Just as Sri Lanka's civil war exploded in the early 1980s, a new nighttime sound began to spread from odd corners of the country's capital: the rapid beat of steel blades. The rhythms flowed out of the oil-stained, all-night restaurants that catered to Colombo's night crawlers. The drummer was the koththu roti chef at work.
Word spread quickly about this novelty: a street-food dish whose name means "chopped roti" in Tamil. It is a combination of gothamba roti (a flat, flaked bread) mixed with spices and shredded vegetables, topped with egg, gravy and chicken. The whole thing is heated on a griddle as the chef bangs away with two metal cleavers, crafting a spicy and carbohydrate-heavy dish perfect for late-night refueling.