Toronto·SURESH DOSS

This Sri Lankan spot serves fresh, fantastic hoppers — sweet and savoury

Metro Morning's Food Guide Suresh Doss takes us to a stretch of Markham Road he calls 'Little Lanka.' The restaurant Ruchi Take-Out and Catering is at 3580 McNicoll Avenue, Scarborough.

Ruchi Take-Out and Catering is at 3580 McNicoll Avenue, Scarborough

Milk and egg hoppers from Ruchi Take-Out and Catering. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

Metro Morning's food guide Suresh Doss takes us to a stretch of Markham Road he calls "Little Lanka." The restaurant Ruchi Take-Out and Catering is at 3580 McNicoll Avenue, Scarborough.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa: Why is this part of Markham Road known for great Sri Lankan food?

Suresh Doss: I think because of the large population of Sri Lankan Tamils in Scarborough. About 20 - 25 years ago, Markham Road started to become a hub for small businesses. With affordable spaces in the various plazas, it started to become home to mostly South Asian fashion and jewlery shops, then came accounting and real estate businesses.

But then a few take-out places started to pop up, and it has organically grown really wonderfully since then. We're talking about Markham road from McNicoll to Steeles and beyond, which is arguably this fantastic road to get some great Sri Lankan food, and also learn about the culture.

Ismaila Alfa: So what is a hopper?

Suresh: This a Tamil delicacy, also known as Appam. It's common in parts of South Indian and especially Sri Lanka. It's something I grew up eating quite regularly. You would find it at many restaurants in Sri Lanka, whether you're in the north in Jaffna, or in Colombo.

It is essentially a savoury crepe made with a rice flour batter. It has to be cooked in a specific way, in a specific pan. They are these round-bottom pans, like a smaller versions of a wok. So you make the batter by grinding rice into a flour, and adding yeast to it. Or you can let it naturally open ferment. Then you ladle the batter onto the pan on hot heat, and swirl it around really quickly. So after it cooks for a minute or two you end up with this bowl-shaped crepe, which has a thicker sort-of pancake centre. And the edges are thin, light and crispy.

A mutton curry hopper from Ruchi Take-Out and Catering. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

Ismaila: When do you typically eat hoppers?

Suresh: As soon as you get it! My memories are, we would have them for breakfast, or sometimes for dinner. But with migration, when food cultures move from one place to another, not only does the food morph, but so do the practices around it. So here, you can have hoppers whenever you want. That's the beauty of living in a city like Toronto

Ismaila: How do you eat a hopper?

Suresh: So the hopper itself is one note, you get the rice flavour and the texture is contrasting and pleasing.
But it  also makes for a great base to mix on other side elements. You can have hoppers with an egg cracked in the middle when it's cooking, which is a wonderful way to eat it; because you would tear the sides and dip it into the slightly runny yolk.

You can also have hoppers with a little bit of curry in the middle, whether its shrimp or chicken or mutton. My favourite way is to have it with mutton curry, a dollop of it in the centre. You tear up the sides and soak up each mouthful with the sauce and the morsels of meat.

A hopper from Ruchi Take-Out and Catering. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

Ismaila: You made the comparison with a crepe. Is there a dessert version of the hopper too?

Suresh: There is a sweet version. At home we had a popular version called the coconut milk hopper, where you would pour a little bit of coconut cream or milk in the centre, which gives it a sense of sweetness —  it's not really sweet —  but also this creamy depth to the dish. It's really wonderful, maybe my favourite way to eat the hopper.  And then sometimes you'll have jaggery —  a little bit of palm sugar, which is then sliced into the middle of the warm hopper and it just melts away.

Ismaila: That sounds fantastic. Why did you pick Ruchi Take-Out as your go-to for hoppers?

Suresh: On this strip of Little Lanka, if you will, there are many places where you can buy hoppers. But they're usually pre-made, and they are not bowl shaped. They're cooked ahead of time in batches, and they're flattened so its easy [to] store in containers. There are few places that will make hoppers a la minute and ones that taste really delicious.

Ruchi is a small counter shop, located in a parking lot across from Majestic City, a Tamil mall similar to Pacific Mall in Markham. (I highly recommend a visit to this mall, there's really nothing like it anywhere else.)

Ruchi does a variety of South Indian dishes, but they specialize in hoppers. They have all the varieties I mentioned, and they make them a la minute. So they're fresh, the crisp edges are wonderful and you can really marry the flavours.

It comes out fresh, you want to eat it right away. They have exactly one table outside and two chairs, but if that doesn't work for you I would eat it before you get in the car. You have to eat it right away.

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