Hoppers are soft, leavened stove-top flatbreads, a kind of cross between pancakes and bread, that cook in a wok-shaped pan (hopper maker) to make bowl-shaped bread. The middle area of the “bowl” is thick, with thin, almost frilly edges all round. The bottom of the bread is lightly browned, the top tender and steam cooked. The unusual name is an English adaptation of the Tamil word for rice breads, appa or appam, that is commonly used in Sri Lanka. (In Sri Lanka, there is another kind of hopper, called a string hopper, that is a bundle of steamed noodles made from a similar batter.)
We have a little nonstick wok that 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 food to prepare when you’re cooking for a crowd. Hoppers are at their best when served fresh and hot; when you can make only one at a time, it’s hard to produce 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 soured instead with toddy, a local liquor (see page 310).
Hoppers are an important food in Sri Lanka, commonly served 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).