It’s easy to find Madhusoodhan in busy Chalai Market. Just ask for the pappadam maker and many of the local tradesmen will most likely point you in the direction of Madhusoodhan’s tiny shop-cum-home on the main road of the Market. After all, Madhusoodhan’s extended family has been in the business of making pappadams for more than 60 years now.
The shop itself is a little more than a old glass-fronted wooden cupboard with assorted stacks of pappadams and ready-to-be fried crisps, on what is possibly the veranda of the house. We find Madhusoodhan sitting on a stool behind a wooden desk in front of the cupboard, reading the newspaper and occasionally handing out stacks of pappadams (called kettu ; one kettu usually has 100 pappadams) to his customers. “We sell upwards of 30 kettus a day to walk in customers, each priced according to the size of the pappadams. We also supply bulk orders to hotels and caterers,” says the affable Madhusoodhan.
Pappadam making is a family affair in Madhusoodhan’s household, which he shares with his pretty wife, Sreejaya, his elder brother, Gopalakrishnan, a Kerala State Financial Enterprises agent, and his family. “We all pitch in to make pappadams every morning and dry them on the terrace of our house, till they are half-baked,” says Madhusoodhan.
He says he has been making the pappadams since he was a child. “We belong to the Gowda Saraswat Brahmin community, who are said to have migrated to the city from Goa in the 18th century. In those days the ‘Murajapam’ at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple used to be held every six years and it required a lot of pappadams for various feasts in connection with the fete. I believe that’s how my family became involved in making them. My paternal grandfather, Krishnan Bhattar, started this shop. It was later taken over by my father, Venugopala Bhattar. We now have a unit at Nedumkad, near Karamana, that takes care of the bulk orders. We also sell home-made appalams and mango and lemon pickle,” adds the 54-year-old.
While there are increasingly many takers for pappadams with seasonings such as black pepper, chilli, cumin and garlic, Madhusoodhan says that the plain urad dal ones are still the most popular. “The key to good pappadams is the quality of urad dal flour used in the making. The better the quality of the dal, the better the pappadams. The way you knead the dough also contributes to the quality of the pappadam as do the amount of salt and baking soda added to the dough. Ideally, the shelf life of a pappadam should only be three days,” explains Madhusoodhan.
And has he ever dreamed of doing something else with his life? “I’ve never really thought about not joining the family business. Even if I wanted to, its too late. I don’t have any children. But I’m happy with my lot in life,” he says.
(A weekly column on the men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)
The key to good pappadams is the quality of urad dal flour used in the making. The better the quality of the dal, the better the pappadams