The kamarkat now hardly has any takers in the city with only a few shops stocking this once-popular sweet
Kamarkat does not make the cut any more. This rock-hard jaggery-mixed coconut sweet appears to have disappeared from the shelves of petty shops in cities around Tamil Nadu, especially Chennai. In what is probably a last-ditch effort to save it, a handful of companies is promoting the sweet in Chennai, supplying it in neat packets to super markets. But, the kamarkat’s status as a common sweet is irrecoverably lost.
For many, the tiny ball-shaped sweet evokes only memories. On the Internet, blogs talk about the days when the kamarkat (pronounced kamarcut) shared shelf space with then mittai (honey sweet) — which continues to be sold in petty shops around the city. Recipes of the sweet circulated on the Internet also keep it from being forgotten. To give just two instances, ‘Amma’s Special’ (passionatetrials.wordpress.com) and fewminutewonders.com together list two kamarkat recipes from authors who had taken delight in the sweet, as children.
A variety of reasons are put forth for the kamarkat’s decline in the metros. Mohan Raj, a petty shop owner in Selaiyur, says, “When asked about the kamarkat, wholesalers of sweets say the new crop of workers in the industry are unable to make it as well as their predecessors did. With the older generation fading away from the scene, there is no one to make the kamarkat.”
Selvarani, who runs a petty shop on a street, off the ECR Link Road, that has retained a part of its rural past, says, “Wholesalers don’t sell kamarkat any more. The odd one that does, brings stuff that hardly tastes like a kamarkat.”
R. Muthuperumal of RMP Foods, which promotes sweets from Kovilpatti in Chennai, including a slightly saucer-shaped kamarkat, believes the secret formula is in the hands of traditional sweet-makers from rural Tamil Nadu. A native of Kovilpatti, Muthuperumal is the son of a sweet manufacturer, Ramakrishna. “In the villages, kamarkat is still a regular sweet,” says Muthuperumal.
On the loss of demand for the sweet in urban and semi-urban areas, Muthuperumal thinks its obdurate hardness may have something to do with the downswing. “While the then mittai is soft and can be eaten in no time, a kamarkat has to be chewed on for around 10 minutes. It has to be savoured slowly and calls for patience, which is in short supply today,” he says. Also the kamarkat’s hardness may not be good for very small kids.
Despite the odds stacked against it, Muthuperumal believes the kamarkat has a fighting chance. K.A. Liyakath Ali of Maharaja Super Market, a popular retail store on Santhome High Road, who stocks packets of the more traditional-looking ball-shaped Kamarkat, agrees. “VIPs and people from faraway areas such as Velachery walk into my store just to pick up these packets of kamarkat. The majority of them are in the 30 to 40 age group, and they tell me the sweet brings back the flavour of those days.”
Many voices will concur with this observation.