Food

Payasam in the time of Onam

Lekshmi Nair says her favourite is Ambalapuzha paal payasam  



Rich, creamy payasams garnished with fat raisins and crisp cashewnuts fried in ghee; hot payasams on a plantain leaf or in a cup; payasam with boli or sharkara payasam (called pradhaman) with mashed banana and pappadam... combinations differ and ingredients vary from cereals and pulses to fruits and veggies but payasams are the taste of celebrations in Kerala.

“Paal ada is popular towards the Thrissur side while ari paal payasam, like the Ambalapuzha paal payasam, is what is popular in regions around erstwhile Travancore. I make the ada at home and make paal ada and ada pradhaman though my favourite is the Ambalapuzha payasam,” says culinary queen Lekshmi Nair.

For the traditional sadya, usually three kinds of payasam are served. According to Lekshmi, depending on the number of payasams, the ingredients are chosen.

“If there are three kinds of pradhaman, one would be an ada pradhaman, the second would be a pulse-based one like kadala or cheru payar and the third would be a fruit-based one like banana or jackfruit.”

No auspicious occasion in Kerala is complete without that payasam. Cooked in milk or coconut cream or coconut milk, the payasam is a delectable combination of all things good that used to be slow cooked on a wood fire. Payasams, made with milk and sugar or jaggery and coconut milk, is also the food of the gods.

With changes in lifestyles, the art of cooking the payasam has changed. True, the traditional sadya is incomplete with the payasam. But now the good old payasam might come out of a carton or a packet. It could even come in small containers from the corner shop.

Come Onam, packets of instant and ready-to-cook payasams are hot sellers at all places where there are Malayalis.

These instant payasams are sold all over India and in West Asia, United States, United Kingdom and Europe.

Sreenath Vishnu, executive director of Thodupuzha-based Brahmins Food, says that more than 8 lakh packets of milk-based ready-to-make ada and vermicelli payasams are sold during this season. “The demand peaks a month before Onam and we are now working almost round the clock to meet the demand. Last year, there were occasions when we could not close the plant to keep up the supply,” he explains.

This increase in sales is true for another popular brand - Double Horse, which has three kinds of ready-to cook payasams- paal ada, rice ada and vermicelli.

Sunil P. Krishnan, general manager, sales and marketing of Double Horse, says there is a 10-fold increase in sales starting from August till Onam.

Their plant in Pollachi gears up for the festival months ahead of the season. Although the top seller is paal ada, he says the vermicelli mix comes a close second.

So popular is the paal ada that Vishnu says they have people making this all through the year. “They make it only for us and we take their entire lot. The ada must be made with care. It should be of the right consistency for the payasam to come out well. We make the payasam according to our recipe and then it is packaged,” he explains.

City-based Maha Chips cashed in to the popularity of payasam to open a counter that mainly sells bolis and ari paal payasam. They ventured into the payasam business about six months ago and every day about 80 to 100 litres of payasam are sold at their outlet in East Fort.

“We are expecting a three-fold increase in sales this month. These readymade payasams are a boon to families as it saves them the trouble of making the dessert,” says V. Sivakumar, proprietor of Maha Chips.

In the meantime, the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation’s annual Payasam Mela (payasam festival) during the Onam season has become a huge hit. Different kinds of payasams are sold all through the four days of Onam. Before noon, the payasams are sold out.

The payasam and pradhaman are sold as cups and in half-litre and one-litre containers.

Last year, the KTDC staff came up with a special payasam on every day of the fete.

Make it right

Vishnu says that it is best to avoid raisins for milk-based payasam. “The traditional paal payasam did not have raisins in it. Moreover, it is difficult to confirm whether the raisins are of good quality. If they have not been dried properly, the raisins can curdle the hot payasam.”

Lekshmi says that one must be careful while sautéing the ada for the payasam. It should neither be pasty, undercooked or over cooked. The consistency has to be right for a good payasam. One should also be careful while adding the milk or coconut milk. Too little can result in a pudding and not a payasam while too much of it can make the payasam too thin. She adds that the easiest payasam to make is with vermicelli and condensed milk.


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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 9:59:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Food/Payasam-in-the-time-of-Onam/article14617798.ece

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