Gollum, Fanta and Arabia

Saturday, 29 September 2012 02:06 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Creepy customer service

Way too many Colombo stores seem to think it’s OK to silently follow customers around and just stare at them. It’s not. It’s just creepy and weird.

Recently we went to Leather Collection. The manager immediately started following us like five feet behind. It was so obnoxious. They don’t even greet you or anything, they just follow you around like you’re a criminal. It’s a really bad way to run a store and it’s plain rude in human terms.

You know that feeling when you get when someone is staring at you? It’s creepy. A lot of customer service staff seems to think that this is their job, but their weirdness just turns people off. Now I just leave because I feel like their staff wants to molest me.

Other issues

Another time, my friend was at Cool Planet and the manager asked her to stop writing prices down. I guess not taking photos is one thing (kind of self-defeating in the social media age), but not writing? He said she might publish the prices (which we will) but that’s even more absurd. The right to speech including publication is in the Sri Lankan Constitution, if you want to go that far. You can write and think what you want and shop managers aren’t mini-tyrants.

Israel grade security

Neither should their staff be mini secret police. Shoplifting is an issue, but there are much more effective ways to prevent theft than stalking your customers. For example, look at how the Israelis do airport security. They know there are few airports terrorists would like to blow up more, yet they do it without stalking everybody personally.

The Israelis have trained staff to ask passengers a few simple questions, where are you going, what’s in your bag. Based on the responses (nervous, rushed) they single out two to five per cent of people for additional screening, which is hardcore.

The application to Sri Lanka is that managers or customer service can just greet customers and have a normal conversation (which they should be doing anyway). From that you can tell who’s suspicious. More importantly, it makes the customer feel at home and among friends, which in turn makes them more likely to buy your stuff.

Sri Lankan stalkiness

Sadly, the basic Sri Lankan security model gets neither security nor prosperity for shop-owners. The current behavior is that the staff doesn’t greet the customer at all, they just silently follow them, staring at them from behind. I mean, really? In what other context is that polite? It’s not. When a stranger follows you around just staring at you silently, that’s called stalking. It’s creepy and a bit illegal. This creepy customer service has got to stop.

BOMU: the Fanta challenge

Unlike most other countries where carbonated orange drinks actually taste something like an orange (Orangina, Tango, Sunkist etc.), ours look super orange but taste absolutely nothing like it and somehow (likely the liberal amounts of sugar), they’re actually better.

So of our superior fizzies, which one’s the best?

We tried them all to find out.

The contenders

MyOrange: We didn’t like this at all. It cost Rs. 60 for a 300ml plastic bottle, which is fine, but the drink was awful – both smelling and tasting like medicine. The orange flavouring was too concentrated, like an overbearing Vitamin C, and it wasn’t nearly as carbonated as it should be. Too chemical-tasting don’t get this.

Mirinda: The first thing one of our tasters said when taking a sip of this was ugh it’s spicy and weird. Which was strange, because we’ve had Mirinda before and it’s been fine but this Mirinda was decidedly bad. There was a strong aftertaste, and it just tasted bitter and off. Turns out this is because it was off – the bottle (Rs. 85 for 500ml) we bought from the government Co-Op City down the road had expired. The expiry date was marked two weeks ago – but we thought these drinks were designed to survive the apocalypse? How could it taste so bad so soon? Definitely dodgy.

We tried a non-expired Mirinda just to make sure, and its fine, the taste is good. It’s got a nice tangy hit, and actually comes the closest to Fanta in terms of taste.

Orange Barley: We loved this. It doesn’t quite belong in the group of orange fizzies, because although it has the name orange, it isn’t really an orange drink at all. It’s really good and quite classy – something like a cross between Fanta and Ginger Ale, with notes of Cream Soda. It’s a lovely deep shade of champagne and would make a novel mixer. Costs Rs. 190 for 1.5L.

Orange Crush: The tasters had differing views on this one. He insists the drink is cloying, limp on the tounge and smells like fish. I don’t think it smells like fish (this is probably just the odour of poorly washed glasses) – it’s like a normal, oversweet Sri Lankan beverage. But like the MyOrange, it also lacks fizz. It’s okay, really not as bad as he makes out, but not amazing either. A 400ml bottle cost Rs. 39.

Fanta: Fanta’s the most widely available of the orange fizzies, and a good thing too, because it’s the clear winner. It’s nicely carbonated and tastes like gummy bears. Delicious. The Sri Lankan Fanta is very different from those you get elsewhere, like the UK Fanta which is yellow and actually tastes closer to an orange. But ours is better and we love it. Costs Rs. 27 for 175ml.


Orange Crush had the highest value while Fanta was the most expensive. Note that these numbers are skewed because we bought different sizes. The Fanta was a tiny bottle and the Orange Barley was huge. But this gives you a sense.

The conclusion

1. Fanta

2. Orange Barley

3. Mirinda

4. Orange Crush

5. MyOrange

Fanta is still the best. It’s the classic – comforting and somehow normal, and it’s redefined what the colour orange tastes like. Mirinda’s also quite good but if you want something a little different and more unique try the Orange Barley. It’s a completely different sort of taste.

KAMU: Arabian Knights

Arabian Knights is a new and absolutely charming Syrian restaurant right by the sea. It only has about four seats and is more a takeaway joint, but if you walk in you’ll be glad you did. Everybody there is quite charming (I said it twice because it’s true) and you can taste that they’ve put love and care into the food.

The food

We sat down to have lunch. The meal began with a heart-shaped falafel which the chef gave us for free. The chef is authentic Syrian, so much so that he speaks no English (or Sinhala or Tamil) at all, which gave us great hopes for the food. He wears a bright red fez and is quite sweet, when he gave us the falafel he said “love Sri Lanka.”

The falafel itself was crunchy and good, coated with sesame seeds and a tahini sauce.

For lunch we ordered the Spicy Syriana Meal (Rs. 460) and the Falafel Veg Sandwich (Rs. 230). The Spicy Syriana consists of a beef or chicken shawarama (wrap), french fries, two falafel and cole slaw.

Let’s start with the shawarma. It was good. Too many Sri Lankan joints think a shawarma is a wrap but it really has a character of its own. Arabian Knights gets it right, with light parsley, tomato and those lovely pickled beets. Plus they include a delicious garlic mayo sauce and chili sauce, the little touches that make Arabic meals so nice. Is it the best shawarma I’ve ever had? Not quite, the bread could be a bit less toasted for example, but its head-and-shoulders above any Arabic food in Sri Lanka so far.

Again, it’s the little things that make a difference. The fries go quickly with the dipping sauces, the falafels come with their own tahini sauce and the shawarma has a good bite of veg inside. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is the coleslaw, but I’ve never liked coleslaw.

The drinks

They also have an incredible drink called the polo mint lemonade (Rs. 200). This tastes just like the lime and mint frappe at Commons, but it’s 100 bucks cheaper. We also tried the AKs Special Layers Cocktail, which is separated layers of mango, papaya and banana juice, like at Bombay Sweet Mahal. We’ve long thought this was a genius drink and it’s nice to see it somewhere else.

The location

Marine Drive (officially the Colombo Plan Road) is one of our favorite strips in Colombo. I mean, you have the Indian Ocean on one side, with some amazing sunsets. What’s not to like? Despite being small, Arabian Knights has a stunning view of the ocean. Marine Drive, also, is one of the less trafficked roads in Colombo with no particular issues with parking and all. That said, don’t come here for a family dinner, there’s only four seats.

The price

Our total bill for two people getting everything we wanted was Rs. 1,190. Tax and service seem to be included in their prices, which is a blessing in this time of surprising bills. You can still have quite a decent bite for Rs. 500.


We give Arabian Knights two sauce coated thumbs up. The food is excellent, but most of all the staff and owners are charming and put thought and care into the food. It’s good that the chefs are authentic Syrian, but its better that they’re authentically nice. Good food is a matter of both quality and service and Arabian Knights has both. We recommend.

For daily tips on exploring Colombo, please visit us at www.yamu.lk or on Facebook at fb.com/yamulk.