It doesn’t surprise us that multicultural Melbourne houses one of the largest Sri Lankan diasporas in the world. What is surprising is that this hasn’t manifested in plenty of places to eat a decent hopper – a bowl-shaped crepe made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk, and the Sri Lankan breakfast of choice.
In our opinion, Sri Lankan food deserves to be more mainstream. Couple Nerissa Jayasingha and Hiran Kroon, who opened Lankan Tucker in a quiet pocket of Brunswick West in 2016, agree. Their cosy place has all the trappings of a Melbourne café – St Ali coffee, laidback vibes, lots of greenery, service-with-a-smile – but look closer and you’ll discover a menu jammed with Sri Lankan classics. Even Aussie brunch favourites come with an accent – smashed avo is jazzed up with turmeric hummus and snow pea tendrils, and house-cured salmon is glazed with arrack, a spirit made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers, popular in the Indian subcontinent.
But we’re here for the egg hopper. You’ll smell it first – the air gets heady with turmeric. Crisp-edged and with a runny yolk in the middle, you fill the bowl-shaped crepe with lacy string hoppers (clusters of red rice flour vermicelli) doused in an aromatic coconut curry. Add in a trifecta of crunch, zing and herbal freshness from the coconut, red onion and parsley sambols for a full-blown palate party. If you prefer something denser, the urad lentil pancake proves a perfect foil for the warmly spiced spinach dahl and a cloud of coconut yoghurt it’s served with.
The kotthu roti is a knockout. It translates as ‘roti chop’, and is a jumble of buttery roti wok tossed with shredded leek, onion, carrot, and scrambled egg. Perked with soy sauce and chilli, it taps into the fundamental human affection for all things rich and carby. Add roast chicken and cheese and you’ve got a Sri Lankan bubble and squeak. Had a big Friday night? Order the roti riser: layers of roti are blanketed by seeni sambol (sweet’n’spicy onion relish) and apricot chutney, with a poached egg pillow. Consider adding on a chicken thigh or blue grenadier curry for an extra protein hit.
Almost everything is house-made at Lankan Tucker, including the drinks. Delve into Melbourne’s obsession with bubble tea with the sweet ceylon number – a passion fruit icy pole arrives dunked in amber-hued passion fruit tea from the family’s estate in Sri Lanka, energised with popping pearls and sparkling water – we’ll be drinking this all summer. Bubblegum-pink faluda (a tapioca milkshake) is more of a confection than a drink courtesy of sherbet syrup, jelly and vanilla ice cream. And they do a mean iced milo, complete with a brownie crumble. Tack on a crispy deep-fried pan roll – Sri Lanka’s answer to a chiko roll – filled with spiced minced beef and served with a chilli vinegar made to Nerissa grandfather’s secret recipe – and you’ve nabbed yourself an adult version of an after-school snack.
Whether Lankan Tucker is Aussie or Sri Lankan doesn’t really matter. With food this tasty, coffee this good and vibe this welcoming, one thing’s for sure: it’s quintessentially Melbourne.