Crispy plain and egg hoppers
Sri Lanka boasts of a rich and varied array of dishes to suit the taste of many a visitor to the country. If one wants to try typical Sri Lankan food, the choice is vast.
Words: D. C. Ranatunga | Photography: Menaka Aravinda
‘Rice Pullers' - bath maruvo, in the native language Sinhala - is a simple way to describeSri Lankans. Either they consume rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner - in other words, morning, noon and night - or prepare another dish with rice as the base. Rice is obtained from paddy, a popular crop grown throughout Sri Lanka. The seeds of the paddy plant are first milled using a huller to remove the outer husks of the grain. The product is then ready for cooking. Rice can be boiled or steamed. Raw rice is ground into flour to make a variety of dishes such as appa, indi appa, kiri bath, pittu and roti.
Dr. Publis de Silva - known by all as ‘Publis' - describes what he calls Sri Lankan culinary culture and the many flavours that make Sri Lankan food unique. "Ours is a repository of medicinal properties. There are 42 such properties in the ingredients we use for the preparation of our food," he claims.
Appa - referred to as ‘hoppers' - is one of the most popular dishes which are laid out both for breakfast and dinner. The recipe is quite simple. 250g of rice flour, half a teaspoon of bicarbonate soda, half a teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of sugar and half a cup of thick coconut milk are the ingredients needed for an average preparation. These, other than coconut milk, are mixed well with water to form a thick paste like bread dough.
The dough is kept for a couple of hours to rise and the coconut milk is added prior to cooking. Two tablespoons of the batter are poured into a greased semi-circular wok-shaped pan which is tilted around to get a bowl-shaped finish. The pan is covered with a lid and cooked until it gives a golden hue and the rim is crunchy and the centre is soft.
Each hopper is around eight centimetres in diameter and is surrounded by a crispy rim of about three centimetres. The egg-hopper is a popular version where an egg is broken on to the centre of the hopper and baked.
Hoppers are eaten with lunu miris - a simple mix of chopped onions, chilli powder, Maldive fish and salt, and seeni (sugar) sambol where sliced onions are fried with chilli powder, Maldive fish, sugar and salt. Being spicy dishes, these tend to be rather hot but taste well.
Ambul thiyal - a baked fish preparation cooked in a clay pot with tuna fish, goraka (a sour fruit in the tamarind family), black pepper, garlic, ginger and cinnamon - are also served with hoppers. Though there is no gravy, the dish is most appetising.
Indiappa or string hoppers are prepared in a different way. Rice flour (250g) is first roasted in a pan, sifted and left to cool. Adding a quarter teaspoon of salt, the flour is mixed using boiled water, which is taken off the fire and kept out for about two minutes, until a smooth dough is created. The dough is pressed through a mould to produce vermicelli-like ‘strings' which are collected on round basket-woven thattu (mats). These are placed one on top of the other in the string hopper steamer, covered and steamed.
Pol (coconut) sambol, is an ideal add-on dish for indiappa along with ambul thiyal fish. Pittu another popular breakfast dish, is now served for dinner as well. Rice (150g) and kurakkan (a local grain - 100g) flour is mixed with 150g of grated coconut and half a teaspoon of salt, sprinkling water to form pieces like breadcrumbs. The mix is filled into a bamboo mould (aluminium moulds are also used now) and steamed for about 15 minutes. The finished product comes out in the form of a long roll, which is cut into pieces and served. Pol kiri (coconut milk) is a ‘must' to accompany the pittu.
Kiri bath (milk rice) is another popular breakfast dish where milk is added to the water in which the rice is boiled. The somewhat gluey rice is laid out flat about an inch thick on a plate and after levelling with a banana leaf, is cut into diamond shaped pieces. A piece of jaggery - a raw sugar made from the sap of a palm called kitul - is an ideal companion to kiri bath in addition to lunu miris and seeni sambol.
Roti - a circular unleavened bread made from flour mixed with coconut is a favourite among Sri Lankans. It is simple to prepare with the dough being made by mixing sieved flour, grated coconut and salt with cold water. After mixing to a suitable consistency, the dough is divided into equal balls. Each is flattened to obtain an even, round ‘roti', placed on a heated pan and baked. When a gold brownish colour appears, it is turned over and kept till the same brownish tint emerges. The roti is then ready to be eaten with lunu miris and curry.
To kick off the breakfast is a broth, kola kenda which literally means ‘green (leafy) cunjee' made with either one or several varieties of herbal leaves. The leaves along with the stems and roots are cut, washed and blended several times with scraped coconut, and a little water. The juice thus extracted is added to a little cooked rice and stirred till it boils. Salt is added and the drink is ready to be enjoyed with a piece of jaggery.
Sri Lanka, famous for its spices from early times, naturally uses them in the local menus. Though the country has earned a name for hot curries, the chefs are now quite competent to make adjustments to suit the palate of their wide clientele.
Photographs: Mount Lavinia Hotel