ministry of Crab emblem adorns almost everything in the restaurant - including the 'Keep Calm and Eat Crab' bibs that become essential once you start cracking a few crab legs.
Crabs are ranked by their size - there's the teeny tiny 1/2 kilo crab at the bottom and the monstrous 2kg 'Crabzilla' at the other end. Crab sizes depend on the season and what gets caught in the morning. All of the crabs are freshly caught locally. Ministry of Crab has a strict no freezer policy, unless they're freezing their old crab scraps so they don't stink up the kitchen before the garbage is collected. If you're not sure which crab to pick, the wait staff should be able to give you a good idea based on the size of your group.
Once you've selected a crab, it's time to select a sauce. There are seven options available: pepper crab, chilli crab, curry crab, garlic chilli crab, garlic crab, garlic pepper crab and butter crab. Does the chilli crab sound a little like the popular Singaporean dish? Well, the popularity of chilli crab in Singapore is actually thanks to Sri Lanka, as that is where the best mud crabs in Singapore come from.
Crab is the obvious star, but there are also other dishes available with a strong focus on seafood. A few dishes are Japanese inspired, and it's not surprising considering Ministry of Crab's co-owner and executive chef, Dharshan Munidasa, also founded Sri Lanka's best known Japanese restaurant, Nihonbashi. If you're more of a prawn kind of guy, then you can choose your perfect Sri Lankan king prawns in a similar variety of sauces.
If you're unfamiliar with Sri Lankan food, the kade bread might seem like a bit of an odd menu option. It's far from the rotis you might be used to. It's a thick cut white bread, sliced from a loaf. They're cooked in a wood-fired oven, and while it certainly isn't the fanciest dish, it turns out a nice hunk of bread it the perfect accompaniment to soak up all your leftover sauce. It might be a top-ranked restaurant, but there's no pretence here. You're in a bib the moment you sit down, forks are optional, and mopping up your sauce is essential.
After a hot day, and there are many of them in Colombo, a carafe of iced tea soda is very refreshing. Bubbly and a little bit sweet, it's amazing how fast 500ml goes. There's also ginger beer, which is a strong contender for Sri Lanka's favourite drink. This isn't like canned or bottled varieties you'll find overseas, the real ginger flavour packs a strong punch. Finally, there's also the lemon juice or soda that comes with two little test tubes of sugar syrup, so you can adjust it for the perfect sweetness. There is a small list of wines and beer, but why not try their Small Island Ice Tea instead; it's a mix of their ice tea soda and Sri Lankan Premium Old Arrack.
With the smallest crab starting at 4,000Rs, Ministry of Crab is far more expensive than most Colombo dining options, but compared to many of the other restaurants on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants List, it's still very affordable. There aren't too many places where you're going to get crabs this good for that kind of price.