Kothu roti: Sri Lanka’s favourite street food

Updated: Nov 28, 2019

Any restaurant offering Sri Lankan street food would be seriously deficient if kothu roti didn’t feature on the menu. At K+K Street Food, we prepare ours using shredded Godhuma roti (made with wheat flour), fresh vegetables or tender meat, and our secret sauce.

Walking around virtually any part of Sri Lanka, you will hear the familiar, rhythmical clanging of steel blades working diligently to make the perfect kothu roti. But what is the history of Sri Lankan’s most popular and well-known street food dish?

The name ‘kothu roti’ and its variations (including kothu rotti, kottu roti and koththu roti) are derived from both Tamil and Sinhalese languages and mean ‘shredded roti.’ No one knows the precise origins of the dish, but according to one story, it all started with a very entrepreneurial cook in Batticaloa, a lovely city on the eastern part of the island surrounded by picturesque beaches, in the late 1970s. Old Godhamba rotis, known for their chewy, flaky texture, were discarded at the end of the day because they couldn’t be sold. This cook added this old roti to a hot, oiled griddle and then shredded it into small pieces using heavy steel blades, with spices, vegetables, and possibly meats or eggs also being added. The tasty mixture was garnished with chillies and onion. The dish grew in popularity and spread throughout the country. Some say this is because the sounds of kothu roti can be heard from far and wide and are a useful alert to let you know that a hot, satisfying meal will be ready soon.

The 1980s were a very difficult time for Sri Lanka. But Those who remember that time also remember the sounds of kothu roti being prepared in the streets. Sri Lanka is a diverse melting pot of different cultures and religions. Kothu roti was a unifying thread in those trying times because no matter which side you were on, all enjoyed the dish.

At K+K Street Food, we love kothu roti because it is a versatile dish that can be customised to suit any diet and any palette. Some prefer their spicy while others prefer sweet. Some like to get creative and add cheese and other toppings while others appreciate the classic way of preparing it. Regardless, everyone will agree that kothu roti is the ideal Sri Lankan comfort food: utterly moreish and filling.

Although the most common type of kothu roti uses a curry sauce, or kari sauce as we call it, some prepare theirs just with the spices rather than any sauce. We prefer using our homemade kari sauce as it enhances the flavour of the roti and gives it a richer and creamer taste.

If you haven’t tried kothu roti yet, you are definitely missing out. One bite of K+K’s kothu roti will have you returning to our BoxPark location in Croydon for more, but don’t take our word for it. Come try it yourself!

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