Rice and curry plates, string hoppers, and Sri Lankan short eats are coming to Belmont Street. Mirisata, the Sri Lankan worker-owned pop-up that gained a major following during the pandemic, will open a restaurant in the former Hunt & Gather Catering space this Friday, October 2.
Mirisata, which translates loosely from Sinhala to “spicy curry,” is collectively owned by Alex, Simar, and Rochelle, who asked to be referred to by first names only. The vegan pop-up-turned-restaurant’s specialty is its Sri Lankan rice and curry plate, featuring an assortment of curries — dal, polos (young jackfruit), cashew, and “chicken” — accompanied by pol sambol (coconut relish), seeni sambol (onion relish), beetroot kirata, and deviled potatoes atop a banana leaf. Everything is meant to be mixed together, so spicier dishes can be balanced by mellower ones and to create different flavor combinations for each bite.
Alex grew up eating Sri Lankan food; his father was raised in central Sri Lanka. He cooked for family and friends regularly, often spending close to eight hours to prepare a meal for four. When friends encouraged him to start a restaurant, Alex wanted to bring a seasoned chef on board to scale up his home recipes. Simar, who has over a decade of experience in vegan cooking, was the only vegan of the 12 chefs who responded to a job listing. Previously, Simar worked as a private chef, cooking meals for families and catering events and retreats. Together, they hosted their first and only dine-in pop-up at Epif on March 8 — days before Portland went into quarantine. Rochelle, a talented Filipino home cook and Food Fight Grocery employee, was among the attendees. In July, after Food Fight announced the permanent closure of its Stark location, Alex invited Rochelle to join Mirisata.
When COVID-19 hit, the pop-up adapted to a takeout-only format, with online ordering and assigned pickup times. For 12 weeks, they served rice and curry out of a small commercial kitchen in Northeast Portland. Many Sri Lankan customers drove from Hillsboro weekly; some even picked up as many as 10 orders to drop off with friends. “It’s humbling that they’re so excited,” Alex says.
When the kitchen signed a lease with a long-term tenant, Mirisata went on a brief hiatus. However, on September 26, Mirisata’s Instagram posted a teaser with a five-mile radius map and colorful jungle fowl logo, designed by Sri Lankan illustrator Suprabha Irugalratne, marking where the new restaurant may be found.
With access to a larger kitchen — including twice as many burners and a tilt skillet to caramelize onions for seeni sambol — the worker cooperative plans to hire new members before expanding the menu further. Mirisata will serve string hoppers — rice noodles shaped into a patty and eaten with curry — once a string hopper machine arrives from Sri Lanka; that machine will produce 100 string hoppers a minute, rather than the group laboriously making them by hand. Deviled “chicken,” coconut roti, vegan egg hoppers, and even a Sri Lankan take on avocado toast are on the way, too.
The menu will include more street foods, known as short eats, like parippu vada — fried lentil fritters — and curried Impossible “beef” rolls. During colder months, the restaurant will serve ceylon tea and vegan milk tea.
To make ordering and pickup as safe and seamless as possible, the restaurant will have three ramps: one for pre-paid online orders and delivery services, one for walkup orders, and one for exiting. Dutch doors with a counter for contactless pickup and covered decks for outdoor dining are in the works. Down the road, family reservations in the dining room may be possible, but won’t include table service.
In addition to representing Sri Lankan cuisine and swiftly implementing pivots, Mirisata stands out as one of the few worker-owned food businesses in Portland. “There are no benefits to having a hierarchy, which often leads to abuse and toxic situations due to the imbalances of power,” Alex explains. “As a first generation, half Sri Lankan, I don’t feel ownership of the food and culture. I’m not comfortable owning it as my own. I’m not bringing more to the table than Simar and Rochelle … [Mirisata] began as a tiny rice of an idea. What it’s become is because of all of us.” The worker cooperative hopes to inspire other worker-owned businesses and help make startup costs more feasible.
Starting October 2, Mirisata will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Sundays at 2420 SE Belmont Street. In the past, the worker cooperative has donated the entirety of its tips, raising over $4,000 for non-profits and justice organizations like Fridays 4 Freedom and Free Lunch Collective. Opening weekend tips will go to Mirisata for the first time, to help cover restaurant opening costs.
• Mirisata [Official]
• Mirisata [Instagram]
• The Long History of Sri Lanka’s Short Eats [Taste]
• Mirisata, Portland’s Only Sri Lankan Pop-Up, Is Looking for a New Home [PoMo]