Onam is just round the corner and it’s raining banana chips all over. Talking about chips, can we stake claim to “upperi” as a Kerala special? Were Keralites the only and original chips makers? Where and how did the concept originate? These and many more questions pop up when tonnes of chips get sold during festivities, especially at Onam. If Kerala is God’s Own Country, then upperi too must be god’s own snack.
Chips are a global phenomenon. You find them everywhere, in every possible flavor and taste. The only difference lies in their names.
Onam is here and so does the upperi-time. Upperi is our own banana chips. They have become so dear to us that we serve them first at a sadya. However much we love them and call them our own special fries, there are a whole lot of folks who believe banana chips are not an exclusive Malayali property right.
Kerala and Tamil Nadu are two states where banana chips are most consumed. There’s no disputing the fact that upperi has become Kerala’s own “snacks”. But these chips are extremely popular where bananas are cultivated and fried for snacks. Chips are found lavishly in Indonesia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and Latin American countries. But they are called by different names and made differently.
The Mallu-style banana chips are made by slicing raw bananas as thin round discs, which are then dipped in boiling oil till they are crisp and crackling. There are places where chips are made by ‘drying, baking or dehydrating’ the bananas. The dehydrated chips look pale and emaciated when compared to the golden hue of our chips. They are mostly brown in color. They are not crispy either. But they are a tad sweeter than our chips. As they are not fried, they retain the natural taste of bananas.
While we add only a wee bit of turmeric and just the right quantity of salt, the recipe and method of frying differ from place to place. While our sharkaravaratti is made with jaggery, the fried banana gets a coating of honey or sugar instead of jaggery in some places. There are spicy chips and chocolate chips too.
The Indonesians call their brand of banana chips “Keripik pisang”. This is crisp and found mostly in Java and Sumatra. The banana slices are dipped into a mix of lime extract and saltwater and deep fried. “Pisang gorang” is yet another fried banana chips item in Indonesia. The bananas don’t get chopped into small pieces. They are eaten hot.
“Shiffle”, common to Peru and Ecuador, is a variety of banana fry. This is used both as a side dish and a snack. “Pattacones”, another Latin American variety of fried banana chips, high on salt, is a hot item. And “Tostones”, another chips special is a hit snack in Puerto Rico, the Honduras, Cuba and Dominican Republic. It’s double-fried or fried twice.