M. Rajam has a loyal clientele for her handmade sevai
It is half past five in the morning and M. Rajam, who lives in West Nada, East Fort, has already begun work on making sevai or rice noodles in her home-based takeaway, as she has been doing for the past 12 years. Sevai occupies pride of place in Kerala-Tamilian cuisine, but getting its ‘noodly’ and non-sticky consistency is no child’s play. To cater to the demand, many sevai eateries/takeaways have sprung up in the Fort area of the city.
Although there are many places that offer sevai, Rajam’s stands out as she specialises in making handmade sevai, unlike many other centres that have switched over to the machine mode. Even in the face of increasing competition, Rajam has chosen not to add on to her menu and continues to offer only sevai.
Rajam begins by grinding par boiled Doppi rice that has been soaked overnight, even while attending to home chores of making breakfast and lunch for her husband, M. Balasubramaniam, and herself. Freshly ground batter is steam cooked as idlis before being pressed in the sevai nazhi or presser. The presser is a three-legged stand with a fill area and rotatable handle bars.
Placing the presser on the ground and supporting it with her feet, Rajam fills it with steaming hot idlis and dexterously rotates the handles clock-wise to produce soft and silky sevai strands. The sevai is then allowed to cool. Afterwards Rajam divides it into neat packets, ready for her customers. A portion of sevai together with mor kuzhambu (yoghurt mixed with ground coconut and chillies) and pappadams cost Rs. 15.
How did she get into sevai making, which seems to require arduous effort? Replies Rajam: “A relative asked me to make sevai; they liked it and from there the business grew slowly.” The 59-year-old petite lady rubs off the difficulty and says, “I feel fortunate and happy that I am able to work and contribute to the needs of the family.”
Sales begin at 1.30 p.m. on all days including Sunday. Rajam says she cannot give a set pattern as to till when her supplies would last. “On some days, the entire sevai made from two to three kg of rice runs out by 2.30 p.m., on other days, it lasts till 8 p.m.” Rajam has regular customers from not just inside the Fort area but also from other places such as Poojappura and Medical College.
The disappointment among those who miss to get their packets is perceptible as against the marked elation in those who get it. Sevai is essentially bland, and yet why this charm? Balasubramaniam, who helps Rajam with the sales says: “Sevai is steam cooked, easily digestible and a safe alternative for all including the elderly. Unlike idiyappam which is made from raw rice, sevai holds less moisture and as such lasts more. We have several customers who take sevai packets for overnight journeys.”
Rajam however says she is not keen on taking up bulk orders as she does all the work by herself. She can only serve up to a maximum of 50 sevai portions, with an advance notice of at least two days. Evenings are devoted to her four-year-old granddaughter Niranjana and then she gets on to clean and wash rice before leaving it to soak for the next day.