An exclusive puttu hotel, puttu food festivals and even puttu as the latest health fad — Kerala's time-honoured dish is making a welcome comeback, albeit in redefined avatars
For a stormy evening, the crowd outside Dhe Puttu was extraordinary. People huddled in chairs provided on the porch, as rain lashed all around. Those who could not find seats stood, determinedly holding on to their umbrellas and staring at the watchman, hoping he would call out their number next. That evening, children, old men and women, youngsters and families seemed united by a single sense of purpose — eat puttu.
The newly-opened exclusive puttu restaurant at Edappally has captured a new fascination for Kerala’s time-honoured breakfast dish. It is not just a matter-of-fact food to be wolfed down unthinkingly with bananas and kadala (chickpeas) curry anymore. It is niche, designer, something to be savoured and appreciated. Not for breakfast alone, but for lunch, dinner, even at tea time. Dhe Puttu, set up by actor Dileep and television personality Nadirshah, interprets the puttu in curious ways, mixing meat, fruit and even chocolate to the basic mix of ground rice and grated coconut. Served hot in stylish bamboo trays, accompanied by sweet black coffee, the experience is definitely deluxe.
The puttu has been a true survivor in that sense, making its way from small eating houses to fancy restaurants, while reinventing itself. The menu at Dhe Puttu boasts around 20 varieties with an equally elaborate choice of side dishes. From erachi puttu to chemmeen, egg, payar (green gram), ragi and wheat, the combinations are enjoyably innovative. The marble puttu, a popular item on the menu, gets its name from the corn, ragi, white rice and chemba rice mix. For the more experimental gourmet, there is chocolate, mango and the cashew-date puttu. If it is lunch, there is puttu thali, a complete meal involving vegetables and meat. The price ranges from Rs. 30 to Rs. 90 for a ‘kutti’. The thali comes at Rs. 180.
Festivals in tow
Hotels dedicate festivals to the puttu, now. “I don’t know how many five-star hotels would put it on the regular menu. But the interest in puttu has surprisingly, been going up,” says George Laji, the administration manager of Hotel Yuvarani, which recently conducted a puttu festival. “We have never hosted a puttu festival before and honestly, we were not sure how successful it would be. But we were shocked. The demand was so good that we had to extend the festival.” The hotel went with the staples and included specialties such as chakka (jackfruit) puttu, kappa (tapioca) puttu and the traditional chiratta (coconut shell) puttu. “Though it is traditionally had for breakfast, puttu is now a popular choice for dinner,” Laji adds.
Is the Malayali’s fixation with the ‘parotta’ slowly being replaced by the puttu? M.K. Mohanan, who has been running a ‘thattukada’ in Panampilly Nagar for the last 23 years, says despite the raging monsoon, he has been selling around 5 kg of puttu daily. “Initially, I used to serve only puttu and dosa. Then came the parotta, which is cheaper than puttu. Now, there are lots of people from ‘high society’ who buy puttu from us. The only hassle is that puttu has to be served hot. People like us can't offer that, but we still get a regular stream of customers,” he says.
Cookery show host Reena Basheer, who demonstrated a classic erachi puttu recipe recently, says she received a phenomenal response for the dish. “I got calls from mothers who said their children demanded the dish.” Reena observes the craze for fast food has slowly begun to diminish and food preferences are increasingly going back to the basics. “People are also health conscious now. Hence, there is a resurgence of traditional recipes.” For instance, vegetable puttu, Reena says, is healthy as well as delicious. “I add fresh carrot, capsicum, green peas to the puttu mixture, seasoning it with pepper and salt. You don’t even need a side dish for this recipe. It is a dish by itself. The steam half cooks the vegetables and the nutrients are intact,” she says.
Puttu scores a brownie point when it comes to health. Since it is steam cooked, it is safe for diabetics as well as those who have hypertension and high cholesterol, says Bulbin Jose, chief medical nutritionist at Lakeshore Hospital. “Puttu by itself is not a balanced diet. But, adding vegetables, meat, chicken, fish and fruits could enhance its nutritive value,” she says. “Even people who want to lose weight can have puttu as it contains no oil. The traditional combinations to puttu — kadala and payar — make it a complete, balanced meal.”