486 Albion St Brunswick West, VIC 3055
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri 6.30am-3pm; Sat-Sun 7.30am-4pm|
|Features||Cheap Eats, Vegetarian friendly, Licensed, Gluten-free options|
|Phone||03 9386 8248|
"Lankan Tucker is dope," says the gold-lettered merchandise at the Sri Lankan cafe where thirty-somethings Nerissa Jayasingha and Hiran Kroon are dishing up street food with a fresh spin.
Aussie-born Jayasingha grew up in the Italian heartland of Essendon. "Back then, I would never say I was Sri Lankan; I'd always hide the fact," she says, "I'd say to mum, 'No, I want a Vegemite sandwich,' because my friends might make fun of my string hoppers. Growing up here, I completely Australianised myself."
Jayasingha's aunt and uncle ran Curry Bowl, the beloved Sri Lankan haunt in Elizabeth Street with queues out the door. When they sold, her uncle delivered cooked Sri Lankan lunches to workers at Tullamarine Airport. Every Friday, from age 14, Jayasingha helped her uncle, feeding hundreds curry and rice and her "Aunty Pam's milk toffee" sweet treats.
Along the way, she met Kroon, who'd moved from Colombo to Broadmeadows when he was five. They fell in love and hit the road for three years, selling Sri Lankan food at festivals and markets around Australia.
Lankan Tucker's menu is an evolution of tried and tested dishes, the festival big sellers, such as deep-fried roti chips with chilli, paprika and lime, and the "massively popular" kotthu roti, a Sri Lankan street-food staple of wok-tossed shredded roti, curry and veg.
Hand-made pan roll, influenced by early Dutch settlers, is another classic "short eat" (what Sri Lankans call "finger food"), a fancier version of the Aussie Chiko Roll. "We'd sell thousands at festivals and they'd take days to make," Jayasingha says.
First they make a super thin crepe, fill it with spiced vegies or mince, roll it, dip it in egg, coat it in chilli-flecked crumbs, and deep-fry it. "They're quick to eat but it takes a long time."
Jayasingha, who didn't fully "come out" as Sri Lankan until opening Lankan Tucker, is amazed at the change in knowledge of Sri Lankan culture and its food.
When they were doing festivals six years ago, every person who came to the counter asked for the Indian dish butter chicken. "Now when someone walks in, they say, 'Can I have the string hopper?' whereas before I'd have to explain what a string hopper was."
Lankan Tucker's Hip Hopper is a brunchy tasting plate with a bowl-shaped hopper (made from rice flour, coconut milk, and a dash of turmeric) cradling a soft-fried egg, along with vermicelli-like string hoppers and choose-your-own curry (the fish rocks).
House-made sambal – "papa's hot chilli", now made by Jayasingha's mum – gives it a flavour wallop.
"We love everything about it," Kroon says, proud to be reinvigorating Sri Lankan food in the Melbourne brunch scene and educating people about Sri Lankan cuisine.
Lankan Tucker has just launched Supiri Soulfoods, a pick up and delivery service.
"Whole generations of Australian Sri Lankans are being born and we want to introduce them to Sri Lankan food, and for it to be cool," Jayasingha says. "That's huge for us."
Go-to Dish: Hip hopper, $22.