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The Hopper Hut

Posted by Daniel Kuseta / Reviewed on April 6, 2010 / review policy

The Hopper HutThe Hopper Hut, a joint serving fantastic Sri Lankan out in Scarborough, inspired me to hop on the next RT.

Located at Ellesmere and Kennedy and hidden at the back of a strip mall, The Hopper Hut isn't exactly central, but when I walk in and get socked in the face with the smells of Sri Lankan cooking, I immediately suspected it was going be worth the trek.

With an unbridled enthusiasm for heat, Sri Lankan food uses a bewildering array of its country's famed spices - cardamom, clove, and turmeric to name a few. These are typically added directly to dishes, instead of being ground to a paste as with Indian cooking. Flavors are big and bold, and many meals are considered incomplete without the humble side dish that's keeps this place packed: hoppers.

Bowl-shaped pancakes made from rice flour and coconut milk, hoppers are typically served with curry or vegetables and fall somewhere between a crepe and roti. A cherished staple of Sri Lankan cuisine, The Hopper Hut's a great place to get them fresh, along with a broad swathe of Sri Lankan comfort food like curries, lampries and mutton rolls. With most dishes under $10 my fellow hopper hunters and I order up big.

The Hopper HutWe start with a spirited coconut sambal, pappadums and yogurt, then four whole chilies we don't remember ordering arrive. Unsure if they're meant as a snack or a warning, I venture a nibble. The smoky flesh of the charbroiled pepper is dangerously good because they pack a seriously hot punch. The cooling yogurt comes in handy.

The Hopper HutA bowl of mutton curry and a huge plate of what looks like vermicelli arrive next. They're the string hoppers - rice flour cut into thin strips and steamed ($8.00). The mutton is tender, the gravy full-bodied and the delicate string hoppers provide a melt in your mouth sensation that compliment the curry's spicy oomph.

The Hopper HutNext, the traditional hoppers arrive. Glistening fresh from the grill, I tear off a warm slab and dip it in the curry. The starchy base soaks up the gravy with aplomb, giving a mellower take on the sauce than its stringy sibling (it also tastes good enough to eat alone).

The Hopper HutBefore we can say more, a heaving plate of biryani ($8.99) is maneuvered onto our rapidly shrinking table space. A mix of curries and veggies slapped together on a bed of string hoppers, the dish looks like a Jackson Pollock - lots of color and texture all mashed together (and in this case, crowned with a boiled egg). It's not dainty but smells a treat.

The fiendishly hot acharu (pickled papaya seasoned with peppers) sets the bar high until some sort of over-sweet fruit chutney falls flat. No matter, the curried potatoes, rich with turmeric and chili bring the ball back into play, and lentils even out the relentless flavor assault. It's a rollicking roller-coaster of a dish, with every mouthful giving different flavors, textures and, dare I say it, memories.

We've barely made a dent in our mounds when the largest dish of the night arrives - so big it had to be wrapped. Lampries are food of the Burghers (Sri Lankans descended from European colonists). Meat or seafood, vegetables and spices are mixed with rice then wrapped and baked in a huge banana leaf. Our fish lampries ($8.50) comes wrapped in butcher paper, which in turn contains a colossal banana leaf. Unwrapping it like a kid on Christmas, I'm introduced to a piping hot selection of curries and veggies all steamed together (and once again crowned with the ubiquitous boiled egg). It's not the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but as soon as it's unwrapped we're fighting over it right away.

The Hopper HutMore than the biryani, this dish is a true collision of flavors; seven dishes rolled into one as the spices, over hours of steaming, influence the dish in different ways. On the sweet eggplant curry the cardamom and paprika are a revelation, yet on the neighboring beets they become overpowering. The squid is soft and Hades hot while small chunks of dried fish become blasts of ginger and garlic. Plus there's bay leaves, okra, nutmeg, cinnamon and star anise to keep my palate guessing, experimenting, mixing and mashing. Merged with the hoppers it's without a doubt one of the most challenging, complex dishes I've had in a long time, and at the price probably the deal in town.

I finish my Hopper Hut adventure with my belt a little looser and three large doggy bags in tow. The little place at the back of the strip mall has exceeded my expectations, and on the trip home I take a nap, dreaming of what I'll order next time.

The Hopper Hut

Discussion

12 Comments

Ramanan / April 7, 2010 at 09:58 am
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Appam is the best thing ever. It's a shame it's so hard to find in Toronto, considering there are so many Sri Lankan's here.
amanda / April 7, 2010 at 03:28 pm
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it's so great to see a sri lanken restaurant review here. I find that whenever review are done of "indian" food, it always focuses on South Indian food.
Larry Fritz / April 7, 2010 at 07:52 pm
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Sounds extraordinary! Could you be more specific as to the address - NW corner? address? tel no?
J / April 7, 2010 at 10:09 pm
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Larry - Contact info and location in the top right corner of the page

Amanda - Agreed. Funny how blogto classifies it as "indian" though! (see top right corner)
tiffany / April 8, 2010 at 05:39 pm
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Theres this takeout spot called babu located near sheppard and mcowan and they have the best butter chicken and samosas.
I cant waitr to try hopper hut.
SW / April 8, 2010 at 11:14 pm
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If I read the words "piping hot" in another restaurant review I'm gonna scream.
Dan replying to a comment from Larry Fritz / April 13, 2010 at 06:07 pm
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Hey Larry,

Sorry about the delay in getting back to you.
Yes it's on the NW corner, around the back past some Sri Lankan grocers and video stores. It's totally worth the trek, my photos don't do the food justice at all.

Enjoy!
foodhogger / April 20, 2010 at 02:31 pm
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Wow, can't believe Hopper Hut is still OPEN!
Ate there about 12 years ago and didn't find it too memorable, but that's possibly because I've had better. I might have to give it another go! Also, the pancakes are called APPAM in Kerala (it's also a South Indian staple not only a Sri Lankan staple).
Firefly replying to a comment from amanda / May 21, 2012 at 01:43 pm
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Amanda,
Knowing south Indian & Sri Lankan food very well
I'm sorry to say, you are quite wrong!
The reviews are always on north Indian cusine, not south Indian which is completely different.
Having travelled extensively to your part of the world & Europe, north Indian restaurents seem to be quite common in the western world. So it was delightful to find a restaurant that actually makes hoppers & read the good reviews about it!!
Sean / September 18, 2012 at 05:53 pm
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Inspected on: September 12, 2012
Inspection finding: Yellow (Conditional)
Number of infractions: 8 (Minor: 4, Significant: 3, Crucial: 1)
Crucial infractions include: Inadequate food temperature control
5lop / September 18, 2012 at 06:13 pm
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This food looks like pure slop.

FAIL
Inspected on: September 12
Inspection finding: Yellow (Conditional)
Number of infractions: 8 (Minor: 4, Significant: 3, Crucial: 1)
Crucial infractions include: Inadequate food temperature control
Dave / July 7, 2014 at 01:49 pm
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I used to go here al the time, but the service is getting worse by the minute. Now they are asking to pay extra for sambol. I am done with this place - there are others.

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