It’s Onam and banana chips are the flavour of the season
What’s Onam without munching your way through heaps of crunchy, golden yellow banana chips? In Kerala, snacking on banana chips during Onam season, is almost a tradition, right up there with gorging on the Onasadya and gifting of Ona kodi. In fact, these chips are a staple of all Onasadyas and in most households across the State, platefuls of it will be served to every visitor during the season. No wonder then that business is booming for several snack shops in the city that sell banana chips, sharkkara upperi (chunks of raw banana coated in jaggery), unniappam, neyappam, and other eatables that are the flavour of the season.
“Onam is our season of bounty,” says Kannan A., proprietor of Kannan Chips at Kaithamukku, who has been in the business of selling chips for the past 22 years. “If, generally, I sell around 30 kilos of chips on an average, during the Onam season I sell upwards of 70 kilos of chips per day. Such is the demand,” adds Kannan, as he deftly packs freshly fried chips into half- and one-kilo packets in a small ante-room attached to the shop. “Every year, during the season, I have a bunch of loyal customers who come from four corners of the city to buy chips from my shop,” he says.
Banana chips generally come in two varieties – those made of unripe plantain (best made with nendran pazham) or those made of ripe plantain. The plantains are dabbed with a dash of turmeric and then sliced using a chip slicer into different ‘cuts’ such as round cut (sliced wafer thin) and four cut (these chips are chunkier and quartered). Expert chip makers usually slice the banana directly into the boiling hot oil! The chips are then deep-fried oil for a few minutes – deep frying reduces the grease on the chips. A couple of tosses with a sieve while they are being crisped and a pinch of salt (optional) later, the chips are ready to eat. “The classic variety, one that is most popular and one that sells the most during the season, is chips sliced wafer-thin and round, fried in pure coconut oil. However, these chips have a shelf life of only three days, after which the oil in the chips causes it to stale. That’s why most bakeries/shops tend to deep fry chips in lighter oils such as sunflower or palm oil, which give the chips a shelf life of 10 to 15 days,” says Wazim Azad of The Bread Factory. Chips made of ripe plantain look a darker shade of yellow than those made of unripe plantain and taste much sweeter.
These days, however, with changing palates, banana chips too seem to have undergone a sort of a makeover and are now available with all manner of flavourings. And nowhere in the city are they available in more variety than at Maha Chips, East Fort, on Padmavilasam Road (a new branch of the shop recently opened on the left side of the Padmatheertham pond). Apart from the classic varieties, here you get about seven varieties of banana chips flavoured with chilli powder, chaat powder, pepper or masalas, and finger chips (as thin strips of banana), chips coated in onion paste... “I like to experiment with flavours and try and create different varieties,” says V. Sivakumar, the amiable proprietor of the shop, who started out selling chips from a pushcart in East Fort area some 22 years ago. “The shop was opened six years ago and since then I have been making chips on a large scale. Kerala chips are very popular in other States, especially Tamil Nadu, and during Onam I get many orders,” he adds, as he takes us on a tour of the shop’s kitchen where a few men are busy frying round cut banana chips in huge brass woks mounted on wood fires. Piled on the benches inside the kitchen are what seems to be tons of unripe nendran pazhams and wicker baskets brimming with freshly fried banana chips. “Every day we have to make a fresh batch of chips. The demand is that high during Onam. Actually, we find it difficult to cater to demand. And that’s partly because it’s getting increasingly difficult to procure nendran pazhams. Prices of banana are going through the roof. So we are also forced to increase prices,” adds Sivakumar. In most outlets in the city one kilo of banana chips cost between Rs.240 and 250.