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

These cup-shaped pancakes are an obsession in Sri Lanka and the no-menu street cafes of Colombo do it best

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.

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