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Whenever EquityEats CEO Johann Moonesinghe‘s mom Ruth visits D.C., she always cooks a Sri Lankan meal for him and his friends.
“All his friends have told him him, ‘Johann, if your mom’s going to start a restaurant, we’ll invest,'” says Ruth. She has no plans to actually open a restaurant at this point, but she will be taking over the kitchen at her son’s pop-up venture, Prequel, which hosts a rotation of restaurant and bar concepts in Penn Quarter. Tickets for the Sri Lankan feast on July 31 and Aug. 1 are $50 per person.
Ruth, a high school calculus teacher in Pasadena, Calif., may not be a professional chef like some of the others who’ve passed through Prequel, but she is known among friends and family for her cooking. She’s no stranger to preparing meals for big groups, either: Last weekend, she hosted a party for her three-year-old granddaughter and cooked for more than 100 people.
“This is my summer break, so whatever I can do to promote Prequel and Sri Lankan culture and food in D.C., I’m really excited about doing that,” she says.
Ruth grew up in Sri Lanka and moved to California in 1977, where she learned to cook from her mother-in-law, who did catering, and her mom. “I never cooked in Sri Lanka,” she says. “I wasn’t allowed in the kitchen. My grandma wouldn’t let me. Girls don’t spoil their fingers until they get married.”
Ruth describes Sri Lankan cuisine as a mix of south Indian and Thai food with Dutch and British influences. Her family-style menu will include a dozen stir-fries, curries, and other dishes such as deviled shrimp spiced with ginger, garlic, leeks, and yellow chilies. The dishes are a combination of Tamil recipes from her family and Sinhalese recipes from the family of her husband, who will help as sous chef for the pop-up. Most of the food is vegan and gluten-free.
Sri Lankan food is traditionally eaten with your fingers. “You take the rice and you take a couple proteins and five different vegetables and you mix a little bit of each thing together with some kind of a sambal or maybe a chutney as well, and then you can make a little ball with your fingers and eat all of it together,” Johann explains.
The pop-up will provide diners with instructions on the traditional way to eat, but if they prefer, there will also be forks and spoons.
Photo courtesy Johann Moonsinghe and Prequel