Our first meal in Sri Lanka happened to be South Indian, as there was a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant across the street from the Renuka Hotel where we staying while in Colombo. It was great to order curd rice and lemon rice, familiar foods we had eaten during our stay in Kerala in 2006. However, we were keen to try the local specialties and our introduction happened at breakfast our first morning in Colombo.
The hotel had a buffet breakfast and as we walked along the length of the tables we saw fresh fruits, assorted breads, jam, butter and fruit juices. There was a sign indicating that eggs could be made to order but it wasn’t until we reached the furthest end of the table that we saw the chaffing dishes with the hot Sri Lanka foods. There was a potato curry, dal, a large bowl of what looked like coconut mixed with onions and red chilies and then a large plate with small white nest-like bunches. These were the string hoppers that we had read about our guidebook.
We were thrilled to see the dal and potato curry because we wanted to avoid white bread where at all possible. Adia doesn’t digest wheat well, and I know that I don’t either. There’s really no food value at all in white flour, so if it has to be white, we would prefer things made from rice. We loaded our places with the dishes and sat down to our first Sri Lanka meal ever. It was delicious!
From that point on, wherever we travelled, we requested string hoppers for breakfast. You would think that most hotels would be only too happy to provide local dishes for breakfast, as they prepare them anyway to feed the staff, but surprisingly, some places have resisted and toast, jam and butter are the order of the day. For that reason, we were thrilled to find that the View Point Villas in Ella were only too happy to accommodate our request for Sri Lankan meals. In fact, we decided to extend our stay in Ella from four nights to seven and this was partly due to the delicious food we were given to eat.
Over the course of our stay, we came to know the cook, Nishanth, very well and one day we asked him if we could come when he was preparing the string hoppers, so that we could learn how they are made. He was only too happy to have us come into his kitchen one morning at 8:00am and show us the steps to produce these unusual morsels.
I think that the photos tell the story better than I can describe it here. The key is getting the dough the right consistency; it’s a little like making bread, you have to get the feel of the dough, so measuring a certain amount of flour and adding a specific amount of water doesn’t work the way it does for making cookies and cakes. Once the dough is the right consistency, it is pressed through a simple device and the ‘string’ come out of the bottom. It takes a little practice to wiggle the device and create little nests of strings perched on the plastic mesh rings.
The rings are then placed in a steamer over boiling water and processed for seven minutes per batch. The sting hoppers are allowed to cool and then are stacked on a plate and served with dal and pol sambol (shredded fresh coconut mixed with onions, fresh green chilies and lime juice). Delicious. I am planning to buy the press and a set of the little mesh rings to take home to Adia. We have great plans to make string hoppers on a regular basis when we are in Victoria with her this summer.