New Age BOLI

THEY SEE more of the world than those who make them ever will. And the journey begins in good old Thiruvananthapuram.

We are talking about the soft and scrumptious pancake-like sweet bolis. From a last-served dish during wedding feasts and other festive occasions, especially in the capital city, the boli, eaten with ladles of payasam, has come a long way to occupy pride of place during party times even outside the country. Bolis have found a new image and have begun to zip across Europe and the Middle East.

Making waves

Most of the Malayalis bound for the United States (U.S.) and the Gulf, hankering for a taste of home-made sweets and savouries, have been devoutly stuffing packets of the sweet into their luggage on each trip to Kerala. With such people who have a sweet tooth favouring them, bolis are making waves across the seas.

Dr. Ramakrishnan Potti of Manacaud always makes it a point to send about a 100-odd bolis to his daughter, Renuka Devi, working in San Francisco. A software professional, Renuka, loves bolis.

"Though it is difficult to take food items to the U. S., we do manage to send bolis across to Renuka through friends and relatives. Renuka's father-in-law has just come down from the U. S. and when he goes back, we'll send some bolis to her. She tells me that her friends are very fond of the sweet."

But will the sweets still be edible after its one-day journey?

"Of course, if the bolis are refrigerated, they will remain fresh for over a week. Else, they may turn bad in four or five days' time," says S. Sundaram, who is famous for his bolis.

"Unless the bolis are made in the traditional manner and cooked well, they are bound to become inedible within two days or so," adds S. Padmanabhan, Sundaram's brother.

G. Vidya, staff with the VSSC, says she cannot imagine a festival or occasion at her home when bolis are not made. "We, Tulu Brahmins, make bolis with jaggery as an offering to God during festivals. Bolis are simply yummy," she says.

The ideal combination, insist traditional boli makers, is to have piping hot bolis along with a few spoons of ghee as the people in Karnataka do.

Making bolis

Which brings us to the history of boli making. Kannan Potti, a native of Sreehalli village in Karnataka who has been pursuing his epicurean calling since the Seventies, says: "The boli was originally made only in Karnataka. When the Brahmins of Karnataka went to other States in pursuit of jobs they took with them the art of making bolis. Some of the Brahmins settled down in Palakkad, Thripunithura and Thiruvananthapuram. That is how the boli came to Kerala and became more popular here than anywhere else in the State."

Knowing how to make bolis and making them are different ball games. The bolis, with ghee slapped over each of them, made by experts in the traditional way simply melt into your mouth the moment you tuck into them. It takes well over five hours to make bolis. "The bolis made these days are just one-fourth the size of those that were made some three decades ago. In those days, you would never be able to finish off one boli unless you were a gourmand and die-hard fan of the sweet. People used to even wager bets at weddings as to who could tuck into the maximum number of these sweets," says Kannan.

New Age BOLI

These sweet pancakes are supposed to be paper-thin but most of them found at sweet shops and bakeries can be downed after a lot of chewing. This, says Sundaram, is because, people who are only concerned about the profits tend to use a lot of refined flour (maida) and less of gram dal and cook the boli in oil rather than ghee.

"One has to have a lot of patience and devotion. If you do not love what you are doing, it shows in the way the final product turns out," says Kannan.

Boli-makers find it tough to meet even orders for 1,000 or 2,000, pieces as it has become difficult to get efficient cooks.

Dr. Ramakrishnan agrees with Sundaram's views. When people churn out bolis in thousands, both quality and flavour go for a toss.


With sales picking up, a lot of sweet shops selling bolis have sprung up in the city. The sweet-sellers price it anywhere between Rs. 1.50 and Rs. 3.

"People who are used to eating traditionally-made bolis come to our shops. They buy sweets from us and even send it to Kozhikode, Chennai and Dubai," says Sundaram.

The only cloud on the horizon, says Kannan, is that the boli business has done nothing to add to his savings. "I have never compromised on quality. It feels good to have people say they love the bolis we make," he adds. The rainy season is, however, a lean period for boli makers in the city. Once the wedding season starts during Onam, they will be back to brisk business.


Photos: S. Gopakumar

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