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What Is Kottu?

By Megan Shoop
Updated May 16, 2024
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Kottu is a spicy dish traditional to Sri Lankan cuisine. The base is almost always godamba roti, a type of fried, nearly paper-thin bread. Vegetarians can enjoy vegetable kottu, while others may choose from versions containing chicken, beef, or eggs. Some chefs place this dish among traditional curries because it contains red curry powder and a significant amount of chili peppers.

This dish usually starts with shredded godamba roti. Home cooks may simply tear it apart with their hands, but Sri Lankan chefs usually choose a much louder method. They lay the bread on top of a heated iron grill pan and chop it apart with large metal cleavers. Chefs sometimes follow a specific rhythm to entertain restaurant guests. Street vendors often use the sound to attract patrons.

Most versions of kottu contain shredded cabbage, matchstick carrots, and ginger and garlic along with cumin, red curry powder, and seeded chili peppers. Vegetarian curry usually contains little else, besides the godamba roti bread. Those preparing meat kottu typically sear the meat before adding the vegetables and spices, simmering everything together until the veggies are soft. The bread is often added in the last few minutes of cooking to prevent it from becoming soft and limp.

In egg kottu, the eggs are usually cracked into the simmering vegetables just as the chef adds the bread, or right before. Eggs cook very quickly and adding them too early could result in little charred bits of food scattered throughout the dish. Well-prepared egg kottu generally features the vegetables intermingled with small pieces of moist scrambled egg.

Home cooks that want to try their hand at making kottu must have godamba roti. This flat bread is sometimes available at ethnic grocery stores, but those without access to such stores can make it at home. Godamba roti requires no yeast — it is a quick bread made from flour, water, sugar, and salt. One needs only a pinch of sugar and salt, about a cup (236 ml) of white flour, and a cup (250 ml) of water to make moist, pliable dough similar to pizza dough. The dough should stretch and tear easily in one’s hands.

After rolling the dough into a paper-thin sheet with a rolling pin, the cook should cut circles from it with a circular cookie cutter and fry them in vegetable oil over medium-high heat. The bread will crisp and turn golden brown very quickly. Drain the fried bread on paper towels and let it cool before ripping or chopping it up to make kottu.

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Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On Jun 06, 2014

This is one of the most popular street foods in Sri Lanka. When cooks are preparing kottu, one can hear the clashing of the blades on the bread from the end of the street. A week after I arrived in Sri Lanka, I could recognize the sound right away and usually made my way to it to have a nice, hot plate of kottu.

The dish is popular in Sri Lanka but it might be Indian in origin. Kottu means "chopped" in the Tamil language, so the dish basically means chopped roti and that's what it is.

By fBoyle — On Jun 05, 2014

@burcinc-- If you're used to Indian roti, I should tell you that godamba roti is fairly different. Regular roti is not fried, it's simply cooked on a pan. Godamba roti is fried as the article said, so it tastes better but it also has more calories. So kottu is a fairly calorie dense food and not something you want to enjoy on a regular basis.

I love kottu with meat, it's so tasty and a complete meal by itself. My favorite is beef kottu but I like chicken kottu as well. I heard that cheese kottu is becoming more popular but I have not had the opportunity to try it yet.

By burcinc — On Jun 05, 2014

I love roti so I'm sure I would love kottu as well. This sounds like a very simple, but delicious and filling recipe. I must try it sometime.

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