Where: Lankan Tucker, 486 Albion Street Brunswick West
What: Rice for breakfast, the best kind of breakfast
Who: Resident Photographer, Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat, The Doc, Marvel Maven, Papa Whatever Floats Your Bloat, Mama Whatever Floats Your Bloat
Bloat score: 5 – So full of gas I floated home like a hot air balloon
Between Melbourne’s first and second lockdowns last year, I was craving something I hadn’t cooked and couldn’t cook for myself and found my answer in Lankan Tucker’s elaborate Sri Lankan breakfasts. Egg hoppers, string hoppers, biryani, kothhu roti – Lankan Tucker’s menu is a stunning riposte to your typical eggs on toast (though they have that too).
I visited the first of three times with Resident Photographer. Between us, we ordered a pan roll ($6) each – Resident Photographer got the beef and I got the vegetarian – while I went for the kotthu roti with veg curry ($22) and Resident Photographer ordered the chicken buriyani ($22), labelled ‘the people’s choice’ on the menu.
Lankan Tucker fashioned the pan roll as Sri Lanka’s answer to the chiko roll, but like so many comparisons that marginalised communities make to market their food to white people (I still remember the now closed Madras Brothers calling their biryani an ‘Indian risotto’), it ultimately did the pan roll more of a disservice. Yes, both rolls are deep-fried cylinders of thick golden pastry encasing a filling, but in the case of chiko rolls, it’s mystery meat that I only found out today is traditionally boned mutton which I reach for in moments of great desperation at music festivals, while Sri Lankan pan rolls are typically filled with things you can discern the provenance of – vegetables and tuna, beef and potatoes. Pan rolls are made with a pancake mixture that is rolled into cylinders, dunked into beaten egg, breaded in chilli-flecked crumbs and deep-fried. The result has less of a chiko roll’s crisp exterior but one that’s no less satisfying.
I’ve had these moreish pan rolls a few times since, and my only advice would be to perhaps share them if you’re planning on finishing your main meal as well – they are deceptively hearty, filling snacks.
Pan rolls notwithstanding, lockdown must’ve ruined my appetite because I distinctly remember having to doggy bag half of my kotthu roti, something I’m not prone to doing due to my propensity to finish everything on my plate. It wasn’t due to a lack of enjoyment, however. I expected the veg curry to come in a ramekin on the side, but it’d been mixed in with the roti, which infused it with a heady fragrance without detracting from the crispness of the roti cubes.
Kotthu roti or kottu roti is a widely consumed street food in Sri Lanka where chopped roti is stir-fried with scrambled eggs, onions, chillies, spices, vegetables, optional meat such as mutton, chicken, beef and, in some cases, cheese. According to the Flavor Bender, kotthu roti is made with a type of flatbread called godhambara roti or godamba roti, which is also known as roti canai in Malaysia and is similar to the flakier paratha from India. Although Lankan Tucker serves it up for breakfast, it’s a common dinner dish or hangover antidote in Sri Lanka, and one that’s easily replicated if you obtain store-bought roti canai or paratha. Kotthu roti prepared by street vendors is a spectacle in Sri Lanka – the mix of diced roti and its accompanying ingredients are stir-fried on a large hot flat griddle with two large steel spatulas, producing a beat and rhythm that street vendors utilise to great theatrical effect.
Kotthu roti originated in the Tamil regions of the country – the word “kotthu” means “to chop” in Tamil, referring to its preparation – but it has been adopted by the majority Sinhalese population. As was so beautifully encapsulated by Sri Lankan migrant Danaja Fernando interviewed in this old New York Times article, “your mum’s food reminds you of home; kottu roti reminds you of being in Sri Lanka”. (press stop right before the article loads if you too want to game the NYT paywall.)
Resident Photographer’s biryani came with chicken curry, eggplant relish, mint sambol, red onion sambol and a raita. He loved it and finished all of it – Resident Photographer’s healthy appetite is one of my favourite things about him.
Arguably South Asia’s most famous rice dish, biryani was brought to Sri Lanka by Muslim South Indians who were trading with Sri Lanka in the early 1900s. These traders named their biryani ‘Buhari’ after A.M Buhari, who brought the mildly spiced fragrant biryani from Colombo back to Chennai, India and set up the landmark Buhari Hotel. The dish has been henceforth known as buriyani in Sri Lanka (and how it was spelt on Lankan Tucker’s menu), a colloquial word which originated from Buhari biryani. In many cases, Sri Lankan buriyani is much spicier than most Indian varietals.
Because I was exclusively eating at home other than this rare treat of a meal out between lockdowns, my stomach held up. I wasn’t so lucky the next two times, however.
The next time we visited was months later – lockdown had recently lifted for the fourth (!) time and it was a celebratory birthday brunch for Mr WFYB. Ever the sweet tooth, he ordered the sticky date pancakes with roasted coconut flakes, banana and raspberry swirl ice-cream ($18.50). Lankan Tucker’s sweet dishes are as impressive as their savoury ones – Mr WFYB devoured this even though his appetite is comparable to that of a mouse.
I opted for the kotthu roti ($17) again, sans veg curry this time, while our dining companions The Doc and Marvel Maven (one of the biggest Marvel fans you’ll meet) made the sensible decision to only share a pan roll and veg curry kotthu roti between themselves.
Whether it was the wheat or the spices or the courageous coffee I dared to order as someone who has a 50/50 good/bad reaction to caffeine, the 30-minute walk back home was a struggle. Butt cheeks clenched and face screwed in concentration, I made it home with my dignity intact.
Which is why I thought, why not test it a third time around? I visited again one week later with Mr WFYB – he liked it that much – and my parents Papa WFYB and Mama WFYB. I cajoled Mr WFYB to drive after what happened the last time.
Mama WFYB was initially hesitant to order the pan roll – told you the chiko roll comparison doesn’t do it any favours – but loved it upon tasting it, high praise from a brown mum.
She ordered something neither of us had ordered before but arguably the crowning jewel of Lankan Tucker’s brunch menu – the hip hopper ($23), which comprises a turmeric egg hopper, string hoppers, a trio of sambols and a coconut milk gravy.
Strap in to learn the difference between an egg hopper and string hoppers. Both were mainstays of my Malaysian Indian upbringing – my dad steams his own string hoppers and we had them often for breakfast with sothi, a mild yellow coconut milk curry.
An egg hopper is a bowl-shaped crisp crepe nest made from fermented coconut and rice flour with a soft-boiled egg in the centre. They’re steamed in small deep pans with lids. String hoppers, or idiyappam as us South Indians know it as, is made by squeezing rice flour into a press to form light and lacy noodles, which are then woven into a flat disc-like shape, steamed, and served with either stews in South India and Sri Lanka or with palm sugar, cane sugar or grated coconut in Malaysia and Singapore. Both dishes are ancient and said to date back to 300 BC. Though I resisted eating my dad’s homemade string hoppers when I was an insolent child, I now appreciate that such historically rich dishes, almost identical in how they were prepared centuries ago, were passed down in our household.
My mum liked her medley of dishes but enlisted Papa WFYB’s help in finishing it, and didn’t like the vegetable-heavy gravy, preferring instead the thin sothi that we typically eat with string hoppers at home.
Papa WFYB ordered the roti riser ($22) with roti, a poached egg, two different kinds of sambol, an apricot chutney and a veg curry (which turned out to be a chickpea one). I was expecting the poached egg to arrive on top of the roti, but it was part of the roti, like a roti telur that Malaysians would know well. Papa WFYB really liked the quality of the housemade roti – again, high praise from a man who has spent a significant portion of his life eating roti canai for breakfast.
WFYB opted for the kotthu roti – why mess with a good thing – but I branched out and ordered the…wait for it…buriyani pie ($18), Lankan Tucker’s take on a shepherd’s pie, where the lamb mince was substituted with fragrant rice.
This was carb on carb on carb as the rice was topped with silky potato mash and then served with a side of chips. What wasn’t there to love? A quick search revealed that this is a popular mashup in the UK and what I’d neglected to realise is that as a pie, there was still pastry in this dish, which ultimately contributed to my second high bloat outcome from dining at Lankan Tucker.
Having not learnt my lesson the last time, I ordered a coffee again – this time, a Sri Lankan iced coffee ($5.50) with a shot of espresso, condensed milk, and a scoop of ice-cream. After I bequeathed my ice-cream scoop to Mr WFYB in a bid to minimise the damage to my gut it reminded me a lot of a Vietnamese iced milk coffee (Cà Phê Sữa Đa). As tasty as it was, the effects of this coffee made themselves known when Mr WFYB was forced to drive home speedily as I, again, was forced to clench my butt cheeks – particularly when we were stuck in track works for 15 minutes.
I loved each visit to Lankan Tucker deeply but apart from the first time, suffered greatly from the after-effects which persisted until the next day. If you, unlike me, do not feel sick after eating anything, please visit for a brunch unlike anywhere else in Melbourne.
Lankan Tucker is open Thursday to Friday from 7.30am to 2pm and Saturday to Sunday from 7.30am to 3pm.