Noshtalgia Food

Kozhukatta, achappam and ele ada: Remembrance of teatimes past

All afternoon we would lounge about in the cool confines of closed doors and drawn curtains, waiting for what KP would offer when the clock struck four

It is a truth universally acknowledged that young persons forced to spend an entire hot and humid month in their ‘native place’ will be forever restless, forever hungry.

Back in the 80s, it was no different for our large brood of siblings and cousins when we landed up in Palakkad for our summer holidays. The days were spent endlessly prowling about the sprawling grounds of Amma’s, my grandmother’s, house, dislodging many a sleeping snake in the stacked-stone compound wall, going for long walks on noodle-thin paths set among paddy fields, playing cricket on a sandy patch nearby, sneaking ciggies by the pond overhung by a lush weeping willow at the far end of the house, and suchlike.

And then, there was the food. We’d gorge on everything the wildly overgrown orchard had to offer: gooseberries, mango, jackfruit, chikoo, the cashew fruit and nuts, badam, coconut. We’d munch on salted tapioca chips all day long, sneering at its poorer cousin, the kaaya varuthathu, banana chips, both to be found in giant Mason jars kept, strangely, inside a bedroom cupboard.

However, tea-time was the highlight of the holidays. Of course, all mealtimes at Brindaban, Amma’s house, were veritable feasts, given that her head cook/ major-domo/ family retainer Kesavan Nair (or KP as we called him for some reason) was a culinary whiz who raised the bar on sambar, mezhukkupuratti (stir-fry), ishtew (stew) or chakka pradhaman (jackfruit payasam) to impossibly high levels. Once you’d had KP’s food, all other Malabar dishes were sternly judged and invariably found wanting.

Between lunch and tea

Tea-time, though, was in a league all of its own. Everything was that much more delectable because of our enforced imprisonment within the cool confines of closed doors and drawn curtains between lunch and tea. The elders would doze off, the house slowly filling with the far-from-mellifluous sounds of snoring. Some of us would pull down Amma’s 1950s’ bound copies of Woman & Home and study the recipes for scones, crumpets and mince pies with rapt concentration. One or two brave souls would sneak into the pantry, pull the stoppers off the giant stone baranis and sample the hottest mango pickle ever. Yet others would sit by the window alcoves and hold long spirited discussions — in stage whispers — on whether the ari nellika (star gooseberry) they had eaten platefuls of with chilli powder was the reason their tummies were cramping now. A few would stretch out on the many divans and discuss what KP would offer when the clock struck four. It was always all about food.

Kozhukatta, achappam and ele ada: Remembrance of teatimes past

And when the clock struck the hour, we’d troop to the dining room. KP and his assistant (a procession of young cheerful boys who’d stay a few years and then move on seeking fresher pastures but always return to visit) would have taken down the fine china teacups and saucers from the giant sideboard that ran the length of the dining room and poured out the tea. The fine china was for the adults, of course, we got our tea in glass tumblers.

Wonderfully caramelised

But it was not the liquid we were there for. From the smoky interior of a then-gasless kitchen, where the musical sounds of an iron pipe aimed at the chulha could be heard, would emerge the palaharam (snacks) that accompanied the tea. The standard was two cooked snacks and one crunchy one each evening, but the range was mind-boggling.

Topping the list was banana fritters, the oil glistening lightly atop the wonderfully caramelised sides of the golden nendrapazham bananas. Another spin on the fruit was the pazham nurriki, banana pieces boiled in their skins. In yet another variation, KP would score a deep cut down the length of a ripe nendrapazham, grill it over hot coals, drizzle ghee over it, and dust it with granulated sugar. Served hot, the flavours of the smoked pazham, ghee and sugar made for an ambrosial mix.

Then there was ele ada, jaggery and grated coconut wrapped in rice flour and steamed in a banana leaf; or sukhiyan filled with a delicious mix of mung bean (cherupayar), coconut and jaggery On days when KP didn’t feel particularly inspired, we’d get bondas or vadas, the uzhunnu or the parrippu versions where the peppercorns, green chillis and fried onions exploded in a sensory rush inside our mouths. Or there were plates of beaten rice, aval, lightly tossed in ghee and gur. There was neyyappam, made from rice flour mixed with jaggery, roasted coconut bits and powdered cardamom. There was also unniappam, where the filling was mashed banana, jaggery and roasted coconut bits. KP’s kozhukatta range spanned the regular kozhukatta, the upma (rava) kozhukatta and the ellu (sesame seed) kozhukatta.

The crunchy-munchies were not made by KP, yet were truly sublime. Brindaban was one road away from one of Palakkad’s famed agraharams, from where Amma would regularly order in fried snacks, especially when we were around. The women would come home with large stainless steel containers full of murukkus, kuzhalappam, thattai (the Mallu version of Karnataka’s nipattu), cheeda, muthusaram, manoharam; savouries as well as sweets, and all made with rice flour.

My father’s family would visit often, from Kerala’s deep south. Tea-times would then turn even more interesting, with the appearance of southern snacks like kappa and chamanthi, achappam (rose cookies), and the to-die-for chakka varatti, a jackfruit spread that carried within it the taste of heaven.

All good things come to an end, of course. Amma passed away, KP passed away, and as for us, we grew up. Those wondrous tea-times at Brindaban passed into gilded memory. Over the years, many of us have tried our hand at making the snacks we used to enjoy at Amma’s table. Only, it isn’t KP making them, so they never really taste as good.


Kozhukatta, achappam and ele ada: Remembrance of teatimes past

Ellu kozhukatta

Ingredients (makes 12)

Rice flour – 1 large cup

Boiling water – 1 to 1 ½ cup

Salt – a pinch

Sesame oil – 1 tsp (Coconut oil overpowers other flavours)

White or black dry-roasted sesame seeds – 1/2 cup

Grated jaggery – 1/2 cup

Grated coconut – 2 tbsp

Cardamom powder – a pinch

Ghee – 1 tbsp


1. Boil the water adding salt and oil. Add the boiling water little by little to the rice flour and make into a smooth but not sticky dough.

2. Grind the roasted sesame, add grated jaggery and coconut and heat on stove till jaggery has melted. Add ghee and cardamom powder to the mix, roll into small balls and keep aside.

3. Roll the dough into medium-sized balls and flatten them with your palm. Don’t make them too thin or else they will crack while steaming. Place the filling and close up the ball.

4. Steam cook the kozhukatta in an idli cooker for about 8-10 minutes or till done. When cooked, the kozhukattas take on a shine.

5. Serve hot or cold, it’s delicious either way.

The writer is a manuscript editor and novelist based in Bengaluru.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 4:24:52 PM |

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