Noted writer TD Ramakrishnan, while expressing his love for the humble puttu, recalls his childhood when his mother used to dream of owning a puttu kutty (cylindrical puttu steamer). The writer who had won the Kerala Sahitya Academy Award says that hunger was the most delicious curry that had accompanied a poor childhood. Kanji (rice porridge) or boiled rice was the only dish that the family could afford to cook every day. He says that puttu was the ‘luxury’ dish that he had dreamt of having to his heart’s content.
Bamboo and coconut shell
Before the aluminium puttu steamers were available, soft and fluffy puttu were made in coconut shells that had holes. This delicious dish is called the chiratta puttu. The shell of locally sourced, fresh coconuts is used to make puttu. The shell that is filled with the rice powder and grated coconut is placed on top of a vessel, with a neck that is big enough to hold the shell. Meanwhile, the cylindrical puttu was made in bamboo. Both ends of the bamboo pieces would be cut open. The bamboo is then tied with coir rope for a grip. It was only much later that the modern puttu kutti became popular. Every homemaker dreamt to own a puttu kutti in which they could easily make tasty puttu for their families.
TD Ramakrishnan was born in at the beautiful countryside of Iyyal near Kunnankulam. Interestingly, the villagers called puttu ‘pittu’. “Life in those days was difficult. We hardly had any money. Even if we had money, there was a shortage for food items. So, more than eating a special dish, all we cared for was to have any food item. Kanji (rice porridge) and boiled rice seemed like the tastiest dishes. Puttu was that special dish that I had wished to eat. However, it was difficult to get that too,” says Ramakrishnan.
He recalls that he used to love the sight of the steaming hot puttu that were placed in the glass cupboards in the local tea shops. The writer says that tasty and authentic puttu is disappearing from our menu just as the simplicity of the villages is lost. Moreover, Ramakrishnan is disappointed that puttu has now got ‘promoted’ to gourmet restaurants and eateries as an expensive item.
Puttu is a unique dish that is extremely nutritionist and could be enjoyed with vegetable, egg, fish or meat curries. Not just rice, but puttu can be made using powders of various grains. Puttu and Bengal gram curry, puttu and green gram curry, papadam, fish curry and meat curry are some of the ever green combination. Meanwhile, some people enjoy squishy balls of puttu that is mixed with ripe bananas and sugar. Besides rice powder, wheat powder, semolina, millet powder and tapioca powder too are used to make puttu. You could make tasty and soft puttu with raw rice, puzhukal rice and unakalari or par boiled rice. In TD Ramakrishnan’s opinion unakkalari is best variety of rice to make puttu.
In Tamil Nadu, puttu is served with grated coconut and jaggery shavings or sweetened coconut milk. Mani puttu is another unique item that is extremely popular here. Rice flour, grated coconut and a bit of salt are mixed into gooey consistency by adding enough water. Small balls are made from this dough and then cooked in a steamer.
It was in the 1990s that thattukada or wayside eateries began to appear in the streets of Kerala. Puttu was the main item that was served at these makeshift eateries. Foodies thronged these eateries to taste the unique varieties of puttu and delicious curries.
Check out the fairly simple recipe of egg puttu
2 cups rice flour
1 cup grated coconut
Water (3/4 cups for 1 cup flour)
Salt as required
For the egg masala
1 onion (finely chopped)
1 tomato (finely diced)
½ tsp ginger – garlic (finely chopped)
1 tsp chilli powder
¼ tsp turmeric powder
¾ tsp coriander powder
Salt as required
Pepper as required
To prepare the egg masala, heat oil in a pan
Beat the eggs with some salt and pepper
Pour the eggs and scramble them
Set it aside to be used later
In the same pan sauté the onion
Add the ginger – garlic
Now add the scrambled eggs too
Add the chilli powder, turmeric powder and coriander powder
Sauté until the raw smell of the powders is gone
Add tomato and salt as required
Pour some water so that the egg masala would have a mushy texture
Mix the rice flour by adding salt and water
Keep it aside for sometime
Add 1 tsp grated coconut in the puttu steamer
Now add 2 tsp egg masala
Add 5 – 6 tsp of puttu powder on top of that
Repeat the layers until the steamer is full
Boil water in the vessel that comes with the traditional steamer
Place the steamer on top of it
Cook in steam for 4 – 6 minutes
Delicious egg puttu is ready.