Food

Pazhamkanji has made it to the menu at several hotels

Pazhamkanji at Edaneram

Pazhamkanji at Edaneram   | Photo Credit: S Mahinsha

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The simple, hearty meal has found many takers

“In an earthen bowl, mix fermented rice with green chilli, shallots and onion. Top with layers of curd, mashed tapioca, pickled beetroot, and mango pickle. Add spicy fish curry, a side-dish of dried fish fry (karuvadu) and gulp it down...”: Overheard at Kantharees, Mangalapuram near Kazhakkoottam, from a diner gushing about his tryst with pazhamkanji.

The city has seen an exponential rise in eating-out options, both small-scale and upmarket. And despite a range of international cuisines, and modern Indian food, good, old pazhamkanji is what is making the most dramatic impact.

A hearty, local breakfast, pazhamkanji had almost disappeared from many homes when it made a splash on social media a year ago for its many health benefits. Fermented rice served in earthen bowls with curd, pickle and green chilli is its simplest version but flavours vary from house to house and region to region, depending on how the rice is fermented, ingredients added and accompaniments served.

Now there are hotels in the city where only pazhamkanji is served (like Kantharees), or where it is the top seller on the menu.

At Moopilan’s Kitchen near Killippalam junction, one of the first to serve nostalgia in bowls, cooked rice is left to ferment overnight with onions, coriander leaves, ginger, garlic and udamkolli mulaku (a variety of chilli). The next day, it is served with ginger, mashed tapioca, pickle, chilli and a piece of karuvadu.

“This is how my maternal grandmother used to prepare pazhamkanji while I was a kid,” says Syam Murali, who started the outlet with his mother-in-law, Vijayakumari. The same recipe is followed at his new restaurant, Neymeen Choora Oru Bheekarameenanu, near General Hospital, where fish ‘thala’ curry is served with the rice gruel.

Pazhamkanji with fish fry and fish curry at Neymeen Choora Oru Bheekarameenanu

Pazhamkanji with fish fry and fish curry at Neymeen Choora Oru Bheekarameenanu   | Photo Credit: Sreejith R Kumar

At Edaneram, near Bakery Junction, rice is fermented in buttermilk (and not water), with ginger, green chillies, shallots and curry leaves.

“We tried several methods to get the best taste. To ensure that the rice does not get too fermented, the buttermilk should not be too sour. Also, we don’t sell pazhamkanji after 3.30 pm because by that time, the gruel will become over-fermented. We serve it with fish peera (thoran), chutney and pappadam,” says Loly Malvin, proprietor of Edaneram. At Rasavada, Kowdiar, besides the usual toppings, pulissery and rasam come with the pazhamkanji.

The entrepreneurs admit they were apprehensive about whether pazhamkanji would have enough takers when they launched.

“Many well-wishers dissuaded me from starting a restaurant to sell only pazhamkanji. But I enjoy it so much that I wanted others to get a taste of it. Now we have a steady clientèle, especially in and around Technopark area. We get advance orders as well,” says Bhuvan Syam who runs Kantharees.

Healthy meal
  • Fermented rice is rich in vitamins and generates bacteria that help in digestion. It is supposed to keep the body light, cool, fresh and energetic. It is known by different names such as poita bhaat (Assam), pazhaya saadham (Tamil Nadu), Pakhala bhat (Odisha), panta bhaat (Bengal), tanajana (Tulu community) and chaddannam (Andhra Pradesh)

Social media has played a vital role in popularising pazhamkanji. “I wanted an offbeat eating-out experience and the humble pazhamkanji did the trick, thanks to several food groups on Facebook and videos posted by some of our customers. The other day we had a family from Kochi who stopped at our place to have pazhamkanji while returning from a trip to Kanyakumari. Apparently, they had seen a video about our hotel,” he says. A surprise factor for all of them is that majority of their customers are young. Loly says her venture aimed at popularising ethnic, traditional food. However, contrary to her expectations of being patronised by senior citizens, she has customers of all ages.

Manikantan V Nair, owner of Rasavada, concurs. And Somnath Ganeshan of Steampot says many customers order his pazhamkanji via food delivery apps. The dish is priced between ₹40 and ₹90 at the hotels.

Recipe
  • Soak cooked rice (any variety) in water and leave it to ferment overnight, preferably in an earthen pot. Have it the next day by adding salt, curd, bird’s eye chilli, pickle and any curry of your choice (vegetarian or non-vegetarian). This is the basic recipe. The flavour changes if you add crushed ginger, green chilli and onions/shallots the previous night or in the morning. Dry fish fry or karuvadu and the previous day’s fish curry are much sought-after sides. Pulissery, rasam, mashed tapioca or jackfruit, pickled vegetables... all of it can be mixed with pazhamkanji.

“Rich in carbohydrates and considered a ‘cooling food’ for summer months, it was the staple diet in several economically backward families in many places in Kerala. Also called ‘Pazhinji’ in parts of Neyyattinkara, I would say it was the secret of the energy of youth once upon a time!” says NS Sumesh Krishnan, poet and faculty at Government Arts and Science College, Kulathoor.

Fans of pazhamkanji such as Biju Balakrishnan, a poet and research officer with Kerala Institute of Languages, regularly pack pazhamkanji for lunch. “It’s a big hit among my colleagues! Our eating habits have changed. However, it is good to see that we are bringing back traditional food and there are pazhamkanji shops in rural areas as well,” says Biju.

Still unconvinced? Watch Kalippattam, which has a memorable scene, where a pregnant Urvashi craves for pazhamkanji when Mohanlal, playing her husband, make her imagine eating it with a delicious description of the meal.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 8:27:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/pazhamkanji-has-made-it-to-the-menu-at-several-hotels/article30576095.ece

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