A first taste of Sri Lankan cuisine inspires a cookbook

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Hoppers are traditional Sri Lankan bread made with short-grain rice and coconut that's fermented like sourdough. Photo by Ryan Wijayaratne.

Before Karan Gokani visited the teardrop-shaped island of Sri Lanka, he expected the food to be reminiscent of South India. Instead, he discovered a melange of flavors influenced by Tamils, Sinhalese, Dutch burghers, Malay Muslims, and years of colonization. 

Gokani says black pork curry is the marquee dish for introducing Sri Lankan food to new audiences, and says he spent three years trying to reverse engineer the dish after tasting it. The curry is served at Hoppers, a trio of restaurants he co-owns in London. 

"It's a curry like I never had before, so it's very much still rooted in that region of the world,” says Gokani. “For me that was a revelation, and even today defines my first experience of Sri Lanka."

Hoppers, which accompany many curries, are a traditional bread made with short-grain rice that's soaked with coconut then ground and fermented with yeast. Gokani describes how the batter is fermented like a sourdough and then swirled around an aluminum wok over a gas burner, creating a bowlike pancake to accompany curries and sambals.

Kothu, a popular street food, starts with chopped roti, which is stir fried with shredded vegetables, curry, eggs, and herbs. 

"Imagine you live in Sri Lanka. You've been on this big night out. You come back, you then open your fridge and you look for your leftovers. The sum of the parts is incredible," says Gokani. He encourages those walking down Sri Lanka's streets to listen for the chop-chop sounds of vendors' clanky paddles making kothu on flat griddle tops.

Where chutneys and pickles figure prominently in Indian cuisine, sambols and mallungs — a cross between a salad and a relish — are the Sri Landan analog. Gokani shares his recipe for seeni sambol, an onion jam used as a condiment.

Gokani's book of recipes, which is also found at his restaurants, is "Hoppers: The Cookbook." 

Excerpted with permission from "Hoppers" by Karan Gokani published by Quadrille Publishing.

Many traditional breads in Sri Lanka were made with rice or lentils. Hopper batter is ready once it starts to bubble and has the right level of sweetness. Photo by Ryan Wijayaratne.

"You could use nonstick, but we always prefer the aluminum wok heated over gas," says Karan Gokani, describing the process of making hoppers. Photo by Ryan Wijayaratne.

A pool of batter at the bottom of the wok with a quick swirl creates a thin lace around the top and a crisp, bowl-shaped pancake in which an egg can be cracked. Photo by Ryan Wijayaratne.

A hopper can be enjoyed on its own or ripped and dipped to eat with curries and sambals. Photo by Ryan Wijayaratne.

Excerpted with permission from "Hoppers" by Karan Gokani published by Quadrille Publishing.

With three locations, Hoppers serves Sri Lankan and South Indian cuisine in London. Photo by Ryan Wijayaratne.

Karan Gokani lays out his first impressions of Sri Lankan food and the recipes behind his London restaurant in "Hoppers: The Cookbook." Photo courtesy of Quadrille Publishing.