Meeting The Man Behind The Best Known Jackfruit Stall In Colombo
For around 20 years, one man has been selling jackfruit at a Colombo traffic junction. Even if the fruit is unavailable elsewhere, buyers know they can always get it here.
One man has singlehandedly changed the name of a busy traffic junction in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, forever. Instead of its official name, Jinthupitiya junction is now known as waraka handiya, or the junction of the ripe jackfruit.
The name change is due to local man, U.A. Sunhil, originally from the Matara area, who came to Colombo in the 1990s. He started selling ripe jackfruit at the Jinthupitiya
Occasionally suppliers will try and cheat him with the wrong fruit, but after so many years in the job, Sunhil spots the imposters immediately.
roundabout and after 20 years of plying his trade here, the traffic stop has become better known for the fruits sold at it, than for its actual location.
The large tropical jackfruit are a popular dish in Sri Lanka and eaten in everything from curries to spicy chilli dishes. However it is mostly sold unripened, as a green, firm fruit. It takes time to ripen and the yellow flesh of a ripe jackfruit tastes like a combination of banana, mango and pineapple.
The problem is that some areas of Sri Lanka don’t have jackfruit all year round, and they certainly cannot supply ripened jackfruit all the time, Sunthil explains why his stall is so popular. “That’s why people come here all year,” he boasts.
And Sunhil selected this particular spot because of its location on the road to several different Hindu temples; jackfruit is often taken as an offering to the temple by worshippers.
Sunhil’s stall is known as being reliable – they never run out of jackfruit and have a wide variety to choose from. The shop only closes for one holiday a year and that is in the ten days between April 10 and April 20 annually, when Sunhil returns home to his village.
In order to ensure his customers are always satisfied, Sunhil is almost always at the stall. He says he only sleeps in the afternoons.
“If one of my regular customers calls the shop and asks for jackfruit in the afternoon, then I open the stall again for them,” he told The Catamaran. After 8pm at night, he starts to get his stock for the next day delivered by trucks that have arrived in Colombo after a day’s driving from wherever jackfruits are ripening. Occasionally suppliers will try and cheat him by providing the wrong fruit, he notes, but after so many years in the job, Sunhil spots the imposters immediately.
“I will unload between 100 and 200 jackfruits a night, wash them and prepare them for the next day’s sales,” Sunhil says. Devotees who need jackfruit for their pilgrimages to the temples begin arriving very early in the morning.
The jackfruit specialist lives in a boarding house when he is not at his stall and with his fruit business, he earns a living for his whole family, including his three children who are still at school.
But given that jackfruit is hardly something essential, how can he justify the effort he must put into keeping up a 24-hour supply in Colombo?
“Once I had a man come to me, who had driven all the way from Badulla and arrived in Colombo at midnight,” Sunhil recalls. “His wife was pregnant and had a craving for jackfruit. He could not find it anywhere, until somebody sent him to me. I have so many similar stories. You can always find jackfruit here even if you cannot find it anywhere else. I have gained my customers’ trust over 20 years,” he concludes happily.