My tryst with Sri Lankan cuisine began almost the same way that it did with Kerala cuisine; with a hopper or an appam. During my first visit to Sri Lanka more than a decade ago, I was on a vegetarian diet, and the Sri Lankan hopper and dhal curry provided much-needed comfort at breakfast. It's the same with cuisine from Kerala where my discovery started with what continues to be my 'go-to' Kerala meal - Appam and stew, any time of day or during any meal.
Origin and Influence of Hopper/Appam:
I've done numerous trips to Sri Lanka since that first visit with a more flexible meal approach and even as I've travelled across regions and explored cuisines from different communities that make this such a multi-cultural society, the Sri Lankan hopper remains my favourite along with the watalappam or watalappan. The hopper might be a Sri Lankan staple, but its origin story might go back to Tamil Nadu. KT Achaya, who authored 'Indian Food,' points out that the appam gets a mention in Perumpanarruppatai, a famous collection of poems that can be traced back to the third century AD. And then there's the fascinating Jewish back story for the hopper. Gil Marks, who authored Encyclopaedia of Jewish Foods, explores the connection between Jewish recipes and their new homelands. He suggested that the appam has been a staple among Jewish communities in cities like Kochi and Mumbai.
Regional Variations of Appam:
There are two distinct versions in South India. There's the Kerala version with a soft centre and the thinner-than-wafer crust with the perfect-sized tiny holes. It's because of the delicate process of pouring the batter - you need to allow one part of the batter to settle at the bottom while tilting the dish to ensure that the rest of the batter spreads evenly around the inside of the dish. And then the more fluffy, all-white Tamil Nadu-style appam that's usually served with coconut milk or kurma. Some of the chefs in Kerala tell me that the Appams in Tamil Nadu taste and look slightly different because of the deeper dishes that are typically used. Chennai saw a wave of Appam chains more than a decade ago, but that's cooled off somewhat. There are still players like SS Aapaa Kadai in Perungudi, Chennai, that stick to the same template. I'm still partial to the Kerala-style appam that you can order at restaurants like Ente Keralam in Chennai or Kappa Chakka Kandhari in Bengaluru or Chennai.
Also Read: How To Make Soft Appams - Easy Tips To Follow
Rediscovering the Sri Lankan Hopper: How To Make Sri Lankan Appam
The Sri Lankan-style hopper is closer to its Kerala cousin. I rediscovered my love for the hopper in Sri Lanka where Chef Jayasuriya (see recipe) explained the basics of the hopper. He attributes the perfect consistency and the crispy ends to the egg in the batter. You can try to craft the Sri Lankan-style hopper with his recipe.
Recipe for Sri Lankan Appam/Hopper:
Recipe courtesy: Chef Jayasuriya, Club Hotel Dolphin
- Rice flour - 1kg
- Coconut milk from a fresh coconut - 1 Litre
- Coconut water
- Whole egg - 1
- Sugar - 30gm
- Salt - 20gm
- Whole egg - 1 for each egg hopper
- Take a mixing bowl. Add rice flour and add the coconut water gradually, mixing with a metal spoon, squeezing out any lumps and achieving a thick, smooth putty consistency. Leave overnight in the fridge.
- On the day you want to cook hoppers, take the mixture and add the coconut milk gradually, stirring with a spoon. Then add the egg, salt, sugar and coconut milk. Stir to get a smooth, slightly thickened but still runny density.
- Then heat a hopper pan or a small, high-sided frying pan with a lid. Once hot, add a large spoonful of batter to it and swirl around the sides thinly but evenly. Cook uncovered for a minute. then add the lid and cook for a few minutes more to get the side golden brown colour and crispy sides. then remove from the pan.
- Same way prepare one more hopper and then add a whole egg, and some salt and pepper to taste. Cook uncovered for a minute, then add the lid and cook for a few minutes more for the perfect egg hopper.
My culinary journey through South India and Sri Lanka has led me to discover the delightful world of hoppers and appams. From the comforting flavours of Kerala-style appam to the crispy goodness of the Sri Lankan hopper, each variation brings its unique charm to the table. Whether you find yourself in a Kerala restaurant in Chennai or savouring the Sri Lankan hopper in Negombo, these dishes are sure to leave a lasting impression on your taste buds. So, don't hesitate to embark on your own culinary adventure and try crafting the Sri Lankan-style hopper with Chef Jayasuriya's recipe. Happy cooking and bon appetit!
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.