How to Eat a Hopper, and Other Curious Starches From Sri Lanka


Hoppers come four to an order and — surprise! — there’s a runny egg inside one of them.

This week, Counter Culture traipses in to Banana Leaf, a newish Sri Lankan restaurant in the part of Manhattan that used to be known as the Fur District (think of how much better that sounds than the Meatpacking District).

There we discovered a plethora of strange starches to accompany the dark-colored curries. It was sometimes a challenge figuring out how to eat them, as was the case with string hoppers, made with the same batter as the regular hoppers, but turned into flat nests of noodles instead, which arrived stacked up.

But what do you do with them? You can pour the curry over, or grab a wad with your right hand and dip them in the curry, but trying to actually deposit them in the curry results in a big mess.

Of course, the hoppers themselves constitute a challenge, too. Your first impulse may be to pour the curry right into the bowl — which causes the bowl to dissolve. Better to treat them, not as bowls, but as any other flatbread: Break off a piece and dip it in the curry.

Each snowy-white bundle of string hoppers represents several flattened skeins stacked up.


Pittu is perhaps the most challenging starch of all.

But the problem of using all the foregoing starches (and a couple more not pictured, including godamba roti and coconut roti) pales in comparison to deploying pittu, a strange cylinder of toasted coconut and rice that arrives dry as a bone. The reanimation fluids are at hand, however, including a bowl of coconut milk and a zesty onion chutney. Our most satisfactory use was to mix a handful of pittu with curry and coconut milk into a delightful porridge, using the chutney as condiment.

And if you find these too challenging, you can get just plain rice with several of the Sri Lankan specialties.

At Banana Leaf, there’s even a fairly standard version of Chinese fried rice.