In the 7.5 years since it opened, Hoppers – a Sri Lankan and South Indian restaurant in London’s Soho – has garnered a large and loyal customer base, a slew of favourable reviews from press and bloggers alike, and secured a Michelin Bib Gourmand in its first year. Two more branches followed the first, the second in Marylebone and the third in King’s Cross. The restaurant has also established a successful nationwide delivery and retail service, allowing us to enjoy their food here in the quiet corners of rural Monmouthshire.
Hoppers was founded by Karan Gokani, in partnership with the very sucessful JKS Restaurants group (in which his wife is one of the three founding partners alongside her siblings Karam and Jyotin), and the restaurant reflects Gokani’s and JKS’ shared passion for the cuisines of Sri Lanka and South India. Gokani, who grew up in Mumbai, moved to England in 2005 to study law at Cambridge Uni, and went on to become a practicing solicitor. But his passion for food drew him ever more surely towards hospitality, culminating in a switch of careers in 2012.
In October last year, Quadrille published Gokani’s Hoppers The Cookbook: Recipes, Memories and Inspiration from Sri Lankan Homes, Streets and Beyond. Named for his restaurant, the book features signature dishes from the restaurant alongside recipes from friends and family, and new dishes created with the home cook in mind.
The book wins me over within moments – the bold cover with its luxurious gold ink, the thick sewn-in ribbon that echoes design elements from the cover, and a fold-out flap inside the front cover that shares key milestones along the Hoppers timeline from 2015 to 2022, when the book hit the shelves.
After a couple of lauditory forewords, the Introduction fills in the background of Gokani’s life and his love of food. All Mumbaikars are big foodies, but for Gokani, this passion was fanned by his grand-uncle Taitun who had grown up in Tamil Nadu and often cooked South Indian feasts for the family. When Gokani went to university he was introduced to Sri Lankan food by friends from there, and so began an obsession with the country’s cuisine. We learn how he and Karam (of JKS) forged the Hoppers concept together, visiting Sri Lanka to find inspiration and ideas.
Next are chapters on the Sri Lankan Kitchen, a detailed introduction to key food items for your Larder, a guide to Herbs and Spices, a set of recipes for Essential Curry Powders, some Notes on Cooking, Storage and Substitutions, and a list of handy Utensils. Be aware that some recipes call for ingredients that are a little tricky to source, such as coconut vinegar, goraka, gotu kola, kithul treacle, Maldive fish, mustard cream, and drumsticks.
Recipes are presented in eleven chapters for ‘Short Eats & Snacks’ (Mutton Rolls, Chicken Curry Puff, Lentil Vadai, Mackerel Buns, Hot Butter Squid, a range of Devilled Dishes); ‘Rice & Breads’ (Tamarind Rice, Lemon Rice, Pol Roti, Roast Paan, Dosa, Idli, Hoppers); ‘Buriani’ (with recipes and instructions for rice and curries that can be layered to create a range of burianis); ‘Kothus’ (a dish made of chopped rotis, stir-fried meat or veg, curry and herbs, for which several curry recipes are provided); ‘Lamprais’ (banana leaf-wrapped parcels full of rice with various snacks, curries and pickles, again you’ll find more curry recipes here too); ‘Sambols, Mallungs, Chutneys & Pickles’ (an essential range of salads, sauces, and relishes that are a key part of most meals); ‘Fries, Curries & Everything in Between’ (Snake Gourd White Curry, Jackfruit White Curry, Upcountry Tamil Aubergine White Curry, Beetroot Curry, Fish Head Curry, Tempered Potatoes, Drumstick Sambhar, Omelette Curry, Mussel Hodi, Tamarind Prawn Curry, Negombo Crab Curry, Jaffna Crab Curry, Selva’s Mullet Curry, Red Chicken Curry, Bone Marrow Varuval, Pork Coconut Cury with Ceylon Arrak, Black Pork Curry); ‘Grills, Roasts, Barecue & More’ (Black Pepper Prawns, Banana Leaf Bream with Coriander and Lemongrass, Ginger Tamarind Wings, Kalupol Roast Chicken, Roast Goat, Barbecue Jaffna Lamb Chops, Smoked Aubergine Raita, Seeni Sambl Toastie); ‘Desserts’ (Wattalapam, Chocolate Biscuit Pudding, Milk Toffee, Sago Pudding, Terri’s Mango Milk Parfait); ‘Drinks’ (guidance on Arrack and cocktail recipes such as White Ruby Punch, Lychee Swizzle, Toddy Taper, Arrack Attack No. 5, Coconut and Cinnamon Old Fashioned); and ‘Garnishes’. Each chapter provides a comprehensive explanation of that category of food.
Recipes are introduced with a helpful summary explaining their origins or how they are eaten in India or Sri Lanka, and straightforward instructions provided. Most recipes (though not all) have rich, enticing photographs of the finished dish, and some (such as Coiled Roti) provide step-by-step photos to guide you through the process. My only lament is lack of original language names for the dishes, which would help food-lovers to seek out these dishes on their travels.
Recipes are, as you’d imagine, full of flavour. Leena’s Cucumber curry is the perfect reminder that cucumbers are so much more versatile than the British tendency to eat them only raw; Red Chicken Curry is in a style that encompasses both north and south Indian regional cuisines – the kind that everyone will enjoy; the step-by-step photos make it easy to recreate the Coiled Rotis to serve alongside both. A friend cooks the Lamb Shank Curry and declares it a big success.
Here and there throughout the book are collages of travel photos and portraits, essays to introduce friends whose recipes feature (plus one about the book’s photographer Ryan Wijayaratne), and panels on favourite hotels and places.
At the end, a wonderfully extensive Acknowledgements page, some extra guidance on Cooking from this book, and a comprehensive Index that allows you to search by ingredients as well as recipe names.
Hoppers The Cookbook is a very personal story of travel, friendship, and food, told through the story of the popular London restaurant and its charismatic founder Karan Gokani. Readers will acquire a solid understanding of the cornerstones of Sri Lankan and South Indian cuisine, an appealing and varied collection of reliable recipes, and a strong yearning to eat one’s own way around Southern Asia.
Recipes from Hoppers The Cookbook
We have permission from Quadrille to share these three fantastic recipes with you from the book:
Kavey Eats received a review copy of Hoppers The Cookbook by Karan Gokani from publishers Quadrille. Book photography by Ryan Wijayaratne.