Hop & Roll
On the streets with Hop & Roll. 38 year old Rosheana started her street food business in June last year. After sitting on the idea for a while she saw Sri-Lankan food was about to become big, so took the leap in 2019 to bring Londoners the proper stuff she grew up on. Here's the roots, routes and fruits behind her business.
You may have seen this little lady with huge brown eyes dashing between the hopper pans with a twinkle in her eye. But don't be underestimated by her size. Rosh is a contractor lawyer, mum of 4 year old twins (born and bred in London) doing this as a 'side-hustle' who says her friends wouldn't have even trusted her to cook them Teriyaki three years back. Before you drift past her hoppers at a market for not being a substantial enough lunch fill ('I get it all the time') know that egg hoppers are not only one of the fiddliest foods to bosh out at a lunch market (in Sri Lanka they have specific chefs trained to cook them) but no one else in London is doing them - good, family recipe Sri-Lankan ones at an accessible price. [Interview with Rosh's mum below].
Plated up beside the rice flour batter that's no chicken nugget. Rosh's mutton rolls are the best in London. It takes her three hours to roll the pancake crumb, boil and spice the mutton mince and pack it in but she insists she wont buy them as were her favourite thing as a child to scoff. The hopper mix is made to ferment overnight, the curry and sambols all home-made and mum still makes the seeni samol. 'If it was easy everyone would be doing it' and we need more people doing the tricky; paving new ways by tapping into the old traditions to keep us learning. "My immediate aim is not money but finding the right platform. I want people to know the real deal about Sri Lankan food that I was brought up on - not a dumbed down muted version. I have been told by so many it’s not possible to keep the spice and cater for the masses but I want to give Londoners the credit they deserve when it comes to knowing good, interesting food. And that’s why I keep going." There's been an explosion of Sri Lankan restaurants over the last 6 months - Hoppers KX, Kolamba, Paradise Soho but there's still a gap in the market for a more casual hopper offering. Even in the no-frills old school Sri Lankan eateries in places like Tooting - you cant just walk in and get a hopper. They might be on the menu but often when you order they say they're not doing them or you have to pre-order on mass the day before.
That's one of the great things about street food, a business that can involve three generations in the family all pumping and exchanging knowledge into it. And there's more need than ever for second and third generation immigrants to tap into the knowledge their parents brought over before their recipes die with them. There's people out there fighting to feed this - not just to their future families but the cities they live in; in which we now dance around at top notch speed able to eat fresh dal puri roti from a Trini corner shop at 2am, hand-pulled diao xiao mian slap bang next to Leicester Sq tube station and order a £5 pound Nasi Lemak with a side of hashbrowns in a Malaysian/English fusion cafe open breakfast to dinner. "Two forces pervade human life: the upward thrust of evolution and the downward pull of our evolutionary past" (Bhagvad Gita)- our roots and fruits and it should invade our bellies too.
Interview with Sunil
I was born in Dehiwala, Colombo, and came to London in 1972 when my husband Freddie was sent by his bank to work for their London branch. As teenagers growing up in Sri Lanka my 2 sisters and I were sent for cookery classes (a custom at the time among the families in the cities). But we all learnt to cook proper authentic Sri Lankan dishes by watching our mum and home helpers in the kitchen: hoppers, string hoppers, rotti with various types of rice, curries and sambals for breakfast around 7 am before we all went to school or work.
In Sri Lanka most housewives in cities always had home help from the villages. It was these home help young women who were the greatest cooks of the most authentic and ancient Sri Lankan cooking (image below). My grandma and my mum learnt their best cooking by watching them. The home helper starts cooking dinner around 4pm. Dinner was at 8pm sharp with the dining table laid with various kinds of rice, curries, sambals, salads, breads and rotti. Us girls will take turns on a daily basis helping the young woman with the cooking with my mum coming into the kitchen when she comes home after her daily shop in the markets on her way from work.
At that time not many families had fridges, so we had to either get the food delivered by men on bicycles, vendors carrying large baskets on a pole across their shoulders or a family member doing the daily shop at markets. I was the most skilled at making the sambals - I remember as a young teenager even my grandma calling me to the kitchen, whenever we visited her, to be her sous chef to slice and grate the onion. I was very proud of myself that my grandma, mum and most aunties admired and appreciated that skill. Because of my love of cooking, I learnt to cook all the authentic dishes and often cooked on my own for the family of 8 especially when the young home help was away visiting her family or my mum was delayed in coming home. I hardly cooked with recipes. Knew exactly what available ingredients went together to produce tasty, colourful dishes using whatever was in the kitchen.
My mum was a school teacher. However my dad had his plate of proper Sri Lankan food at work. The plate of food covered with another plate and securely tied with a large white napkin was carried by a man riding a bicycle with a basket at the back of his bicycle. He will carry about 20 such plates of food to different offices all the way in the city of Colombo. On the main high Road, one could see armies of such riders carrying 20 plates of food each. They were so highly skilled at their job that there was never an accident or a spill when the plates were delivered at the desks.
Rosh did not show an interest in the goings on in the kitchen until she was 19 and far away at Warwick university. Then she needed to fend for herself and as she liked Sri Lankan food so so much asked for recipes and advice in Sri Lankan Cooking...
Interview with Rosh
My mum and dad are great cooks. They cooked me Sri Lankan food as a baby - we didn’t live off Heinz jars, we weaned on Parippu (Sri Lankan Dahl Curry) and rice! In fact rice and curry is what I remember eating for pretty much every meal of every day growing up - unless we ate out. Even our Xmas dinners had a sprinkling of Sri Lankan spice, or the famous sweet/ savoury elements that are typical of Sri Lankan curries.
My mum is basically always in the kitchen or the garden. There is always something cooking that she’s cobbled together from her cupboards (she never wastes a thing and I am always flabbergasted at what she can put together from virtually nothing in both her cupboards and mine!). She also grows her own lovely fruit veg chillies etc. She’s already opened my 3 year old twins up to rice and curry and spiced chicken....next step is chilli! And her recipes are pretty much all in her head from growing up. I had to get her to write them down for me. She knows a lot about Sri Lankan food, the history, the detail, the technical stuff...my aim is to be as natural and as knowledgeable a cook of Sri Lankan food as she is (and my dad) some day.
I’m not a cook by nature. In fact I never cooked at home and it wasn’t really until Uni that I started cooking for myself. I can’t make things up in my head like my mum and dad can. But I've always been able to meticulously follow complex recipes, and really surprise people when those recipes taste really good.
I was always annoyed and bemused as to why people didn’t know more about Sri Lankan food. No one growing up knew about the food I was eating at home, these meals which were so distinct from any other Asian cuisine (yet were so often simply labelled as Indian). When the time was right for me to start a business, I knew it had to be bringing authentic home cooked Sri Lankan food to Londoners. I knew I had to bring the recipes in my mums head and my Achchi’s (grandmother’s) cook book to life! In fact she still cooks my Seeni Sambol for every single market - she can slice and caramelise those onions so well! But she also makes amazing Pol Roti (thick coconut roti) which when served with seeni is like the best thing snack ever, and her Parippu is perfect. My whole family have inspired me not just my mum. My uncle cooks the most amazing black pork dish (which he refuses to write down the recipe for and for which I will master one day!). I’m also so so passionate about enlightening the world about how eating with your hands brings Asian food to life, and there’s a real art to it which I remember being taught by my older cousin when I was little.
I’ve been to Sri Lanka many times, and eaten the most delicious food from our family cooks, and in restaurants in Sri Lanka (cinnamon grand buffet in Colombo is still one of the best places I have ever eaten). And I remember those trips to Sri Lanka so well. We spent many days wrapping up delicious rice and curry parcels for the children’s orphanage ran by monks, and every one of those beautiful parcels (wrapped in banana leaves) were cooked at home by my Achchi (grandmother) aunt and mum.
More mum's on the streets...
Super mums out there, like Rosh, trying to bring their home cooking to Londoners while juggling a million other things. Some have had to give up because they haven't been able to find the right platform to support them - a platform that values that what they're doing goes beyond short term mass-appeal and profit, migrating generational wisdom through food. Full article coming soon.