Sam Fore is an unlikely evangelist for Sri Lankan food. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, to Sri Lankan parents, she grew up in North Carolina and went to college in Boston, planning to become a doctor like her father. That idea then morphed into a marketing career.
She moved back to Lexington in 2012, and in one of those twists of fate, began making websites for high-end restaurants, sometimes bringing them a welcome taste of her own cooking. That led to informal brunch gatherings at her home, and she began to see the potential in merging Southern ingredients with the Sri Lankan food she loved to make with her mother, Indra.
Fore started a pop-up series in 2016 that spread nationally, along with her reputation as a hardworking, creative cook dedicated to making the restaurant industry more equitable for women and people of color. This past September, she opened her first brick-and-mortar, Lexington’s Tuk Tuk Snack Shop. “I call Sri Lankan food the love child of Indian and Thai food,” Fore says. “I make what I grew up eating and then mix in everything we raise in Kentucky.”
At Tuk Tuk, she serves a grilled cheese with tamarind caramelized onions, and a house-made hoagie roll with curried pulled pork, pickled carrots, and coconut gravy. Also on the menu: her take on a classic corn dog, which she coats in a spicy lentil batter punched up with curry leaves and onion, inspired by an enduring fried Sri Lankan snack fritter called vadai. It’s a winning invention. The lentils in the batter bring a deeper flavor than the traditional corn-dog coating, and the crunch is a particularly nice counterpart to the good old American hot dogs she puts in the center (Fore’s favorite is Nathan’s).
Here, she’s adapted the dish as a party bite. Slice each hot dog into four mini dogs, then coat with the batter. She uses two kinds of dal in the batter mix, split lentils and chickpeas, which are easy to find online or at markets with a good selection of South Asian ingredients. After a soak in water, the dal and spices get processed just until they form a dough.
You can fry the dogs in oil on the spot or store them in the freezer until you’re ready to start cooking. Fill a bowl with sweet chili sauce for dipping, add a sprinkle of crunchy salt and a few toothpicks, and the party is on. “As far as I’m concerned,” Fore says, “Sri Lankan cuisine is really about finding the perfect bite.”