Food

Mittai kadai memories…

Narrow Karim Saheb Pallivaasal Street in the heart of Madurai is fondly referred to as Mittai Kadai sandhu by locals thanks to its many candy manufacturing units and shops. The candy here reminds me of my school days. Every time I passed Ramu petty shop, a hole-in-the-wall shack huddled inside a cobbled street in Tallakulam, it was a ritual to stop, choose from the range of mittais in glass bottles and pop one into my mouth. If I started the day with gulkand mittai (rose essence flavoured), I would choose pulippu mittai (orange flavoured) in the afternoon and sooda mittai (made with mint) added zing to after-school hours.

Unlike today’s chocolates and toffee, the candy of those days was humble; home-made sugar confectionery in colourful translucent crystals, all sold as open pieces with no wrappers. In shades of pink, orange, yellow and blue, they were indeed the edible ‘gems’ we treasured in our fantasies. Then there were chikkis – kadalai (ground nut) and cocoa mittais, the maavu urundais (made with green gram flour), thaen (honey) mittai and the ubiquitous kamar kattu that left a unique aftertaste.

Today, many of these have become rarities, restricted to select shops in some areas. But not for long, given the recent trend for retro candy.

“Business was dull for a while, but it started looking up about five years ago. Thanks to students rediscovering these sweets, we are once again in the thick of action,” says G. Ramesh Babu, one of the proprietors of Ganesh Vilas brand, manufacturers of kadalai and cocoa mittais. “We never use artificial colour. The ground nuts required for kadalai and cocoa mittais are procured from Tirumangalam and Dindigul markets. We keep the recipe simple: nuts are roasted well and mixed with the thick jaggery syrup.”

While crystalised sooda mittai is easy to break, the popular kamar kattu is rock hard. Most of these desi candies come with health benefits, according to the makers. For instance, ellu mittai (made with sesame seeds) lowers cholesterol levels and increases bone density. “ Kadalai mittais are nutritious and good for bile-related problems,” says Pamayan, an organic farmer. “A group of enthusiasts are attempting to revive the original kadalai mittai, by making it with Palm jaggery (Karupatti), at Gandhi Niketan Ashram in T. Kallupatti.”

While these sweets are easy to make at home they do need a lot of patience and practice to get the consistency just right. “Most of these sweets are popular with not only children, but with everyone,” says S. Balakrishnan, director, Vergal, an NGO working for the empowerment of rural students. “Even today I have seen people carrying pulippu mittai to prevent nausea while travelling. They have become the part of life,” he says.

More than six decades into the business, S. Ganesan feels that the sales has picked up in the past few years. “I get buyers from neighbouring districts. Now, I have my own manufacturing unit where I produce powdered ground nut candy,” he says.

Educational institutions have also shown interest in promoting chikkis in their schools. “I get orders from schools such as Saradha Vidyalayam and Setupati Higher Secondary School,” says Ramesh Babu.

Pori urundai is another variety that has won many hearts. The candy is made with puffed rice. Soaked in thick jaggery syrup, it is then rolled into balls of different sizes.

Escalating prices of palm products have stopped manufacturers from using palm jaggery for their products and use sugarcane jaggery instead. Especially, kamar kattu, which tastes better if prepared with palm jaggery, now comes in a different flavour. Nevertheless, it’s customers are undeterred - and the market seems to just keep growing.

Popular traditional mittai varieties:

Ellu mittai (made with sesame seeds), Sooda mittai, Pulippu mittai (orange flavoured), Jelly mittai, Thenga mittai (coconut based), Thaen mittai (made with honey), Kadalai urundai (ground nut balls), Cocoa mittai, Pori urundai, Kamar kattu, Gulkand mittai and Seeni mittai (made with black gram flour and sugar syrup).

Most of the mittais come in packets and each packet with 5 to 12 pieces range from Rs.5 to Rs.35.

RECIPE:

Kamar Kattu

INGREDIENTS:

Coconut: 1 cup (grated)

Jaggery: 1 cup (palm or sugarcane)

Ghee for greasing hands

METHOD:

Take jaggery in a sauce pan, add 25ml of water. Mix well and caramelise the jaggery. Stir well to get ‘one string’ consistency. Strain it to remove the impurities. Now add the grated coconut to the mixture. Stir it well till the mixture thickens. Transfer the mix to a plate and let it cool. Now grease your hands with ghee and take small portion and shape it into small ball and press them with both hands. You will get the tasty kamar kattu.


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Printable version | Nov 23, 2021 1:48:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Food/mittai-kadai-memories/article7711867.ece

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