It was a hot and humid day in Kerala's very own land of letters – Kotttayam. As the clock struck quarter-to-one, I began developing a craving for something sweet yet different. Yes, I was not in the mood for ice-candies or cheese cakes. Instead, I wanted to have something 'local'. After much inquiry, my friend (who is a foodie as well) and I set out to one of Kottayam's most popular snack shops to try out a typical Kottayam snack called churuttu.
The shop was situated in Puthenangadi, about 4 kilometres from the Malayala Manorama office at K.K Road. As we sat in the autorickshaw we began discussing the probable methods of preparing this local cuisine. Having tasted this dish a few times before, I was convinced that the dish was simple yet intricate. Why? Read on.
We reached the shop, which is situated about 200 metres from the famous Kurishupally. The ideal landmark of the place is a tall Skyline apartment building. As we entered the shop, we felt a sense of delight. Not only did we find the solution to noises in our stomachs, but the sight of various traditional snacks also brought a wide grin on our faces. There ended our quest for the perfect churuttu, right at Maami Chedathy's Food Products.
Established in the year 1953, Maami Chedathy's Food Products has been a popular name among the all residents of Kottayam. The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) of the shop has been the homely and natural methods of preservation. 'Spic and span' is the phrase that I would use to describe the state of the place. The building belongs to Mariam Antony aka Maami Chedathy, the late founder of the place, and her family. The preparations take place on the first and second floor of the building.
A large array of food items such as achappams, murukku, banana chips as well as churuttu are stacked on the shelves. As we stood there in absolute awe, a pleasant, elderly lady entered the room. Kathrina Joseph, is the daughter-in-law of the Maami Chedathy, and is the current leader of the battalion. Trained by the later founder, today, she runs the show and leads a team at her enterprise.
We began speaking to her and soon, she took us around the shop. To my delight, the secret of the delicious churuttu were finally revealed.
Rice and maida go hand-in-hand!
The key to the perfect churuttu is the mandaka or the outer covering.
The batter for the mandaka is made of maida or wheat flour.
The batter is then dusted with rice powder and flattened out in a manner similar to that of rolling out chapatis, only much smaller.
Once the base is prepared, it is toasted to a degree where it is neither stiff nor too soft, thus, making it easier for it to be rolled into a cone.
The stuffing of the churuttu is made of avilose podi that is roasted and mixed with coconut and a tinge of sugar. avilose podi is a unique mixture of rice powder, coconut powder, elakka podi (cardamom) chukku podi (dry ginger powder) and cumin seeds (jeera or jeerakom).
Once the mandaka is ready, it is then rolled into a cone and the avilose podi is placed in it.
In order to hold the stuffing firmly inside the cover, the edges of the cone are sealed with a sticky mixture of lemon juice and sugar (heated until the mixture turns brown forms a thread-like consistency). A drop of this mixture works like super-glue. Also, lemon acts as a preservative.
The churuttu is then stored in a large container and is ready for distribution. It lasts for about a month without any problem. But the irony is that at Maami Chedathy's Food Products sweet dishes do not last even a day, for the aroma and flavour are too hard to resist!
Why are the balls of maida dusted with rice powder and not maida?
The answer is simple. As pointed out by the expert, the flattened pieces for making the mandaka are placed one above the other. These circular pieces are stacked together making a whole bunch of outer covers. They are then cut into semi-circles. By dusting the pieces with rice powder, the layers don't stick to one another making the preparation procedures easier.
How do we prepare them in smaller quantities?
Assuming that you would like to prepare 50 churuttus for the guests at home, you could consider the following quantity of ingredients for making the mandaka:
½ kg maida
½ kg rice powder
1 kg sugar
The expert has the last word
Kathrina said, “I have been doing this for so many years that this place has become a part of my life; it's the same for all these women present here as well.”