The story of Puttu – the ultimate Malayalee breakfast favourite

Marble puttu. Photo: Onmanorama/Sajesh Mohan

“Today also we have Puttu for breakfast? Ok, I have lost my peace of mind.” This was the dialogue by Mukesh in Sathyan Anthikad’s movie ‘Vinodayathra’. Even in the recent ‘Bheeshma Parvam’, Mammootty pours himself some rice porridge at the dining table dismissing the puttu and egg curry placed at the center of the table. Recently a schoolboy’s note expressing his agony of eating puttu every day went viral on social media, with the boy saying “puttu breaks families.” James who is studying in 3rd grade hails from Bangalore and says it is his most hated food as it hardens when it cools.

Even Kannas in ‘Kabuliwala’ has agreed that puttu gets harder when it cools. You can see Kannas forgetting his tiff with Chandrika when he consumes hot puttu and says it tastes better when it's hot and even packs a few slices for Chandrika. We also laughed at Harishree Ashokan’s attempt to add puttu powder through a puttu maker without the sieve. Despite many such pokes in real and reel life, puttu remains the universal breakfast favourite of Malayalees. They love to team it up with whole moong dal curry, bananas, black channa curry, and pappad. Is Puttu such a menace? Let’s find out!

The trick of soft puttu

According to food vlogger Mrinal Das Venkalat, if done well, puttu will never turn stiff when it cools. He says the best puttu he ever had was at Nairettan’s shop at Paravoor. They served puttu with the most delicious dal, pappad and egg masala. Maybe the fact that he does everything from scratch, including grounding and roasting the rice to make puttu explains the taste. The shop is near the backwaters, and you can see Chinese fishing nets.

It was started as a small shop to offer food to fishermen. So this Nairettan has a speciality, if there are two people and he didn’t like one of them, he would ask for more money from him and less from the person he rather liked. And he isn’t someone who will give food to just anyone.

What is being said in ‘Kabuli Wala’ isn’t true, if done right, puttu won't get stiff even if it gets cold. The puttu flour should be dry and then gradually add enough water and mix it. That shows the quality of the flour which also results in a delicious plate of puttu. If you mix the puttu with that dal and Pappad, it becomes unusually soft and you even get a touch of sweetness.

Most nutritious breakfast

Nutritionists have rated puttu and kadala curry as the healthiest breakfast in Kerala. The combination of carbs and proteins is considered a great partnership according to them. Since it is steamed, it not only retains the nutrients but is also a great source of energy. Though there are various combinations that go with puttu like beef curry, fish curry, chicken curry, egg curry, and moong dal curry, nutritionists rule out having meat for breakfast. But yes, you can have these combos for lunch or dinner.

Here are some ways to spike the nutrition in puttu:

• You can add shredded carrots along with shredded coconuts while steaming puttu.

• Try ragi and wheat puttu.

• Diabetic patients can have puttu in small portions.

• Ideal habit is to go for a small portion of puttu with enough curry.

• Steaming puttu in bamboo and coconut shells is ideal.

• Avoid sugar in puttu.

• While making curry, go with moong sprouts or mixed sprouts.

The origin of puttu

Puttu is Malayali’s own food. But we still can’t claim that we were the first ones to make it. Historians say that puttu was first made in Tamil Nadu. Puttu is also made in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Sri Lanka.

In Assam there is a similar dish called Sungapitha. It is said that puttu was mentioned in the 15th century Tamil poet Arunagirinathar’s book ‘Thirupugazh’. Most historians and academicians have noted that the Malayalam language started evolving in the 8th century. But none of the early Malayalam literature mentioned puttu. During that time, Kerala and Tamil Nadu didn’t have separate food habits, so one can claim that puttu also originated in Kerala.

In ‘Thiruvilayadal,’ a book written by the 16th-century writer Param Jyothi Munivar, there is an interesting story behind puttu. The book is about Madurai temple’s Shivaperumal’s story. It is said that Ganapati came in the guise of a commoner to help an old woman make puttu. When she said she didn’t have money to pay him, he asked him to give her whatever crumbs that came with the puttu. But that day all the puttu broke into crumbs. To this day, Madura’s Ganapati is offered crumbs of puttu as an offering.

There are more stories about puttu. Everyone is familiar with the ‘Kuthira biryani’ mentioned in SK Pottakadu’s 'Oru Deshathinte Kadha' that is served at this tea shop at Kozhikode made of puttu, kadala and pappadam. There are those who have hit the world record by making puttu. In 2006, a group of students from Wayanad’s Oriental School of Management made a 10ft long puttu. Made of 26kgs of rice flour and 20 coconuts, it took 30 minutes for the puttu to get cooked.

Chef Pillai’s colourful puttu

Though Malayalees have several favourite breakfast items, puttu and chickpeas in a coconut-based curry hold the first position. It’s very easy to prepare steamed puttu, kadala simmering in a roasted coconut gravy and a cup of hot tea for breakfast. This healthy breakfast is a favourite in Kerala and Sri Lanka. You have the option of pairing the puttu with banana and crispy pappad while North Keralites prefer a mean fish curry.

Having said that mashing puttu with some thick coconut-based kadala curry and pappad for breakfast is nothing short of an emotion for Malayalees. One can write so much poetry about this champion breakfast of Kerala. A piece of puttu a day can make your day brighter. Do make this power breakfast and savour the burst of flavours in your mouth.


You can opt for rice, red rice, ragi or wheat puttu flour.

Soak the black Channa overnight. The next day wash the channa thoroughly, throw some crushed shallots and salt and pressure cook it till it softens.

For the curry, heat some oil in a Kadai, add the grated coconut, shallots and curry leaves and brown it evenly. Once that’s done, add chilli powder and coriander powder and sauté it for a few minutes. Throw the mixture in a blender and blitz it without adding water till the oil separates.

Now take a separate pan, throw some mustard seeds, red chilies and sliced coconut pieces and fry them. Add the cooked kadala and the coconut mixture and boil it for a few minutes. You can add some cooked and mashed chickpeas into the gravy to thicken it. Finally, garnish it with some garam masala and curry leaves.

To make puttu, soak the rice flour, salt, and grated coconut in some water and smoothly blend it. Make sure to buy different varieties of puttu flour to make colourful puttu. You can add the grated coconut and then add the various mixes in layers.

Have you tried puttu with amaranthus?

Since puttu is something, we will never get tired of eating, chances are that the stories around it might be as exciting. Just like you can pair puttu with a lot of dishes, did you know that there are various ways to consume puttu? How about having puttu with an amaranthus curry? It’s a really interesting combo. Even better would be to steam the puttu adding the spinach/amaranthus masala in between. So the process is fairly simple. You can make it with different kinds of puttu flour, from ragi, wheat, rice to corn and even tapioca powder.

At first, you need to properly wash the spinach/amaranthus and chop it. If you take the red one, it will be even more colourful. The green ones will of course have a unique taste and flavour. But remember, when you combine it with puttu, it’s the taste and not the colour that’s important. Sauté the spinach with some sliced onions, chilli powder, turmeric powder, green chillies and curry leaves.

Once the mixture is cool, blend it with puttu flour and steam it adding the shredded coconut in between. Once done, you get a delicious plate of spinach puttu, which doesn’t require any side dish.

Masala puttu

It is basically about adding the curry and puttu flour inside the puttu machine before steaming. You can make it with chicken and vegetables to make it nutritious. Again no need for a side dish.


1 cup finely chopped beans

1 cup finely chopped carrots

1 cup finely chopped capsicum

1 onion

2 tomatoes

A small piece of ginger

3 green chilies

2 cups minced chicken

½ tsp garam masala

½ tsp pepper powder


Heat some oil in a kadai and add the carrots, beans, capsicum, ginger, onion and green chillies

After adding the powders, throw the tomatoes

Once the tomatoes soften, add the minced chicken and cook till it's done

Once the water evaporates switch off the gas

Now add the filling, puttu podi, and shredded coconut in order and steam.

(With inputs from Malayala Manorama archive)



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