Before you download Kerala's favourite snack on your Android phone, you may want to, umm, download it in your tummy
It’s not every day that you hear of a traditional Indian sweet making global news, and for healthy reasons. So, when we learnt that Kerala rice delicacy, neyyappam, is a strong contender for the title of Google’s latest Android N version, we wondered if anyone outside of India would ever get the name of this sweetmeat right.
At Ram Ashray in Matunga, you will be served neyyappam between 7 am and 11 am every day. But, rush. They tend to get picked up quite fast. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
At last count, the neyyappam was still gathering the most votes on Google’s online poll, which kick-started in May, beating contenders noodles, nuts and nachos. But, while the West may be scratching its head wondering what the neyappam might be, we realised not many here were familiar with it either. So, we headed to the narrow lanes of Fort, to locate popular Kerala eateries Hotel Deluxe and Taste of Kerala for a quick update. And to grab a bite, of course.
Just so you're warned, as delicious at it is, neyyapam is also soaked in oil, and dabbing tissues might do little to assuage your weight-gain fears. Not surprisingly, the pancake (appam) is called what it is, because it’s made using ghee (neyyu). "In Kerala, we joke that eating neyyapam serves two purposes. First it fills the stomach, and it oils your hair after you are done eating, because your hands get oily," says CH Basheer, manager at Hotel Deluxe.
Basheer’s eatery is most popular for the globular-shaped rice fritters. They have only one cook from Kerala, Prakash, who specialises in making the sweet treat. The problem is that you aren’t going to get it every day of the week. “Only Sundays,” he tells us, despite the huge demand (sold at Rs 18 apiece), that ensures that it disappears from the kitchen tables, within hours of it being prepared. Why? “It takes over seven hours of preparation. And my cook honestly doesn’t have that kind of time to spare,” he says.
At Taste of Kerala, a stone’s throw away, head cook Mustafa PP makes neyyapam (R20 apiece) only on Fridays and Mondays. “We soak uncooked rice overnight, and grind it the next morning, after which we mix the batter with jaggery (brought to boil), jeera, elaichi powder and coconut pieces,” he says. Prakash adds bananas and egg to this batter. The mixture is left to rest for a couple of hours before it is poured into hot oil. “We scoop the batter with a sunken ladle into a thick bottom pan of sunflower oil (instead of ghee), and deep fry it on low heat,” says Mustafa. You can only pour one dollop at a time into the pan, he adds, which is why it’s a time-consuming process.
While the neyyappam may be a rarity in Mumbai, in Kerala, it is available at almost every eatery. “It’s our favourite tea-time snack, and is popularly called chai kadi,” adds Mustafa. Basheer says that the savoury version is especially cooked in homes of Keralite Muslims, on the occasion of Shab-e-Barat (before Ramzan), as an offering to the departed souls of the family.
As we bite into the snack, its gooey centre leaves a sweet aftertaste. We ask when we can come back for more. Next week, we are told. Fortunately, Ram Ashray in Matunga, serves it hot (Rs 30 each) at 7 every morning. Be there before 11 am, or you’ll leave disappointed.