My weakness for sweet and savoury steamed rice dumplings is not something I cultivated in a quiet Asian dim sum place somewhere ! It’s a taste I acquired from childhood when we were offered these succulent treats when made in celebration of the elephant god’s birthday. Whether they were stuffed with a mixture of coconut and jaggery or with a spicy filling of cooked , tempered lentils I was always game for a sampling especially when they were served piping hot.
In the past days we were treated to different neivedhyams from various navarathiri celebrations. I must say there was one that stood out from the others. It was a kozhukattai unlike any other that I had eaten thus far. For one ,the pleated edges itself set it apart from other traditional kozhukattais. They were amazingly uniform and were clearly made by an experienced hand. They resembled neat little pin tucks that overlapped to form an attractive border. As I bit into one ,the lightness of the dough kept it from being rubbery and was a pleasure to chew on. The stuffing was made of fresh coconut with just the right amount of sugar . Because these are steamed , some of the water vapour gets trapped into the dumpling and mixes with the coconut and sugar. So ,with every mouthful you are treated to a bit of the light liquid that carries traces of the flavor of the rice dough that it is encased in. That’s what makes it so delicious and it’s very hard to stop with eating just one !
Since my nephew’s birthday happened to fall within the nine days of puja , my sister-in-law thought to offer a different treat at the party , a bit of a variation from the regular chips and chocolate menu. I was pleased with the consistency in taste and quality despite having ordered bigger quantities. Srikala Badri was the lady who introduced it to us and she was kind enough to share the details of where to procure.
Jayagopal and family who have been making these confections for decades refer to these as “jilladikkai” (the name given by the local chettiar community). They make it at home and retail it at their tiny petty shop called Vasavi sweet house. Only when I got there did I recall that this place had been a part of the food walk tour of town hall. But I don’t remember tasting these kozhukattais that day. It’s not easy to talk to the owner simply because the shop sees a steady stream of customers and he doesn’t break his routine.
When I managed to get a word in edgeways,I asked if he would agree to make a spicy version of the same ; he nodded his head saying that he would simply substitute salt for sugar in the recipe. The lady who helped him fry the other snacks was paying attention to our conversation. When I suggested further that he could maybe add a little chilli powder to the rice flour for the savoury version , she asked me if I wanted people to eat it or throw it in the bin and then proceeded to give me an earful about not wasting food.
Suitably chastened I decided to stay clear of any kind of helpful suggestions and quietly just stick to respecting their skill and artistry in churning out hundreds of these kozhukattais with the same precision. I must mention here that this tiny place that they operate out of is not the cleanest of spaces to eat in. But the food is made fresh every day and served hot. Judging by the long queue and the familiarity they exhibited with their patrons it seems to me that this tiny establishment is popular because of it’s adherence to taste standards.
They do make orders in bulk when specified a few days ahead. These steamed sweets have a shelf life of only a day. Jayagopal says it’s best eaten the day that they are made . I buy a dozen to take back to share with all those at home. As I make a quick exit onto the busy street I do so without glancing back knowing that I have a pair of angry eyes boring into my back for daring to come in to their domain and try to teach them to better their craft . Sigh ! I truly meant no disrespect. Maybe I will bake her some cupcakes for Diwali !
Vasavi sweet stall
opposite Vasavi Perumal temple
Vysial street (Town hall)