Madurai

Thanks to social media, these Madurai iron kitchenware shops have booming sales

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Aided by a new social media wave, the iron kitchenware shops of the iconic Pudhu Mandapam are now doing brisk business, with customers from across India

“Has athai come? She will have to select the plates and the tumblers set.”

“That woman is always late! We have to buy the silk saris as well; can’t sit on the seer all day.”

The conversation, amidst a small group of women, is evidently about shopping for seer (wedding gifts for the bride). The stone pillars of Madurai’s iconic Pudhu Mandapam have long been witness to such exchanges amongst families planning a wedding. That afternoon, we pass by the wedding party; tailors with their heads bent in concentration, lost in the clackety-clack of their machines; and the shiny brass shops, to reach shop no 58, where all the action is happening.

Thanks to social media, these Madurai iron kitchenware shops have booming sales

Sikkander Stores, a 114-year-old iron and cast iron kitchenware shop, is packed. It’s late afternoon and even as the other shops in the magnificent stone-pillared market place — built between 1636 and 1640 by king Thirumalai Nayak, right across the East Tower of the Meenakshi Temple — are in lazy-lunch-mode, Sikkander seems to be nowhere close to slowing down.

The shop, along with six other ironware shops in the Pudhu Mandapam, is suddenly in the limelight, thanks to YouTube. “Over the past few months, we’ve had customers from across India coming to buy from us,” says Abdul Rahman, who’s the fifth generation owner. It’s common to see men and women come to the market place with their phones out, showing Abdul photos of the kind of pan or skillet they need from a YouTube video.

Thanks to social media, these Madurai iron kitchenware shops have booming sales

“A lot of YouTubers are featuring us and as a result, we’ve even started selling through WhatsApp,” says the 37-year-old. Abdul stocks dosa tawas and skillets of various sizes, spoons, idli steamers, aruvamanai (a cutting tool), grill pans, and even Dutch ovens. “We also have some rare items such as murukku and idiyappam presses, all made of iron,” he explains. Sikkander regularly ships ironware through courier service to places such as Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad; why, they’ve even shipped massive idli steamers to a restaurant in the US.

Most of the ironware shops at Pudhu Mandapam, such as M M Abdul Kadar & Bros on the Northern side where the book-stores are located, belong to Abdul’s relatives. M M Abdul Kadar is 127 years old. “People are becoming more aware of the health benefits of cooking with ironware,” says S Sultan, who works there. He hands a paniyaram pan to a customer, saying, “Careful, don’t drop it; it’s extremely heavy.”

Thanks to social media, these Madurai iron kitchenware shops have booming sales

Sultan says that the buzz around the ironware shops in Pudhu Mandapam started less than a year ago. “Non-stick may be convenient, but iron is a better bet since it does not pose any health hazards,” he adds. The shops have utensils in cast-iron as well and Abdul says that they have their own iron-smiths who work at their unit in Nelpettai. “We supply them with the raw material,” he says, adding, “Over 50 % of our products are our own, the rest are sourced from other places. The Dutch oven, for instance, comes from Coimbatore.”

S Deepa is here to buy a paniyaram pan from M M Abdul Kadar. “I’ve decided to get rid of my non-stick one,” she says. She’s from Paramakudi and has planned a trip to the city just to shop at Pudhu Mandapam. “Iron utensils are a lot of work,” she says. “But they’re worth it.” Just then, another customer walks by and asks for a dosa tawa. “Here, try this,” Sultan offers him a jet-black pan, saying, “This will last over 50 years.”

New beginnings
  • The buzz is that Pudhu Mandapam will be shifted to a new location. “An old house nearby is being reconstructed into a complex,” says Abdul. “Although we will miss this grand stone complex — we don’t even need an AC thanks to the cooling stone interiors — all our shops will be moved together, so we’ve come to terms with it.” Abdul is not sure when the relocation will take place. “The complex has been under construction for a long time. We’ll probably move in a year or so.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 10:30:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/house-of-iron/article28639703.ece

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