It’s only day one, but the Lankan Filling Station at Carriageworks Farmers Market is pumping. Chef O Tama Carey (formerly of Berta) stands at a row of flaming gas hobs, each one heating a small rounded pan. Carey is making hoppers, a Sri Lankan street-food staple.
“We were meant to have a hopper chef today,” says Carey, “but he didn’t turn up.” Her cheeks glow from the effort of singlehandedly churning out hoppers for a day of busy market trade.
Hoppers are thin like a crepe, full of bubbles like injera (Ethiopian flatbread), but the ingredients are closest to Vietnamese banh xeo (pancakes). Hoppers are made from fermented rice flour, yeast and coconut milk batter.
The process of making the batter is a labour of patience. “We ferment the rice flour dough for two days before adding the coconut milk,” says Carey. After that, they’re as quick as fast food. Carey ladles batter into a hopper pan, tilting the pan in circles until the white mixture coats the bottom. Then she pops on the lid and waits.
The result is a pancake the size of two cupped hands. The outside is delicate and crisp, and the inside texture is chewy, creamy and a little sour.
At Lankan Filling Station hoppers are filled with the curry of the day, dahl lentils or a steamed egg. An assortment of chilli sambols – pol sambol with grated coconut and maldive fish side, or spicy katta sambol with red chilli – round off the meal.
Black pork curry was on the menu when we visit (April 22). It’s dark with salty morsels of tender pork mixed with curry leaves.
“I’ve been experimenting with spice mixes, and every week I make something new,” says Carey.
This one has 13 roasted spices, plus eight other secret ingredients. The heat is pleasant. It blooms in the mouth until you’re thirsty, but happy and warm.
For sweets, there are Love Cakes, a Sri Lankan-Dutch dessert made with semolina flour, egg yolks and rose water. It’s legendary for its alleged aphrodisiac properties.
A permanent home is in the works for the Lankan Filling Station, but for now the markets suit Carey. “I think we’ll stay here for a while,” she says.