From Paalappams to Unniappams, all the appams here are made the traditional way – using charcoal and clay hearths.

Appam paradise This 200-year-old Thrissur market only sells Keralas favourite breakfast
news Food Thursday, April 26, 2018 - 22:36

On a narrow road by the ancient Puthan Palli church in Thrissur is Vellapangady, a market that only sells Kerala's most popular breakfast food – appams.

Enter this street on any evening and one can see heaps of appams – their edges crisp and their centres soft – cooling on big steel platters in shop fronts. The 12 or 13 rundown shops that make up this nearly 200-year-old market supply appams across Thrissur town. For generations, this market served as an important food hub in the town, catering to the predominantly Christian population living in and around Puthan Palli.

On Wednesday afternoon, most of these shops had downed their shutters, except for one or two of them in which grandmotherly entrepreneurs, also called ‘chedathis’, waited for the sun to go down to start cooking their evening lot of appams.

“I have been running this shop for 25 years. Every day, we make around 500-1000 appams for daily sales. But business is very erratic. Some days these platters sell like hot cakes. Other days, they just stay as they are. So we prepare enough batter based on our intuition and experience,” says 78-year-old Mariyam, who runs Puthiri Appam Shop along with her middle-aged daughter.

Like almost all other shops that dot this street, Mariyam too does it the traditional way – using charcoal and clay hearths to make her appams. Pointing to the tin buckets filled with charcoal kept in a corner of her shop, she explains that the appams get cooked with the heat of the embers and the pan never actually touches the flames.

"They also need to be flipped as soon as they turn a golden brown in the middle," she says.

The shop sells a variety of appams right from the traditional Paalappam, made with coconut milk, to the sweet Vatteppam and the dark and round Unniappams. Puthiri even makes harder appams such as the round Achappam and the flute-shaped Kuzhalappam, enjoyed as tea-time snack in the state.

“Now we use yeast in our Paalappam as we don’t get toddy. But for our Vatteppam, which is sweet and is steamed, we still use toddy to get the right taste,” she adds, watching the pan’s batter bubble into a golden-rimmed circle.

Despite fresh off-the-counter sales being bleak, these ladies earn a modest income by taking bulk orders for weddings and other functions. Further, business picks up during festivals such as Easter, Christmas, New Year and sometimes even during Hindu festivals such as Onam and Pooram. 

“I learnt this trade after getting married, and have been making appams for 54 years. My husband’s grandma started this shop nearly 200 years ago. Her recipe passed on from generation to generation and now, I am taking it forward,” says 74-year-old Mary, who runs Chakallakal Sweet Parlour, the oldest appam shop on the street.

Mary’s business fares slightly better than her contemporaries, perhaps due to the sheer number of years she has spent in this field. She operates with 7-8 gas stoves and a battalion of north Indian cooks, who have picked up the trade from her. Clad in a floral pink nightgown, she expertly packs her appams into an old cardboard box, while sternly reprimanding her buyer for haggling.

“I once had a Bengali assistant, who worked with me for 7 years. He mastered the recipe to the tee and now he has set up a shop near the Palliangadi,” Mary says, clearly not amused by this development.

Priced at an economical Rs 5, these appams beat any of its fancier siblings served at restaurants across the state hands down. And all the stores price them at a uniform rate.

“We faced a slight slump in business after the note money problem (demonetisation). But now it is picking up again,” Mary says.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, the appam business for Mary is more about sustaining the family’s legacy rather than making profits. And when her children, who are settled abroad, come down with their families for the holidays, appam making becomes more of a family-bonding ritual.

“My daughter’s husband is a senior police officer here and he earns well. But even he joins in making appams when we all get together,” she says.

Business aside, Mary does share a bond with the food she makes. When asked what her favourite combination with appam was, her stern and business-like expression softens into a grin.

“When requested by our customers, we make kuruma or potato stew. Sometimes we even make roast chicken and appams. However, my personal favourite is fresh coconut milk with the appams. Nothing beats the taste of that,” she says. 

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