Written By Mahi Chaudhari (Grade 11)
The white, steaming, clump of noodle pancake with coconut shavings on top fell in contrast to the green banana leaf it sat on. With a bowl of creamy, tropical korma resting on the side, it formed a perfect harmony for a visual picture which rests in my mind unhinged.
The god’s own country is not only known for spices and scenic landscapes but also for idiyappam’s origin. This delicacy has been around since 300 BC according to estimates. This food has shared multiple histories along communities, languages and even lands in Asia. The origins were primarily documented in Tamil Sangam literature, around the 3rd century. It had texts on how to prepare this dish traditionally by soaking rice, grinding, making a batter, removing excess water and then using a special Idiyappam press to put the noodles later to set to steam. Similarly, this dish is called noolappam in Malayalam symbolizing string pancake. Across centuries this dish has travelled, channels, seas and oceans to various lands from India forming plenty of variations through Tamilian migration.
This dish of the long past was hidden from the young me. The first time I devoured this delicious delicacy was when I was 11 years old. At an authentic Tamilian restaurant, I took the risk of ordering a most recommended dish ‘idiyappam’ for a casual change from dosas and idlis. The dish was steaming hot. I was taken aback by the looks of it. Seeing the noodles, I wondered where my fork was by instinct but soon realized it is not supposed to be eaten by a fork. I looked around feeling out of place but soon took a bite of appam. I was taken off guard by the steaming goodness, that I soon dug into it to relish its taste. The korma and idiyappam hit the perfect notes on the song of food. Till today the same memory has remained fresh as yesterday.
The point which makes this dish even more of a gem is that you can eat this dish in any way, any time and any course you like. It can be accompanied by creamy spicy vegetable korma or stew to make a stomach-filling main course. Or with sweetened spicy cardamom-flavoured coconut milk with jaggery for a sweet tooth’s dessert. Likewise, you could have it as a breakfast with classic coconut chutney. The key is two ingredients which make up a huge part of South Indian cuisine – Rice and Coconuts. Sothi, Sri Lankan Kiri Hodi, Aatukkal Paya, and Egg Curries are a few other sidekicks to this amazing dish.
Currently, as we have moved towards modern settings, we have turned this dish into food that we would have occasionally. But still, this dish is made in many homes regardless due to the help of the Portuguese in the 16th century. As they arrived in Kerala, they introduced us to rice flour and all Indians started replacing the long tedious methods of making batter out of soaked rice with making a dough out of rice flour for the pancakes.
Till today, the dish warms my heart and gives me a fuzzy feeling within as I remind myself of the ambience of the small restaurant, the steam-containing smells of rice between and the soothing of coconut in a korma, which then sent a wave of spices which hit the palates of my tongue. If I could visit Tamil Nadu again to eat the dish again, I would do it in a heartbeat.
Featured Image Courtesy – Awesome Cuisine