Rambutan: A Cookbook, Pop-up, & Restaurant Bringing Sri Lanka To London's Borough Market

Rambutan: A Cookbook, Pop-up, & Restaurant Bringing Sri Lanka To London's Borough Market
L: Bloomsbury ; R: Thamarai

Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon is an island full of culture, nature, and wildlife floating in tropical waters off the southern tip of India. It is defined by its gentle Buddhist culture, friendly people and laid-back way of life, despite its troubled recent history. A great way to dive into the essence of the country is through Its food. Known for its particular combinations of herbs, spices, fish, vegetables, rice, and fruits, Sri Lankan cuisine is highly centred around varieties of rice, as well as coconut which is a ubiquitous plant throughout the region. Its rich culture has brought its diaspora back to their home-country time and time again.

Much like Cynthia Shanmugalingam, a British-Sri Lankan author and food entrepreneur who grew up in Coventry, England. Heavily inspired by her Tamil roots and summers spent exploring markets, milling spices and cooking over fire in her mother’s north Sri Lankan village, she recently announced a series of launches - a cookbook, summer pop-up and restaurant called Rambutan, named after the exotic fruit found in Sri Lanka.


The Book - Rambutan: Recipes from Sri Lanka, released earlier this year, navigates the country and its cuisine through the lens of a British-born immigrant looking to discover more about her heritage and the place her parents call home. It is the story of Cynthia’s Tamil family and the island’s unique, spicy, fresh, vegan-friendly cuisine that deliciously combines Javanese, Malay, Indian, Arab, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences. Cynthia serves up a feast of over 80 simple recipes, including coconut dal, hoppers, kothu roti, cashew nut curry and her mum’s slow-cooked Jaffna lamb curry. Stories of family and travel combine with beautiful landscapes and candid photography in the book to show both ancient and modern Sri Lanka. From crispy hopper pancakes to spicy drinking snacks, this exuberant guide is for beginners and experienced cooks alike.

“Spicy, fried things to eat are popular with a beer or some tea — perhaps fried vadai doughnuts studded with shrimp, cumin, shallots and green chillies, or a mutton roll with a dollop of hot sauce. Or maybe the island’s famous fish dishes, such as turmeric fish curry, tamarind prawns or, most revered of all, crab curry. And to wash it all down, you’ll definitely need a cool drink or two.”, says an excerpt from the book.

London Eater

The Restaurant - In 2019, Cynthia started hosting Sri Lankan Rambutan popups, which she hoped one day would develop into a restaurant. The hard work has finally paid off, and Cynthia is prepping for the opening of her two-floor restaurant ‘Rambutan’, in Borough Market which is now said to open in January 2023. The space includes a 60-seater dining room on the ground floor and a teeny bar in the basement. Here, Cynthia will serve village-style Sri Lankan food with a focus on regional dishes traditionally found in the north of the country.

“This restaurant couldn’t exist in Sri Lanka,” she says. “It’s deeply inspired by London’s immigrant communities, far beyond something like roast potatoes with curry leaves. I find that quite a sad idea of what a modern London restaurant looks like. British food isn’t just English food. Borough Market is where tourists often come with an idea of what British food is, and I want to show that Sri Lankan Tamil cooking from the diaspora is part of that story.”

The restaurant’s design is described as “proudly post-colonial,” taking substantial inspiration from the legendary Minnette de Silva, a native mid-century architect of Srilanka who was instrumental in changing the built vernacular of Colombo after Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948. Her influence will shape the dining room and the bar, stocked with natural wines and cocktails built on Sri Lankan staples like lemongrass, pandan, and Ceylon tea.

The Nudge

The Summer Pop-up - An exciting prelude to the opening of the restaurant, Shanmugalingam partnered with soft serve stars Soft and Swirly for an eight-week pop-up outside the site, putting out exotic, Sri-Lankan inspired soft-serve flavours, ranging from kithul made with jaggery syrup & cashew nuts, to spiced Ceylon tea with Milo & banana, to alphonso mango. Rambutan Ice opens at 12 pm Monday through Friday and 11 am on the weekends. Sam Lowry and Farah Kezou, the founders of Soft & Swirly will also run the dessert program at Rambutan Restaurant.

Cynthia Shanmugalingam has taken the culinary world by storm through her cookbook cum memoir which was included in the '10 best cookbooks of fall 2022' at eater, and has become a star chef of the Borough Market. Along with taking her love for her roots to the world and paying tribute to Sri Lanka, the entrepreneur is changing the game by merging cultures; combining ancient culinary traditions with modern innovations of the diaspora's cuisines.