From ‘elai vadam’ to ‘veppam poo’, yam chips to ‘kothavaranga vathal’, residents make them all, this season.

Taking full advantage of the bright summer sunshine, Chennai is getting ready for the preparation of its own version of preserves: from ‘elai vadam’ to ‘veppam poo’, yam chips to ‘kothavaranga vathal’ and dried ‘sundakka’, residents make them all, this season.

A simple recipe using raw rice and salt, the translucent elai vadam is lip-smacking tasty. Just off the cooker, steamed elai vadam gets eaten faster than it can be peeled off the ‘elai’ or a leaf, which gives it its name.

“Soak raw rice for four hours and grind it till it is soft. Add salt and let it ferment for two to three days. Mix the batter twice daily to allow natural fermentation,” says 82-year-old Pattammal Sundaram. The batter is spread evenly on cut banana leaves and steamed. “You can heat water in a ‘kadai’ and place the leaves on a plate with holes in it. It cooks in just a minute. When it turns glassy you know it is cooked. You only need to remove it and dry it in the shade,” she adds.

Other sun-dried items are ‘vathal’ (varugulu in Telugu and kondattam in Malayalam). Some households invest more effort in making the ‘muruku’ and ‘poo vathal’, which requires a muruku-maker, also called a ‘naazhi’.

“There are two recipes for rice vathal — you mix raw rice powder in boiling water, add green chillies, salt and lime juice, or you can make it just like the elai vadam, only here, you add the batter to hot water. Both demand a lot of work and standing in the sun. But at the end of the day when the children eat the fried vathal, it is a great feeling,” says Mythili Ramaswamy, a resident of Velachery.

Apart from drying vegetables including ladies finger, ‘kothavarangai’ (cluster beans), yam and brinjal, ‘vadagams’, a cousin of the vadam, are also made. “This season we make vadagam using onions, garlic, jeera, fenugreek seeds, salt, chillies, castor oil and Bengal gram. We fry and add them to ‘kuzhambu’ instead of vegetables,” explains 68-year-old Percy Sumithran.

Palavakkam residents, Thasneem Ismail’s family dries semolina. “When we have the time we make ‘semiya’ from wheat. The children enjoy turning the machine’s handle. The advantage with home-made stuff is that it is unadulterated,” she says.

Such traditions are dying a slow death now in a fast-paced world. Supermarkets are stocking vadams and vathals.

N. Rama, who has been making vathal for over 20 years, says, “I make eight kilos of vadam a day during the season and supply them to a few shops and also marriage caterers.”

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