Payasam fetes usher in the sweet notes of Onam in Kerala

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Different kinds of the pudding, including payasam cake, are on the market for those who do not want to stop with one in Thiruvanthapuram

For any celebrations in Kerala, payasam is a must. Be it cereals cooked in milk or coconut milk or a rich blend of fruit, jaggery and ghee cooked in coconut milk, payasam brings up the grand finale of feasts and celebrations.

The annual Payasam Mela conducted by Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) for more than 30 years, during Onam, is a much-awaited one. Packed in half- and one-litre containers, the festival used to attract long queues at KTDC’s Grand Chaitram in Thiruvananthapuram.

Going strong

The pandemic has not soured the sale of payasam in 2021 either. “This year, on an average, we have been selling around 400 to 450 litres of payasam of different kinds every day. The top seller is paal ada (rice flakes cooked in milk) and paal payasam,” says chef Gireesh of Grand Chaitram.

Of the eight payasams sold every day till August 21, three with jaggery and three with milk, are up for sale by around 9.30 am every day. A seven-member team led by Gireesh begin cooking by 3 am every day.

“Depending on the sale that day, we begin cooking another batch by around noon as we sell till 9 pm. There are various kinds of pradhaman (cereal or fruit sauteed in jaggery and ghee and cooked in coconut milk) and paal payasam (cooked in milk). Navarasa payasam, which has four cereals and fruits such as mango, dates, pineapple, banana and dry fruits cooked in sugar and milk, is one of the specialities of our mela,” says Gireesh.

Payasam fetes usher in the sweet notes of Onam in Kerala

As a result of the pandemic, the payasams can be ordered online to be delivered at home. The KTDC Payasam Mela is also being held at Kayamkulam, Alappuzha, Kochi and Kannur among other places.

Omnipresent

Over the years, the popularity of payasam, once made only on auspicious occasions and celebrations, has become a regular product in takeaways, bakeries and small hotels.

For instance, homemaker Preethamol P began in a humble way with a roadside kiosk, Makkachi’s Payasam Kada, near Vellayambalam Junction, some six or seven years ago. Initially, it was sold only in the evening. “The outlet helped us meet ends. The lockdowns came as a blow. Now, we are open from 9 am to 9 pm and our entirely family is involved in helping us make the payasams,” says Preethamol.

In addition to the popular payasams, Preethamol also sells payasam with yam, coalacsia, pineapple, and mango. She says payasams made with yam and colocasia have a niche clientele.

Fresh and homemade

Ambi’s Kitchen, which celebrated its first anniversary on August 20, has payasam on its menu every day. Many outlets sell different kinds of payasam every day with paal payasam being mandatory.

Paal ada is much in demand,” says Mahesh Sivaraman, proprietor of Ambi’s Kitchen. “That is sold on Sundays and the ada is fresh, made at home. We have a different payasam every day of the week such as chick peas, ada (cooked rice flakes), wheat, semiya, aval, banana, jackfruit and so on. For Onam, paal ada is a regular and we have a couple of payasams every day.” Boli, another sweet that is served with paal payasam, is also homemade at Ambi’s kitchen.

Boli and Paal ada from Ambi’s Kitchen in Thiruvananthpuram

Boli and Paal ada from Ambi’s Kitchen in Thiruvananthpuram
 
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Taking by storm

As a result of the pandemic, a number of home cooks took the scene by storm last year. The popularity of home-cooked food has motivated many of them to turn entrepreneurs. Since payasams are always in demand, some of the have begun specialising in the dessert.

Padmapriya S Babu is one such enterprising home-cook who has added payasam to her menu. “My mother is an excellent cook and we have always enjoyed her payasam,” says Mini S Babu, Padmapriya’s daughter, who helps in the marketing and the cooking of the payasams. “We suggested she sell that for Onam. We began in a small way in the last week for July and now we are flooded with orders for Onam.”

Have your cake…

If payasams are not your idea of dessert, you could always check out a payasam cake. Home baker Dhanya Aneesh has created an adapayasam cake, which she promises can be sliced and eaten like a cake.

Dhanya found that there were many who were not all that keen on payasam and craved for something different. That is when she hit upon the idea of a paal ada cake. “After trial and error, I came up with the paal ada cake,” Dhanya says. “I was surprised and pleased with the number of orders I got. I have a one-kilogram cake and jar cakes too. It can be ordered online (Dhaneey’s Homebakes) or picked up from my place.”

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