Updated: Feb 7
Driving across Sri Lanka, you will pass through many verdant rice paddy fields. Of course, that is no surprise since rice is the country’s staple food and it’s second-largest crop after coconut. This means that rice features in many Sri Lankan meals.
Our menu at K+K Street Food includes one of the most popular rice-based vegan dishes in Sri Lanka: idiyappam, also known as string hoppers. Idiyappam is found everywhere in Sri Lanka from roadside and beachside stalls and hotel to cafes and bakeries. And there is no wrong time in the day to enjoy it.
We’re not completely certain about the origins of this dish, but according to the well-informed Indian food historian K.T. Acharya, idiyappam was already well known by the Tamil speaking regions of India and Sri Lanka around the first century. In The Story of Our Food, Acharya mentions that there are references to appam and idi-appam being sold by the seashore in Sangam literature, which is an ancient Tamil literature and the earliest literature from southern India and Sri Lanka that we know.
What’s interesting about Sangam literature is that in addition to describing historical events, it also documented aspects of ancient Tamil life, including its food, culture, art and people. Whilst ancient poetry usually has references to religious life, Sangam poetry largely focuses on the development of culture, including food, the arts and music.
We’re very proud of our culture here at K+K Street Food, so we think it’s remarkable that the core elements of idiyappam have remained the same for centuries since the Sangam period. One of my favourite childhood memories is waking up in the mornings and bouncing into the kitchen to watch my mother make idiyappam. My siblings and I were fascinated by the hand-held machine our mother used to shape the idiyappam and we argued with each other about whose turn it was to help her.
To make idiyappam, rice flour and water are combined to make a dough which is then used to create small noodles shaped into little nests. These are then steamed and enjoyed with a curry dish. If you are sitting down for breakfast, then a lovely coconut milk sodhi or pol sambal (coconut sambal) with idiyappam finished with a Ceylon tea or Kopi (coffee) is the perfect meal. If you are sitting down to lunch or dinner and want something a bit more filling, then you’ll be very satisfied with idiyappam with a lovely chicken or mutton kari, bursting with tender soft pieces of meat.
For something a bit different, especially if you have a bit of a sweet tooth, you can add grated coconut into the batter. These nests topped with some coconut treacle and lime zest make for a fantastic dessert! Definitely, something to try at home if you’re feeling inspired!
If this has gotten your mouth watering, then come visit us at the K+K Street Food, BoxPark Croydon!