I made a quick, three-day trip to Kerala two weeks ago with my husband. And I have decided to dedicate this post to Kerala’s local flavours. The thattukada or street-side eateries in Kochi are heaven for anybody who likes to savour authentic Kerala cuisine. However, once dusk falls, the streets of Kochi are so deserted, one would begin to wonder if people even live there. Coming from a city like Ahmedabad-where you can find women and men on the streets even around midnight-was a bit of a shock for me. I mean, I would not expect people from the villages in Kerala to be so open about staying out late but come on, this is a city that belongs to the most literate state in India. Besides being God’s own country and one of the most beautiful places on earth, Kerala has always been an exception in India in literacy, life expectancy, sex-ratio, and infant and maternal mortality. What I look forward to most while travelling is to try out local cuisines from the street eateries when I visit any place. Kerala being my native, I have always wanted to visit the thattukada and kallu shaap (toddy shop). This time around, my father-in-law seems to have known what I was secretly wishing for and so, out of impulse, one evening during my last visit, he said, “Let’s go and get some food packed from the thattukada for dinner”. And off we went, driving in his white Merc to the best thattukada in town, which was almost half an hour from home.
It was around 8 pm and as expected, there were only men at the 3-4 tables laid outside the dhaba-like thattukada on the highway. It was a delight to see a variety of ethnic Kerala food right from paratta with kozhi porichathu (chicken roast), mathi (fish) karuvepila fry, nadan njandu (crab) olarthu, beef fry, thattu dosha, puttu and kadala curry to duck egg curry, kappa (tapioca) and pazaham pori (banana fritters). Phew! Drawing a list is reminding me of the tangy whiffs and the spicy taste of the food I devoured that day. We packed a little bit of everything. As I do not eat meat, I ordered some puttu and mota curry for myself. The thattukada experience is something I will relish and cherish.
This morning, the image of steaming hot puttu and the spicy curry came to my mind when I was thinking of Sunday brunch. I had some pre-soaked kadala (chana or black gram) in the fridge and some freshly made puttu-podi from my mom. So, here goes the recipe for the most authentic, delicious Kerala style puttu-kadala, dedicated to the thattukadas of Kerala…
An authentic Kerala dish made out of steamed rice flour and bengal gram . A Malayali’s favourite breakfast
Black Chana, soaked overnight 200 gms
Grated Coconut 1/2 cup
Five Shallots or two small Onions
Tomato 1, medium sized
Red Chilli powder
Pepper, crushed or whole
Coconut oil 1 tbsp
Pressure cook chana with salt and turmeric till soft. While chana is cooking, roast together the coconut, shallots, red chilli powder, coriander powder and pepper till brown. Grind it to a smooth paste along with the tomato and a teaspoon of cooked chana to get a thick consistency. Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds. When they crackle, add curry leaves and the masala mix. Add salt to taste and the chana. Kadala curry is usually a bit watery because it is served with puttu so you may add water at this stage. Mix well. Let it boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve hot.
Coarse rice flour, roasted 2 cups (you can also buy red or white puttu flour from Kerala stores in your neighbourhood)
Salt 1 tsp
Water 1/4 cup
Grated coconut 1.5 cups
Before we proceed, puttu needs a special equipment, called puttu kuzhal or puttu-maker. You can make puttu even if you do not have a puttu kuzhal. Just take the shell of a coconut that is already grated and proceed with the method.
Take the rice flour in a bowl, add salt and mix well. Add water, very little at a time to make a powdery, wet flour but not a dough. Adding more water will result in the puttu sticking to the equipment after steaming and less water will make the puttu too soft and come out in powder form. Time to fill the puttu in the kuzhal. Fill the base of the puttu maker (pot) with water and keep it on the gas stove to heat. The kuzhal or the tube part of the vessel has a chip at its base. To begin with the process, fill the tube with a small layer of coconut, then put a handful of the wet flour till half of the tube is filled. Add coconut again and fill the rest of the tube with flour. Once the water in the pot boils, fix the tube on the base with the cap on and steam for about 10 minutes on high flame. Once done, remove the tube from the pot and push the puttu out using a ladle or a knife. Serve steaming hot with kadala curry.