Mumbai Food: Three foodies launch a Sri Lankan eatery for street grub
Small and cosy, the 15-seater exudes architectural influences from Sri Lanka, where elements like cane and wood furnishings give a sense of its country of inspiration
It was sometime last year that chef Lakshit Shetty and siblings Sahil and Jai Wadhwa launched Hoppumm as a pop-up at a flea market. Despite being armed with enough ingredients to last the evening, the response from patrons exceeded their collective expectations. "We had to prepare the food from scratch almost three times," recalls Shetty. Fortunately, the 30-year-old's six-year stint as sous chef at a five-star meant he had the necessary expertise to rustle it up in a jiffy.
And now, having tasted the hoppums - derived from Sri Lankan hoppers and topped with everything from eggs to soya kheema - we can safely say that the reaction wasn't entirely unexpected.
Vatthalapam, a Sri Lankan pudding
Bowl of goodness
After hitting a homerun at fashion boroughs and weddings in the last one year, the pop-up now has a home at Bandra's 28th Road. A week prior to its October 18 launch, we visit the space on a sultry afternoon to find it packed with friends and family. In fact, actor Imran Khan and his wife recently dropped by for a tasting. "That proud feeling when your childhood buddies successfully adult and have a restaurant of their own...with some seriously smashing food. Well done," posted Avantika on Instagram. It's precisely the adulation that inspired the trio, who have known each other since their Bombay Scottish days, to go brick and mortar. Bandra, expectedly, became a go-to choice for destination given the suburb's penchant to host all things experimental. "We've seen the evolving trajectory in the hospitality sector, where people are now more open to sample food from smaller set ups. Unconventional cuisine is the new flavour," says Shetty.
Multigrain hopper with prawn moilee
Small and cosy, the 15-seater exudes architectural influences from Sri Lanka, where elements like cane and wood furnishings give a sense of its country of inspiration. But, the highlight here are the bowl-shaped Sri Lankan pancakes filled with a range of fragrant curries. To make it flexible, they offer combinations where you can pair a base staple – hopper, string hopper (idiyappam), neer dosa, paratha or kothu roti - with a flavourful filling. The team visited the island twice to get a sense of the street food. "There are several parallels between South Indian and Sri Lankan food given the cultural exchanges. But there are pronounced differences too, which is seen in the ingredients used. Usually, a Sri Lankan would say they use more spice and more coconut milk in their recipes," he says. The key, then, was not to tweak it. "We wanted people to taste the difference. They shouldn't feel like they've visited an Indian restaurant."
Spinach hopper with vegetable stew. Pics/Ashish Raje
A street experience
We begin our tasting with the hoppum with the prawn moilee, a creamy sweet-spicy gravy. What we love is the play of textures, the golden brown pancake is crispy outside and tapers to a spongy feel at the centre. It's a meal that requires you to eat with hands for best results. We also try the vegetarian stew, which almost makes us momentarily forget the prawn moilee, and that's something given the diehard seafood lover that this writer is.
Lakshit Shetty with Jai and Sahil Wadhwa
For a more street food Sri Lankan experience, we try the Kottu roti, a flatbread that is shredded and then mixed with vegetables, meat and eggs along with aromatic spices and sauces. "If you take a stroll down a busy street in Sri Lanka, you'll be greeted with the sound of street vendors making kottu roti and people carrying takeaways. It's immensely popular," he says. All dishes are served with spicy relishes called onion sambol. While the vegetarian options are limited in Sri Lanka, here there's enough to please the herbivores.
For dessert, we try the Vathalappam, a kind of coconut custard pudding suffused with the creaminess of coconut and the sweetness of jaggery. It's a befitting end to our Lankan experience.
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