Last month newspaper and magazine food chatter was about Lankan Filling Station, a new Sri Lankan restaurant that opened in Darlinghurst. At the same time, and on the other side of Sydney, another new Sri Lankan restaurant was being similarly hyped – but the talk about Chef Ceylon came from a different, less-heard community: Toongabbie’s Sri Lankan population.
The western suburb of Toongabbie is home to a large population of South Indians and Sri Lankans, and its main strip is lined with businesses from those regions. There are a handful of traditional and incredibly cheap restaurants such as X Dreams. Chef Ceylon is the latest.
Each has its own specialities and Chef Ceylon’s is hoppers and kottu. According to Chef Ceylon’s owner Thushan Somapala (who’s joined in business by his friend Nishantha Sangakkara), they’re the two most popular Sri Lankan street snacks.
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Kottu is a stir-fried dish made from chopped up rotti and just about anything else, most commonly eggs, meat and curry powder and, if you pay attention to Sri Lankan trends, cheese. It’s thought of like pad thai is in Thailand – a dish so abundant you find it pretty much everywhere, except for in people’s homes.
Hoppers are more like breads – they’re eaten as a side rather than as the meal itself. They come in two styles: a bowl-shaped, semi-crunchy, semi-spongy crepe; and as a patty of springy noodles.
You’d never assume they’re related, but both are made with a rice flour and coconut milk concoction. Where Sri Lankan food shines, Somapala says, is its mix of sour, salty, spicy and sweet. A good meal will have all those flavours so use it to guide your hopper eating. Pile on a bit of sambal (a hot sauce paste) made with , some curry and crush some salted chillies on top.
The curries and sambals available differ day-to-day. Some highlights are a peppery and thick gravy-like pork curry; a thinner coconut-y pumpkin curry; and a goopy mustard-heavy potato and curry leaf mix. The sambals, pol sambol (a dry mix of coconut, red shallots, lime, dried fish and chilli) and lunumiris (a spicier chilli-based blend without coconut) are the mainstays.
For weekend lunches the hoppers and kottu roti are swapped out for what Somapala calls the “village buffet”. “This is very traditional, this is stuff Sri Lankans don't cook at home. We have a huge demand for it.”
These are old-fashioned, more rural dishes prepared by Sangakkara’s wife Peshala. It changes every weekend (check the Facebook page for details) but expect options like ambul thiyal (sour fish curry) or amba maluwa (a sweet and sour mango curry). Incredibly, considering the prep involved, it’s only $15 for all you can eat, but because the servings are huge we haven’t seen anyone go back for seconds.
42A Aurelia Street, Toongabbie
(02) 8840 9576
Tue to Fri 10.45am–9pm
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on August 1, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.