It's the unsung hero of Sri Lankan cuisine. And like all great foods - actually, just fried rice - malu paan was likely born of the ashes of last night's dinner.
The dreggy leftovers of a fish curry, bits of vegetable and the last Ala standing of the thel dala all smushed into a pastey mix and stuffed inside a ball of dough, the corners smoothed into sharp points by achchi's wrinkled fingers.
A soft-bunned, triangular short eat staple. It can be seen in plastic lunch boxes, it can be caught dangling from hands clutching siri siri bags or it can be gobbled up by side of the roving petti kade; a malu paan can be breakfast, a few malu paans can be lunch and a whole bunch of malu paan can be a party.
Whether from the ovens of P&S or the rickety wheels of a Dimo batta this is an iconic piece of Sri Lankan cuisine, and it's sat smugly at the head of our short eat tables for centuries (well, not centuries, but a long time).
1. Softness of the bread
2. Levels of fishiness - it may be a fish bun, but the best ones tend to be the least fishy tasting.
3. And most importantly... The malu to paan ratio - does the malu mix spread evenly through out the bread or is it concentrated in a disappointing nugget at the heart of all that bready goodness?
Taking these three features into account, we delved into Colombo's bakeries and Dimo battas, eating our way through the king of the short eats and searching for the alpha bun.
Now note that we didn't actually use a ratio.
The average in that sense would be something like 3:2, but that's a bit confusing. Instead, we measured horizontally and said what percentage of the total was malu.
So the rough average was something like 60% malu, 40% bread.
Of course, it's a three dimensional thing.
We measured vertically but that didn't make much difference.
Long and plump, the bread is topped with a smattering of sesame seeds and the golden brown top fades into a gentle white at the base.
The outer shell is crusty, the centre sinks with softness and the chunks of tuna are devilled and laced with spice and pepper.
This almost tastes like chicken...
Verdict: Delicious. But it's not a malu paan.
BreadTalk's is more a tuna bun, missing that core ingredient of potato that gives every bun it's starchy filling.
We've had a lot to say about BreadTalk in the past, but we'll give them this - they do make a good tuna bite.
While the outside looks rather greasy and unappetising with a straggly sliver of red onion were pressed on as garnish, the bun was soft and light as air.
Biting into it, however, the bread immediately deflated and collapsed onto itself, exposing the meagre centre of meat and a hollow concave of air. Abysmal ratio aside, however, the filling is excellent - light strands of peppery tuna accompanied by fluffy bread.
The three balanced bites we got from it were good ones.
Ward Place Petti Kade
On some days you have the best malu paan of your life, but just as things are getting good it can all go wheels up.
That's what happened here.
We thought the lowly Ward Place Petti Kade was a strong contender for the crown, but when we brought our golden prize home and sliced it, we were horrified.
The poorest malu to paan ratio we'd seen so far; the filling, while spicy and good just wasn't there.
Verdict: Taste wise, this could be one of the best malu paans. Filling? Barely there.
The taste, however, quite horrible.
It was fishy, but the bad kind.
Like it had been churned in bad oil and chucked in with all the yucky parts - skin and scales.
Verdict: Way too fishy for the malu to paan ratio to matter.
Greeney yellow again, and very peppery and potatoey - sort of like a stew.
This had an interesting flavor and good value.
Verdict: A strong contendor in terms of both ratio and taste.
Perera & Sons
The paan had a smoky burnt taste and was a tad too fishy - we also got some gnarly bits of fish (maldive fish?) as well.
Lots of potato.
Verdict: It's aight. But not great.
The filling was a light orange and the fish was flakey.
It was cheesy, there was lots of carrot and veg.
This is kind of a more Western version with not too much potato, more like the BreadTalk version but with more spice.
Verdict: A different kind of malu paan - light on the potatoey, but cheesy and different.
If you dropped it on the table it landed with a soft sigh - compare to the others, which fell with a dull thud.
The top was lightly burnt and the bread was in Baby Cheramy leagues of softness.
Great ratio as well - lots of leek, potato, chilli, cumin and carrot strewn in with the fish.
It was fishy but not in a bad way.
Taste wise, while this close to the best, it isn't quite as amazing as what I remember the Apollo paan to have been - which actually tasted like chicken.
Verdict: One of your best bets for an authentic malu paan
The Fab bun contained an orangey potato paste, and tasted good. It was peppery and the good kind of fishy. Ratio fine.
Verdict: Solid contendor, could do with a tad more malu.