September 9, 2021
In a tiny glass-paneled boutique with a few plastic chairs scattered across the room, I watched Radhika aunty swirl rice flour batter in a small, high-sided pan. It settles into a soft, mushy mound in the center and forms a lacy crispy-edged wall. “That’s a plain appam,” said Radhika aunty, smiling, referring to Sri Lanka’s traditional version of the bowl-shaped snack. Appam is Tamil for hoppers.
Radhika aunty’s real name is Noelin Margaret. But everyone calls her Radhika aunty. Now 48, she has been making hoppers — her plain ones go for 20 rupees each ($0.10) — for the last 14 years in Wellawatta, a Colombo neighborhood.
Nighttime in Sri Lanka comes to life with snacks like hoppers. When the fading sun streaks the skies with a deep magenta, roadside boutiques, hole-in-the-wall spots, and fine dining venues all oil up their hopper pans awaiting a busy night.
The joyous crunch of hoppers, however, is no longer limited to the island. In 2019, Deliveroo called Sri Lankan food “one of the trendiest foods around” as orders grew by 116%, with hoppers being a fast-seller. Thanks to its versatility, the quintessential Sri Lankan snack is making its way around the world — from Hoppers restaurants in London to food festivals in Melbourne to eateries like the Hopper Hut in Toronto.