Hoppers, also known as Appam in Sri Lanka, are a popular authentic food unique to the country’s cuisine. These cup-shaped rice flour pancakes are eaten mostly during breakfast or dinner; they cannot be found anywhere during lunch time. Street food in Sri Lanka is definitely out on big scale but while rice and curry is not much of an on-the-go dish, appam is an exception.
The perfect definition of a hopper or appam is that it should be light and fluffy in the center and crispy at the edges. The batter of this pancake consists of ground rice, coconut milk, sugar, salt and yeast. The ingredients should be mixed and left overnight for fermentation. The batter should be quite thin in order to get the crispy edge. The biggest trick with getting the appam right is the pan that you use. Your pan should be seasoned and oiled properly to result in a perfectly crispy appam. Some say sesame oil is the best to use for making hoppers but since this is quite expensive in Sri Lanka, some use coconut oil and vegetable oil as substitutes.
Soak a cloth rag in oil and wet the pan with it. Once you’ve poured some batter on the pan, turn it around so the batter covers the entire bowl shaped pan. You know you’ve got your appam right when all you need to do is tilt the pan once the hopper is cooked and it just slides out by itself.
Hoppers are made either in plain batter, or with an egg cooked at the center (half or full – just the way you like it), or with some sweetened coconut milk at the center. Plain and egg hoppers usually go for the main meal along with side dishes like dhal curry, chicken curry, onion sambol or coconut sambol. And most people like to wind up their hopper meal with a sweetened milk hopper. Tea time jaggery hoppers are also available at a few places and are a favorite amongst many.
Because hoppers are available so widely around the country, very few families actually make them within their homes. Also because the seasoned pan gives the perfectly crispy hopper, it is better to purchase from a seasoned appam expert than make it at home! Roadside cafes serve appam at very reasonable prices, usually starting from LKR 20 for a plain hopper and LKR 40 for an egg hopper.
For the more adventurous Sri Lanka holiday seekers, you can try out some authentic hoppers available on the streets as you drive across any town in Sri Lanka. For those who want to sit comfortably and enjoy the hot hot hoppers off the pan, these restaurants in Colombo serve some of the best hoppers:
- Palmyrah Restaurant (Renuka Hotel)
- Café on the 5th (5th Lane, Col 03)
- Upali’s Restaurant (Townhall, Col 07)
- Green Cabin (Galle Rd, Col 03)
- Yacht Cabin (Marine Drive, Wellawatte)