‘Velli eeya paathram’ … does that ring a bell?
The vessel that is ubiquitous with lip-smacking rasam is called eeya paathiram — eeyam meaning lead — but is actually made of vellieeyam, or tin.
Until a few decades ago, vessels made of this material could be found in every household. But now, stainless steel and non-stick have come to stay and the eeya paathram is rarely seen even as that unique rasam slowly recedes into memory.
“Tin melts at 250 degrees Celsius and can be placed on the gas stove only if there is water or rasam inside. Earlier, people would use charcoal-fired stoves that gave out less heat, and so, they could use tin vessels,” says R. Venkatakrishnan of A. Srinivasa Aiyengar & Son, Kumbakonam Vessel shop, opposite the Sri Parthasarathy Swamy Temple in Triplicane.
The shop has been in existence since the 1920s and was started by Mr. Venkatakrishnan’s great-grandfather. It stocks eeya paathrams weighing between 300 grams and one kg. “When the shop was founded, it primarily sold eeya paathrams which were used by people from all walks of life,” he said. “Today, a few customers who still use eeya paathrams, including families living abroad, continue to come to us. We make special, stainless steel vessels with lead lining and flat bottoms that can be used on induction and coil stoves,” he said. To make a tin vessel, a sheet of tin is taken and, using a mallet, slowly beaten into the required shape.
Two doors away sits M. Sampath, who has been working at M. Mani and Sons for 47 years now. The store is known for coating copper and brass vessels with tin and is called an eeyam poosara pattarai.
“As far as I know, apart from establishments in Kumbakonam, the Aiyengar store and ours are the only two places where the eeya paathram is sold and eeyam poosu is done,” said A.R. Muthu, who runs the store.
“The metal costs Rs. 2,500 per kg. Only the highest quality metal from Malaysia is used. We use navacharam and tin and coat vessels. Some people prefer this as the coating is cheaper. But, our customers are dwindling by the day,” he says.
Apart from making rasam , people also store rice overnight in these tin vessels as the food does not get spoilt fast. Curds don’t turn sour very easily in such vessels.