Now trending: the Sri Lankan breakfast hopper

Made from a batter of fermented rice flour and coconut milk in a curved pan, the hopper is a crispy pancake shaped like a bowl with a spongy middle. It is really nice and light and even though it is called a breakfast hopper (don’t be deceived by the heading), Sri Lanka loves all day hoppers – breakfast to afternoon snack or dinner. The love of all things hoppers, even though still unknown, has now started to transcend geographical boundaries with tourist and locals taking this humble pancake to the restaurants of the world.

Where did the hopper come from?

Hoppers known as appa or appam locally, owes its heritage to South India where close ties between the two nations also translated into the transfer of cuisine. Interestingly even Indonesia has a variant knows as kue apem or kue apam, a cake of steamed dough made from fermented rice flour, coconut milk and palm sugar usually served with grated coconut. Yum.

How do we eat it?

Sri Lankans will eat hoppers at least once a week, made at home or bought from street hawkers, which is where tourists might experience hoppers for the first time as well as in restaurants and  even boutique hotels. Hoppers are served plain, infused with more milk or with an egg in the middle; runny or hard to be dipped in a myriad of delicious Sri Lankan curries or used to scoop up coconut sambol straight in to your mouth. A popular variant of the hopper is my favourite, the pani appa; treacle is added to the batter to deliver a tasty snack, usually served up rolled unlike its savoury sibling. Best accompanied with a cup of Ceylon Tea or kadey thei, a strong cup of tea with condensed milk. The local quip “that hit the spot” is appropriately always echoed after having this beloved afternoon snack.

How important is the pan?

Yes, let’s not forget about the pan. In most Sri Lankan homes the hopper pans are a coveted heirloom handed down from generation to generation. Just as a wok, the pan must be seasoned and used a few times before being able to produce the correct hopper. Cooks are quite obsessive about the make and it is no secret that every time hoppers are cooked, even in a used pan, the first couple have to be discarded as they never come out perfect. Some feed the first batch to the crows – a superstitious custom still done to this day even in restaurants.

What does the future hold?

Fairly easy to make and with ingredients readily available anywhere, hoppers are now being recognized internationally for their yumminess. The modern versions of the hopper have seen them being stuffed with pulled chicken or pork and made smaller almost bite-size to be served as canapés.  Another area we are seeing experimentation is in the infusion of the traditional hopper with curry leaves, other spices and herbs. It is always nice when you see a local favourite being loved by others and interpreted in different ways. May the hopper legacy grow and happy eating!

Harshi Hewage is the Marketing Manager at Manor House Concepts.

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