Hoppers are soft leavened stove-top flatbreads, a kind of cross between pancakes and bread, that cook in wok-shaped pans (hopper makers) to make a bowl-shaped bread. The middle area of the “bowl” is thick, with thin almost frilly edges all round. The name, so unusual to our ears, is an English adaptation of the Tamil word for rice cakes appa or appam, that is commonly used in Sri Lanka.
We have one non-stick little wok which works beautifully for hoppers. They’re easy to make for three or four people, but unless you are an expert hopper maker (which we aren’t), they’re not the most practical recipe to prepare when you’re cooking for a crowd, because hoppers are at their best when served fresh and hot, and when you’re making one at a time, it’s hard to make a lot quickly. This being said, they’re a ton of fun to make. If you’re just home from a trip to Sri Lanka, you won’t believe that you’re actually turning out hoppers in your own kitchen.
Hoppers are made with all-purpose flour or rice flour, or a blend; this recipe uses all-purpose flour. The flour is mixed with coconut milk to make a thick batter that we leaven with yeast; in Sri Lanka the batter is often instead soured with toddy, a local liquor.
In Sri Lanka, hoppers are an important food, served commonly for breakfast or late afternoon snack. Little restaurants specialize in hoppers, and even a pub will often have a hopper-maker turning them out for late-night snackers. They’re typically eaten with a variety of spicy sambols (Sri Lankan salsas).
Accompany with a hot salsa.
Yield: Makes 12 to 15 hoppers; serves five or six.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix the flour and salt. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and then sprinkle on the sugar and stir to mix well. When the yeast is dissolved, add the mixture to the flour, along with the coconut milk. Stir to mix thoroughly. A batter will form. Cover and leave to rise for 2 to 3 hours.
Grease a small wok or hopper pan and put out a lid for it. We use a small non-stick wok, which works very well. Heat it over a moderate to low heat. Stir the batter. If it has thickened and is too thick to pour, add 1 or 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 millilitres) water and stir in.
Pour 1/4 cup (50 millilitres) of batter into the bottom of the hot wok and then lift and tilt the pan immediately to get the batter to flow outward and form a wider circle around the bottom of the pan. Place the pan back on the heat and cover with a lid. Cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes, until the bottom of the bread is lightly browned (the top will be smooth and steam-cooked), and then ease it out of the pan with a flat wooden spoon. Lightly oil the pan with an oiled paper towel between each hopper.
Serve the hoppers hot, as they come off the pan.