‘I’ve been making appalams since 1988. It began when my husband had an accident and I had to earn money. I raised Rs. 500 and started off the business.’
In the living-room of Latha K.'s West Mambalam flat, appalams and elai-vadams are clearly the VIPs. Hundreds dry under the fan on a black plastic sheet while hundreds sit in tall stacks waiting to be packed. Latha kneads the dough, pinching it off into small balls. “I learnt to make them long ago, in my village Padur, near Ulundurpet. I was a little girl and whenever there was a wedding in the village, all the women would turn up. They would sit around the mitham and make 2,000-3,000 appalams.” The urad dal was hand-ground, the girls pinched the dough off into balls, while the older women expertly rolled them out into round appalams. “It was hard work but there was food, laughter and gossip,” remembers Latha.
As she speaks, Latha swiftly flattens several dough balls and starts rolling. “When I started, 4 out of 10 people bought my appalams. Now all 10 buy. Who has the time to make them at home anymore?” Of course, home-made appalams are far superior to shop-bought ones. People even carry them abroad for friends and family, or when they relocate.
Latha got her recipe from her mother. Urad dal flour mixed with salt, asafoetida, jeera (for digestion), mustard water (‘so that it expands when fried’) and appalam karam (‘to make it crisp; it’s a substitute for the perandai water we used in the village’). After rolling, appalams need just one day to dry. Grinders do make the work easier , but it’s still a fairly labour-intensive task and calls for a certain knack. “Rolling pins embarrass even experienced people; no matter what you do, the appalams end up square,” says Lata.
In 1988, Latha sold 100 pieces for Rs. 60. Today, she gets Rs. 220. Her double appalams are very popular, as are the plain ones with ajwain. “Business has been good,” says Latha, “I now have helpers who I train personally.” And she smiles, as she rolls out another paper-thin piece.