Try it now: hopper, Sri Lanka's beloved bowl-shaped pancake

Get to know the history and cooking technique behind Sri Lanka's hoppers — a savoury pancake and breakfast staple. Plus, we recommend four more pancakes to try from around the world.

By Lauren Hoffman
Published 8 Jun 2018, 20:00 BST, Updated 14 Jul 2021, 14:48 BST
Hoppers are a morning staple in Sri Lanka and a popular street food.

Hoppers are a morning staple in Sri Lanka and a popular street food.

Photograph by Getty Images

What are hoppers?

This savoury (or sweet) pancake consists of fermented batter, made from rice flour and coconut milk, fried in a bowl-shaped pan and filled with kari (curry) and sambal (fiery relish). It's a morning staple in Sri Lanka and a popular street food, where they've been plated up for years — often with a runny egg baked into the base. Texture-wise you can expect perfectly crisp edges and a soft centre to soak up the flavours. Throw in some fresh coconut and fragrant spices and you have yourself a breakfast — lunch, or dinner — of champions. No cutlery required.

The history

The origin of hoppers, also known as appam, is a little mysterious. But the late American food writer and historian Gil Marks credited early Jewish settlers in Southern India with the original recipe, dating back 2,000 years. As well as Sri Lanka, appam is also common in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where toddy — a local liquor — is used to leaven the batter instead of yeast.

Where to try it

In London, head to Hoppers in Soho, Marylebone or King's Cross — owned by the people behind Michelin-starred Indian restaurant, Gymkhana. On the menu are hoppers both with and without eggs. Fancy making them yourself? Pick up a copy of the book Weligama by ex-Ducksoup chef Emily Dobbs, who spent childhood holidays on Sri Lanka's south coast.

Four more pancakes from around the world

1. Jianbing, China: resembling a crepe, this Beijing breakfast classic is served folded and filled with fried eggs, pickles, spring onions and coriander.

2. Pannekoek, Netherlands: served sweet or savoury, these traditional pancakes are eaten as a main and can measure up to a foot in width.

3. Dosa, India: a popular South Indian breakfast crepe made with rice and lentil batter, filled with curries and chutneys.

4. Injera, Ethiopia: Ethiopia's national dish is a spongy, sourdough-risen flatbread resembling a large pancake. It's served topped with stews and salads.

Published in Issue 1 of National Geographic Traveller Food

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