Every cuisine in the world has different kinds of desserts to offer, it could range from the simplest to the most complicated in terms of technique. In India, sweets are an inherent part of festivities and celebration. No jollification is considered complete without sweetmeats, with each state having its popular variants adorned at sweet shops and bakeries that dot the country, and the lesser-known, underrated gems that stay close to the hearts of the localities.
When one speaks in the interest of Kerala’s food culture and cuisine, it tends to revolve around the intricate play of spices, how seasonal fruits, vegetables and seafood are celebrated, and about our elaborate vegetarian feast - the sadhya! The list and excitement seem to shrink when it comes to discussing the sweet course. While the popular Payasam, Pradhaman and Ada are crowd favourites, a few simple delicious treats miss out on being at the receiving end of the spotlight.
Here are such 10 desserts/ sweet snacks from Kerala:
1. Chakka Varatiyathu: A preserve or halwa that makes its appearance at homes during the jackfruit season. Chakka literally translates to Jackfruit and the fleshy ones are chopped into fine bite-sized pieces or pureed, mixed with jaggery and reduced until it becomes thick and jam-like. This jack of all fruits is loved by many and this delicate goodness is bottled up to be used even after the season fades away.
2. Neyyappam: Not as popular as its ‘smaller’ cousin - Unniyappam, Neyyappam caught the attention of many, thanks to Google’s tradition of naming their Android operating system after desserts. Fried in clarified butter, Neyyappam is enjoyed as a snack more than as a sweetmeat. Made with rice flour, molten jaggery and ghee, the recipe does not call for the addition of ripened bananas, unlike Unniyappam. Tiny, boxy tea stalls that have been in service for over 50 plus years still retain their old-fashioned display counters and in it, one may find these flat discs ready to be served with pippin hot tea.
3. Boli: Towards the south of Kerala, a sadhya is deemed incomplete without a serving of Boli and Palpayasam (kheer). Even though similar in appearance to its Maharashtrian counterpart - Puran Poli and Holige/ Obbatu from Karnataka, Boli is thinner and is not stuffed. Flat, thin and delicate, this yellow coloured flatbread is a must-have food-souvenier if you are in Thiruvananthapuram.
4. Vathalappam: Imagine a caramel custard, but deeper in colour and thicker in texture. Vathalappam is a traditional dessert made by the Christian community in Kerala, with eggs, palm sugar, and milk.
5. Mutta Maala: A garland made of eggs is what Mutta Maala literally translates to. It is a dessert made of eggs and sugar, where egg whites and yolks are separated, cooked into individual sweets only to be consumed together later. Yolks are cooked into thin strands in sugar syrup, while the egg whites are steamed and form the base of the dish. This sweet ensemble is a Malabar classic and makes its appearance during Iftar and other celebrations.
6. Munthiri Kothu: Kanyakumari’s Munthiri Kothu is also Thiruvananthapuram’s very own. This bite-sized festive sweet is found only towards the southern tip of Kerala and is a look-alike of Sughiyan. Dry roasted green gram dal is crushed, combined with molten jaggery and cooked until it becomes thick and lumpy. This mixture is coated with a batter made of rice flour and coconut milk and deep-fried until crispy on the outside.
7. Paal Pidi: Pidi from Pidiyum Kozhiyum (a savoury dish made of rice dumplings and chicken curry) transforms itself into a sweetmeat in Paal Pidi. Rice dumplings are cooked in water and sugar, and later reduced in three extracts of coconut milk. This humble dessert doubles up as a snack or a mid-day meal as well. A variant of this can be found in parts of Tamil Nadu as Paal Kozhukattai.
8. Kumbilappam: Jackfruit is probably the most celebrated fruit in Kerala. When in season, every bit of the fruit is used, either raw or ripened. Kumbilappam is traditionally made in bay leaves which are called Vazhanayila/ Edanaila in Malayalam. The entire house gets filled with the aroma of this sweet snack as ripe jackfruit is first pressure-cooked, pureed and mixed with rice flour, coconut and jaggery until it forms a dough. This is then stuffed into conical shaped bay leaves and steamed to become a perfect tea time snack.
9. Kaipola: Another Malabar classic that has started to make rounds across the state recently, thanks to the Iftar spreads and combos offered by restaurants. Kaipola is made with no flour, but just ripe plantains, eggs, clarified butter, cashews and raisins. A mushy, yet firm on the inside, this dessert is shaped like a cake with an exterior that looks like that of an omelette.
10. Pazham Paani: It doesn’t get easier than this. A traditional dessert of the Christian community in Kerala, Pazham Paani is nothing but bananas drizzled with palm honey. Typically Mysore bananas (poovan pazham) are used, it is mashed and enjoyed with this thick melt in your mouth Paani.
(The author is a food blogger and culinary enthusiast)