Weligama: Sri Lankan Street Food In London

Weligama: Sri Lankan Street Food In London

Ever heard of a hopper? These crêpe-like ‘bowls’ are a popular street food in Sri Lanka, and since Druid Street Market launched this summer, we’ve been spending Saturdays in Southwark rolling up our sleeves to get down and dirty with one of these splendid street snacks.

chef Emily Dobbs launched Weligama earlier this year
and since then, the pop-up has been gifting London with a whole new
street food experience. Inspired by Sri Lankan cuisine, Emily
creates savoury pancakes laden with spices, sambals and a runny
egg. After swooping in on Emily’s Druid Street stall, we pinned her
down from her one-woman Weligama show to ask her a few questions
about why London is going bonkers for hoppers.

CURIOUS PEAR: Why Sri Lankan food?

EMILY DOBBS: I grew up travelling to Sri Lanka
and have always loved the food. I never understood why it wasn’t
available in London or why no one seemed interested in exploring
the cuisine. In London, Indian food has a stigma for being greasy
and heavy. This is simply not true with Sri Lankan food, which is
very healthy, light and fresh tasting. I want to modernise Sri
Lankan food and redefine what it is.

CP: To anyone who doesn’t know what a Sri
Lankan Hopper is, can you explain it?

ED: It’s a fermented pancake made out of rice
flour and coconut milk. I use red rice flour because I prefer the
flavour and texture, but white rice is traditional. An egg is then
cooked and steamed in the hopper batter and served with various
sambals made out of fresh coconut and spices. Lunu miris is also
typically served as an extra seasoning, which is Sinhalese for salt

CP:What’s the background of the hopper in Sri
Lanka? When and how are they traditionally eaten?

ED: They are traditionally called appa or appam
and typically eaten for breakfast or as a snack. They are
notoriously difficult to make and messy to eat! My advice is to
roll up your sleeves and dig in. Then have a second or third.

CP: When did you have your first hopper

ED: I’ve only eaten hoppers a couple of times
in Sri Lanka. It was Peter Kurvita’s cookbook that inspired me to
cook hoppers. It took me many months and numerous failed attempts
to achieve the perfect hopper batter, which might explain why they
haven’t been done before in London.

CP: What’s your personal favorite flavour on
the Weligama menu?

ED: I love to eat hoppers quite simply with
mustard oil, black pepper, lime juice and coriander. Lemon pickle
is also a winner.

CP: What three words sum up Sri Lankan

ED: Maldivian fish, pandan & coconut.

CP: Tell us about your career as a chef, what
made you want to start your own thing up?

ED: My first cooking job was actually on a
ranch in Wyoming. However, London is booming with fantastic
restaurants and I’m so lucky to have worked in a few of the best. I
learnt flavour at The Dock Kitchen, simplicity at Ducksoup and
presentation from Skye Gyngell at Spring. I really love working in
kitchens and being part of a team, but would always question why
things were done a certain way and how things could be improved
rather than just being told what to do, which got me in trouble a
few times! I really love experimenting. It’s so exciting to be able
to do exactly what I want to do.

CP: What is exciting you about the London food
scene at the moment?

ED: More people are supporting local markets,
small producers and suppliers. I pride myself on using Clarence
Court eggs and Butter Culture handcrafted butter.

CP: Where do you like to eat in London?

ED: A few of my favourites are Lyle’s, Som Saa,
Koya bar, Towpath café, Rochelle Canteen, Morito and Ducksoup.

CP: What’s next for Weligama?

ED: First I need to find a team as it is
currently just me! Maybe a restaurant and a book in a few years
time, too. I would like to serve different things besides hoppers
but what you’re cooking on the street with only two hands it’s

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