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A Kothu in a take-out box
|Koththu roti, Kotthu|
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Kothu or Koththu Roti is a Sri Lankan dish made from a Sri Lankan roti called Godhamba roti and vegetables, egg, and/or meat, and spices. Kothu can be found in almost all parts of Sri Lanka and is generally eaten for dinner. The most common varieties of kothu are beef and chicken, with egg and vegetable kothu available for vegetarians. Cheese kothu has recently been introduced and appears to be becoming a mainstay.
It is traditional to make the kothu on a heated iron sheet, used specifically for the purpose, and the cutting up and mixing of the kothu is done using two blunt metal blades. This clashing of metal on metal creates a very distinctive sound — come late evening the beat of kottu being prepared can be heard coming from any small roadside restaurant.
Kothu roti originated in Batticaloa, in the Eastern part of Sri Lanka during the early 1970s by the local Muslim and Tamil people. Etymologically the name is from the Tamil language meaning "chopped roti" (chopped wheat roti mixed with curry sauce).
The basic roti is made of Gothamba flour. The name itself is Tamil: Gothamba (a form of Kathamba-meaning a flour made out of a variety of grains-referring to the white flour, and roti). Slowly it has spread to other parts of the country as the strife continued and has now caught up and has become extremely popular. It can be found in many Sri Lankan restaurants in other countries, where there is a large Sri Lankan population.
Kothu is a food that has successfully transcended social boundaries in Sri Lanka. Kothu, which used to be a cheap, takeaway meal for lower socioeconomic classes, has now become almost a staple diet for those of upper socioeconomic classes as well, especially among the young and outgoing. It is now a common practice for nightclub and party goers in Sri Lanka to end their nights with a kothu as a midnight snack.
As restaurateurs explore with ideas, a variety of kothu variations have become available. The main ones are where the roti is substituted for pittu or string hoppers, hence the pittu kothu and string hopper kothu.
The Wala Canteen of University of Moratuwa in Katubedda, Colombo, with a parent branch at Colombo Fort, has become over the space of over thirty years the de facto location for kothu among the more trendy Colombo crowd. As a result, a rival to Pilawoos, Hotel Hijra, has emerged almost alongside Pilawoos. The two restaurants now compete equally for customers. Clubgoers begin driving in late at night, and the crowd is such that Friday and Saturday nights see cars parked blocking the Galle road for passing traffic; these blocks sometimes require police attention. Although both restaurants are highly patronized, the hygiene of their kitchens is questionable. However, reports of food-poisoning or upset stomachs caused by these restaurants is surprisingly low, and it would seem that the kothu they serve up is generally safe, if not for the overly squeamish.
Many of the elite who frequent these two roadside restaurants in the nights would prefer not to be seen at the premises in the daytime. The questionable hygiene of the establishments only add to their popularity as a "slumming" location. However, there is no "distinct" taste associated with the kothu at any of these locations, as it is only trend that draws the upper middle class to these restaurants. Good kothu can be found at almost any small boutique that serves it anywhere in the island, and is often made at home, using godhamba roti cut with ordinary knives, and the appropriate ingredients.