Sri Lanka’s perfect, crispy-edged snack – Appam | Travel

Appam, or “hoppers” in English, are cup-shaped rice-flour pancakes. They are eaten most commonly for breakfast and dinner, which, in Sri Lanka, are the smaller meals of the day – so don’t go looking for them for lunch. Sri Lanka doesn’t have a big street food scene – the traditional food of rice and curries isn’t really an “on the go” dish – but appam are the exception: they are sold at stalls (sometimes as part of a restaurant) with chicken curry (more gravy than meat) and coconut sambal.

The perfect appam is light and fluffy in the middle and crispy at the edges. Traditionally the batter is made with ground rice, coconut milk, sugar, salt, and yeast or toddy, and left to ferment overnight. The trick is the pan: the batter needs to be fairly thin to get the crispy edge, so if your pan isn’t seasoned and oiled properly, you can’t get the appam out at the end. Opinions vary about the best oil to use: gingelly oil (sesame) is traditional, but in Sri Lanka it’s expensive, so coconut or vegetable oils are common substitutes. Barely “wet” the pan with an oil-soaked rag, and you’ll know you’ve done it right when all you need to do is tilt the pan and the appam slides out.

A hole-in-the-wall restaurant serving appams and kottu roti in Kandy. Photograph: Alamy

Often you’ll find good examples in hotel restaurants. Nuga Gama, in the gardens of the Cinnamon Grand hotel in Colombo, does a fantastic evening buffet, including appam. But for the adventurous, I’d recommend the streets of Pettah, near Fort railway station, and its smattering of workers’ cafes: there’s no menu, and little English is spoken. But that’s fine – you already know what you want.

Yohini Nandakumar is co-founder of Sparrow, in Lewisham, south London, which has a new appam-focused brunch menu

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