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Now, sweeter than ever before!

Temporary payasam stalls that were put up during Onam have lasted till Vishu and are still going strong. Many are now permanent outlets serving the dessert. ELIZABETH NINAN finds this traditional sweet is more popular than ever before!

THANKS TO modern desserts the choice dessert of God's Own Country, payasam, had been sidelined for sometime now. But with the opening of payasam parlours in the city, the dessert is finding sweet favour among Kochiites once again. And unlike earlier, it is not just as a fitting end to every `sadya,' or feast but a must to any party, even as an alternative to ice creams or milk shakes.

It is no wonder then that the city centres, serving payasam on a daily basis, are doing rather well. The payasam stall at M.G. Road, near the Maharaja's College ground was started during last Onam but is still very much around. The booming demand for their palada has ensured that the stall continue dishing out the dessert even much after Christmas and New Year. And now, with plans for expansion, (a separate stall to serve as a restaurant), they have shifted to the South Junction road.

The stall now sells only the palada variety. And this is on their daily menu. A full glass of warm and tasty palada comes at Rs 10, whereas, a litre of the same comes at Rs 60 (packing included). Ramesan, the cook here, says that most people prefer it as a take-away.

They have regular customers who take half a litre to one litre packs to be had at home or at the work place. Bigger quantities are packed for functions. Those at the payasam parlour, opened by the Central Kitchen Dinette on M.G. Road, also agree that there is indeed much demand for this delicacy. And though they do serve two varieties of this traditional Kerala dessert, the one that is much in demand is the mouth smacking palada.

However, the opening of these new joints has hardly affected the business of traditional catering houses like Vinayaka Catering. Anantharaman, the spirit behind this very popular catering unit says, "We sell at least 500 litres on an average every day. Of course the demand is enormous during the wedding season.'' He agrees that the payasam has achieved popularity as never before. "And the Kochiites seem to have a special preference for the palada, though the pazham variety, made of ripe bananas, is also much sought after," adds Mr. Anantharaman. While his own special `pineapple payasam' is now much preferred at wedding feasts.

If L. K. Krishnankutty, vice-president of Ernakulam Karayogam that owns and manages the T. D. M Hall, can be believed it was they who introduced the eternal favourite palada to the Kochiites. "Earlier, the demand was for the simple milk payasam and for the adapradhaman. The palada variety came much later,'' Mr. Krishnankutty says. Now, with a boom in tourism, the demand for this traditional sweet dish has forced even the star hotels to give this pride of place in their menus.

The Taj Residency serves a choice payasam as the `Payasam of the Day,' besides serving one or two other varieties of the dessert as part of the menu at the Bubble Café. The buffet at the coffee shop boasts of at least one of these payasams as a Kerala dessert. The Treasure Trove at the Le Meridien also serves payasam as part of its lunch buffet. Here the adapradhaman is the favourite.

Though the payasam has now become really popular, the fact is that it has always been a part of the social and religious life in the State. Temples and churches serve payasam as their offering. While the Ambalapuzha paal payasam is part of our folklore, every one invariably comes back from Sabrimala with the sacred aravana payasam. The payasam offerings at the Mar Thoma Church, Mulanthuruthy, and the St.Joseph's Church, Kanamally, are also well known.

On occasions like marriages, birthdays and anniversaries, payasam and its different varieties are a must. Tastes and preferences for the different varieties of this heavenly dessert may differ from place to place, but there is no doubt that the payasam is the most satiating sweet dish, never frowned at by even the most fastidious connoisseur of food. And in Kochi it now tastes sweeter than ever before.

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