Last Sunday, three friends and I loaded into my car for a drive to the Washington Buddhist Vihara on 16th St. — the location of the Asian Food Festival, sponsored by the Embassy of Sri Lanka. The vihara (monastery) is essentially a house in a residential neighborhood, and the festival was an intimate gathering in the front yard.
We beelined over to the far right tent, where several women were manning trays of Sri Lankan dishes. The word that popped up a lot was “fish”; there were fish items of all kinds: fish balls, fish sticks, fish pastries… as well as vegetarian pastries, spring rolls, dal, and desserts. It all looked tempting.
I picked up an assortment of items, as you can see in this picture of half-eaten food. The fish balls were my favorite.
My friends shared this platter of dal over noodles. When the noodles became a little dry, a nice man came over and poured on a fresh batch of dal. Now that’s good service!
This spicy vegetarian pastry reminded me of an Indian samosa.
Over in the left tent, a man was busily chopping up chicken, veggies and sauce for the chicken/vegetable kottu.
On the doorway of the vihara, there was this sign:
I’d seen it earlier and had no idea what it meant. I’ve gotten back into tennis lately, and thought the sign was a reference to ball hoppers, the large baskets used to collect tennis balls. So shopping baskets? My friend Fay had another take — “I thought they meant ‘Shoppers’ but forgot the S.”
We were both way off. Hoppers are something else entirely, a Sri Lankan pancake. They’re super thin, like a cross between a pancake and a crepe. Down in the basement, people were eagerly snapping up the freshly made hoppers coming out of the kitchen.
Some hoppers were being served with an egg on top. Other people were dipping them into what looked like a red chili sambal.
“That’s too hot for you,” the server told us.
Ahh, we may not be Sri Lankan, but she underestimated our tolerance for spice! We split an order of hoppers, and went back for the spicy chili mix, called lunu miris.
It was certainly fiery, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Went beautifully with the paper-thin hoppers.
Once outside again, we indulged in a final treat with a crumbly dessert cookie.
And that concluded our sampling of Sri Lankan cuisine. We had fun; it was an afternoon of good food, friendly people and a few firsts for all of us. Most importantly, I learned that in Sri Lanka, hoppers are not for tennis balls.