They sit gleaming, showing off their crusty golden-yellow cover in those glass cases at wayside tea stalls and bakeries. At some of the high-end cafés, they might even come in ornamental plates, but never do they succumb to sophistication; they need no side-kicks, they come alone and they conquer your palates.
The humble pazhampori or banana fritter has been part of Malayalis’ food escapades for long now. One of the prized goodies patented by the state, it is the standard ready-to-serve snack, especially during late afternoons.
They have a mass appeal that is undeniable. From Thalassery to Thiruvananthapuram, the pazhampori comes in with very similar tastes, and very slight changes made to it, because most people like it “just the way it is!”
Each pazhampori sees the addition or subtraction of some ingredients. Ajay Joseph, owner of the eatery ‘Dairy Queen’ in Kottayam, says that amidst the fruit shakes/smoothies/bowls that he sells, the only snack that he has invested in is the pazhampori.
Why, we ask. “I did venture out with the idea of acquiring home-made snacks made locally, but decided after a point that the best served would be what we're sure is best made.” He has two shops, one in Kanjikuzhi and the other one at Kalathipadi, and they are seemingly a hot favourite among people.
If a pazhampori from the clan had a Facebook account, the status message would probably read, “I had the best oil bath ever, and I'm as fresh and sweet as no one can be!”
The shop has a welcoming message for its customers at its entrance, “No re-used coconut oil used for making the pazhampori”, and also a mild reminder to “not enter the shop with meats” (purchased from the next-door meat vendor).
Ajay Joseph says that he doesn't compromise on the quality of pazhampori. The snack is made all day starting from 10 in the morning till 6 in the evening. He uses good quality coconut oil, and since it's a deep fried nosh, the oil is never re-used. His wife, who oversees the preparation, says that their star ingredients are pure coconut oil, maida, seasame seeds, ripe bananas, salt and a little sugar. “Making sure each ingredient is fresh, say the banana or even the maida, everything is vital”, says Mr Joseph.
Now, the fritters are mostly made with the aforementioned ingredients, but Sumaija Asghar, Chef at Greens Ayur in Mahe, who also conducts cuisine workshops, has a whole set of new ideas. She shares with us that among the people who attend the workshops, there are foreign nationals, who mostly love the inclusion of our native coconut oil in their cooking!
Sumaija's basic ingredient-list comprises maida, cardamom powder, sesame seeds, egg, par boiled rice flour that is not roasted. This, she says, makes for a delightful pazhampori. The inclusion of beaten egg is common in the Northern states of Kerala. She says it adds texture to the pazhampori, not forgetting to add —“We Malabaris don't fare much without the egg!” This little trick apparently keeps it fresh until the next day morning. In fact, for Sumaija, that's the time the pazhampori tastes its best!
While on an experimental spree, Sumaija incorporates many an ingredient while making this snack. An all wheat preparation, avoiding maida, has the dough made up of jaggery and coconut milk. Considering how coconut milk is to Kerala what Messi is to football, we could vouch for this one.
She also uses gram flour instead of maida along with egg and rice flour. She even makes the oats banana fritters, where bananas are coated in a layer of wheat flour-oat flour-water mix, and then dipped in beaten egg, and finally rolled over grainy oats.
“If you want them to stay overnight, then it's best not to use coconut oil and replace it with vegetable oil, sunflower oil or canola oil”, she says.
While experiments galore, Executive Chef Ashok Eapen, Hilton Thiruvananthapuram wants the humble pazhampori to remain as humble as it is now. His recipe is the simplest of them all—maida, water and ripe bananas, with a little icing sugar for coating, with practically no jeera or sesame seeds. “Please do not kill the pazhampori”, he says with a laugh.
So, what would be your pick? Or if you had a pazhampori story to narrate, how would that go?