Sri Lankan Hoppers: Funny Name, Delicious Pancakes

By Mark Wiens 24 Comments
Street Restaurant in Sri Lanka
Street Restaurant in Sri Lanka

It’s restaurants like these that scream to be eaten at.

Often it’s little more than a shack of antique wood covered in rusty tin and sponsored by Coca Cola. In Nairobi, some of the best nyama choma is served out of very similar looking establishments.

For me, the lure of the setting and the fragrance of the food is stronger than a choir of sirens calling me by name.

This particular hole in the wall restaurant near Sigiriya, Sri Lanka was where I found and devoured one of most famous snacks / foods in the country: Sri Lankan hoppers (also known sometimes as Appa).

Egg Hoppers Painting
Egg Hoppers Painting

Another positive sign of a great street food restaurant is when there are hand painted signs of the particular food served. I surely do enjoy food art!

When I first heard the name “hoppers,” I was imagined something a little more like Thai dancing shrimp, or the notorious bug cart. They’re all hoppers, aren’t they?

Sri Lankan Hoppers
Sri Lankan Hoppers Batter

What are Sri Lankan Hoppers?

So before we dig in to this Sri Lankan specialty (with a funny name), I’m going to do my best to explain to you what exactly a hopper is.

It all begins with a pancake like batter that is mixed up in a clay-pot. The batter is a combination of rice flour, wheat flour, coconut milk, and sometimes a splash of toddy (Sri Lankan palm wine) to give it a subtle tinge of sourness.

Cooking Sri Lankan Hoppers
Cooking Sri Lankan Hoppers

In my opinion (and you’ll notice that it’s probably a fact when in Sri Lanka) it’s a requirement to cook Sri Lankan hoppers in a traditional wrap around sarong and shirtless.

At least I sure know that I would wear an identical outfit if I ever get a chance to cook Sri Lankan food!

Sri Lankan Hoppers
Making Sri Lankan Hoppers

Hoppers are cooked in small rounded pans, like a miniature version of an “Asian wok.” The metal is thick on the bottom so it produces a deep encircling heat.

A scoop of the runny batter is dropped in the preheated pan (with no oil), and the chef makes a few artistic motions so the batter coats the entire pan, but doesn’t fall out the edges.

At this point, if you ordered your hoppers without an egg, it will be taken out of the pan. If you did get an egg (I’d highly recommend it!), this is the moment when an egg is cracked right into the middle of the mess.

Egg Hoppers, Sri Lanka
Egg Hoppers, Sri Lanka

The hoppers are cooked a little longer, making sure the egg doesn’t get too dried out before being removed from the heat (cooks use a variety of instruments, this guy was using some Sri Lankan chopsticks!).

Hoppers Appa
Almost Ready to Eat!

When the hopper is deemed ready, the cook frees the edges of the pancake and because the pan was so piping hot, the hopper pops out clean and beautiful.

Ready Egg Hopper
Ready Egg Hopper

Sri Lankan egg hoppers should be cooked so the egg yolk is still runny – you want it to be oozy and delicious.

After taking the hopper of the heat, the cook sprinkles on just a pinch of salt and black pepper to season.

Lunu Miris
Lunu Miris

There are a number of different things that you can eat along with Sri Lankan hoppers. Some may choose to eat the precious pancakes with just salt and pepper, others may eat them with a bit of curry sauce, and others choose the “sambol” option.

The particular sambol (or sauce) pictured above is known as Lunu Miris, a mixture of red onions, garlic, salt and loads of chili powder – this is my choice preference condiment for Sri Lankan hoppers.

Sri Lankan Hoppers
Sri Lankan Hoppers

So there you have an authentic Sri Lankan hopper, sitting beautifully on a plate and ready to be devoured.

Cooked correctly, Sri Lankan hoppers should be spongy and airy in the center (it really reminded me of Ethiopian injera) and thin, crunchy and flaky on the edges. The contrast of textures is possible only with the rounded hopper skillet.

Eating a Wonderful Hopper
Eating a Wonderful Hopper

There is in full glory, one of the many hoppers stuffed with lunu miris that I gobbled down at a ferocious rate.

Though hoppers are often considered a breakfast meal in Sri Lanka, I found many places around the country to serve hoppers throughout the day. A stack of plain hoppers are also quite popular as a late afternoon snack, during tea time.

If you love food be sure to check out this list of best Sri Lankan food.

24 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • John moffatt

    6 years ago

    How do you stay slim with the amount of food you eat? I was delighted to read your blog on egg hoppers and sambas! One of my favourite meals????when you are next in Taiwan try the Mongolian barbecue! A buffet of loads of stuff and you take it to one of the chefs who have 4ft long chopsticks and cook on an upturns wok over a brazier. Have fun my friend????????

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey John, thank you very much for your support. I guess I come from a family that isn’t overweight, but also I try to avoid sweets and drinks most of the time, so I think that helps. That sounds delicious, will definitely try that next trip to Taiwan.

  • Joel Bruner

    8 years ago

    Hey dude, I was showing your site to some friends who asked about Sri Lanka, they want me to let you know, “We are very impressed with his website and photography abilities!”
    take it easy dude! I’m dreaming about some breakfast Hoppers!
    God bless
    peace!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Ah, thanks for sharing Joel! Yes, some hoppers would be fantastic!

  • Tony Christoffelsz

    10 years ago

    I am trying to find the name (Sinhalese) of the middle of the hopper. Everybody tells me that it is “Meddah” and I’m sure it has another name although I can’t remember it.

    I recently did a video on hopper making and posted it on YouTube as it is the BEST hopper I’ve tasted out of Ceylon/SL. This is the link for it: http://youtu.be/e2I8-uNGTb4 I hope you can help me with name of the middle!

    I would also like to exchange links between our websites to our mutual benefit and exchange of ideas; I am just learning to cook my own things!
    Thanks and All the Best
    Tony

    • Raji

      8 years ago

      Hi Tony.. Yeah its actully called Appa “Madaya” (which is center of the Hoppers) and the rest Appa “Watiya”

  • Phil

    10 years ago

    tried this in SIngapore and I do believe one can also eat as a dessert when you wrap brown sugar and coconut instead of onion chili. I’ve read they can be called string hoppers as well.

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Thanks Phil, the sweet version would be excellent as well. I believe string hoppers is more like a noodle typ of dish – I’ve never had it, but it does look great too.

  • jen laceda

    10 years ago

    What a coincidence! I was just reading a recipe from the New York Times Cook Book on Hoppers!!! This is sooo weird, but funny, sine I thought to myself, I wonder how hoppers look like? (as the cookbook didn’t provide photos). Now I know!

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Haha, awesome to hear that Jen. Are you going to try the recipe for hoppers? Make sure you make a lot of the onion chili (lunu miris) garnish – it’s so good. I want to see some photos of the hoppers you make – I know they will be outstanding!

  • Colleen Setchell

    10 years ago

    Beautifully described. Makes me want to rush over the Sri Lanka and try them for myself… 🙂 YUM,””

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      That’s a great idea Colleen, they are so tasty. Thanks!

  • Tash

    10 years ago

    Yum! Those pictures take me back!

  • Caty

    10 years ago

    Oh my word I’m drooling just looking at the pictures. I loooove egg hoppers. They are always the first and last thing I eat in Sri Lanka when I visit my boyfriend. I could live on hoppers, kotthu and roti. Did you try string hoppers while in Sri Lanka? They are only served for breakfast and look like a small birds nest made out of rice noodles and they are perfect with some daahl on the side. YUMMY!

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Thanks Caty! I loved egg hoppers as well, so delicious! No, I honestly ran out of time and stomach space before getting to string hoppers – now I’m quite disappointed that I didn’t try it yet – but hopefully there will be next time. Thanks for taking a look and for this comment!

  • sully86

    10 years ago

    mark: mark break a beat!!!!! * hip hopper style8

  • Lane

    10 years ago

    Another mouth-watering article!

  • Chili ~ Lime ~ Garlic

    10 years ago

    That looks like a mini dosa. yummy!!!!

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Yes, kind of like that. It was so delicious, especially loaded up with the chili onion sauce.