HOPPER HUT (880 Ellesmere, at Kennedy, 416-299-4311) As the name implies, this home-style Sri Lankan spot specializes in hoppers, the bowl-sized crepes served with both fiery and savoury curries. While there's a busy takeout counter, some dine in the family-friendly space out back. Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Sri Lankan pop. Average main: $6. Open daily 11:30 am to 10:30 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
Only a short 30-minute subway ride from Yonge and Bloor, Scarborough's Hopper Hut may as well be on another planet to most foodies. Their loss. This friendly, family-style spot in the burbs happens to offer some of the most adventurous multicultural cuisine around. Formerly Ceylon, Sri Lanka was on the front lines of colonial fusion cooking, first incorporating New World foods like chili peppers and tomato into its South Asian rice dishes. Later, the Dutch introduced fiery Indonesian sambals and the multi-course rijsttafel, massive all-in-one rice dinners topped with an array of smaller curries and condiments. The Sri Lankan adaptations are called lampries, and they're Hopper Hut's specialty.
Newbies are in for a shock when a lamprie (Hopper serves several versions, from $5.99 vegetarian to $8.49 crab) arrives at the table. The server presents a steaming 10-inch square pink packet weighing almost three pounds and motions that it needs to be unwrapped. Shades of Russian matryoshka dolls within dolls, the outer layer of butcher paper reveals an inner banana leaf parcel that, once opened, releases an intoxicating cloud of colliding spice. Talk about a rush.
Once it clears, you'll find a humongous mound of basmati sauced with milky turmeric hodhi gravy and embedded in it a hard-boiled egg. Around it, a near-relish Japanese eggplant curry, a squiggly chiffonade of slightly bitter lemony collard greens and a mushy chana potato mash studded with mustard seeds get accentuated by a tiny tangle of not-salty-at-all karavala dried fish and kimchee-like Luhunu Miris raw onion sambal.
The star of the show lies upended in a small bowl off to the side - Lanka Oberoi, a fabulous legs 'n' all crab curry (a steal at $4.50 by itself) luxuriating in a thick red spice-rich coconut sauce flecked with curry leaf and gingery fenugreek.
Another multi-ethnic Sri Lankan melting pot - this time by way of the Middle East - Hut's String Hopper Buriyani Combo ($6.99) features many of the lamprie curries, but instead of rice serves them over skinny spaghettini-style sour noodles made from fermented rice. The same flour is used to make the batter for hoppers, thin bowl-shaped crepes. Showcased in the house's Hopper Combo #2 ($4.49), the traditional breakfast nosh gets sided with the gentle fire of coconut Pol Sambal (99 cents by itself).
Although Hopper Hut has a pleasant dining room in the rear equipped with glass-topped tables and baby seats, and a banquet hall in the basement, most of the action takes place at the busy takeout counter up front. The buzz? Short eats, the Sri Lankan curried twist on British high tea. Forget milquetoast cucumber finger sandwiches and discover the best samosas in the GTA, crisp and golden straight from the deep-fryer, stuffed with spicy aromatic spuds and garden peas (three for $1).
Think of Ulunthu Vadai and Kadali Vadai (both 75 cents each) as delicious donuts of yellow lentils tossed with fennel seed and chopped green chili. Dip them into Seeni Sambal ($2.49), a sensational caramelized onion chutney that recalls both mincemeat and marmalade in texture and taste.
To finish, soothe any sensitive stomachs with smooth Pineapple Pluff custard or syrup-soaked Vatilappam sponge cake (both $1.49).
Hopper Hut has been toiling away in relative obscurity now for nearly 10 years. Isn't it time this Hut started hoppin'?
INDIES (4 Amelia, at Parliament, 416-961-9748) Extremely modest St. Jamestown Sri Lankan joint offers fiery fare to eat in and take out. Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $4 Asian lager. Average main: $9. Open Monday to Saturday noon to 10:30 pm, Sunday 5 to 10:30 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, but very long and steep ramp at door. Rating: NNN
cabbagetown's indies couldn't have less decor if it tried. The day I visit the just-off-Parliament Sri Lankan boîte, its front door has been kicked in and the glass replaced with a thin sheet of rec-room wood panelling. Behind it, I find a rather drab room punctuated with a few travel posters alongside a plastic palm bearing plastic fruit, and a glowing space heater. No worries. Though it's possible to dine on the low-rent premises at one of several glass-topped tables oddly set with wine goblets and linen napkins, quick take-away is a good choice. Those who once salivated over now defunct Ceylantroo's incendiary Kothu Roti will break out in a sweat over Indies' version. Here, feathery crepe-like shreds of godamba roti get scrambled with egg, nine tail-on shrimp and as much raw green chili as you dare ($7.99).
Heat seekers won't want to miss Chicken Steak Devil ($9.99), a spicy stir-fry of thigh, cubed tomato, sweet bell pepper and a whole lotta onion in lightly curried, chili-fired coconut gravy. Indie's Stringhopper Combo ($5) delivers a dozen or more pint-sized noodle-like pancakes alongside tasty turmeric-tinted potato curry, roasted coconut sambal and a thimbleful of milky curry leaf hodhi. And like every main on the single-page card, it's paired sommelier-style with an appropriate Asian lager. How thoughtful.
Service is sweet if a little hesitant but should warm up with the weather once patio season kicks in on its rickety curbside terrace.