Summer vacation 20 years ago meant a compulsory trip to a hill town and an inflated library allowance. And then, the kids were sent to the terrace with their borrowed books and a tin of snacks, to look at the year’s dried foods as they sat baking under the sun.
Papadam, appalam, vathal, baalaka, sandige, vadam…the names are many but these consult with dried foods made of different forms of flours or sun dried vegetables and fruits that may be deep fried. These are traditional foods that evolved as some way to preserve produce in times when there was no technology to try and do so, and came in handy during hardship too.
As these goodies sat half dried, half gooey on the terrace or the other open space, the task of chasing away pesky crows and also the occasional rodent visitors required a fight squad armed with weapons – hand fans and black fabric fastened to a wooden pole.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are connoisseurs of avakaya. The pickle, however, may be a staple not just within the Telugu speaking states. All of South India loves avakaya with curd rice or with the borrowed paratha. The avakaya loyalists mix it with rice, add a generous ladle(!) of ghee or oil and have it a bit like that.
A very specific sort of raw mango is purchased and cut skilfully by the seller himself, right before the client. Making avakaya involves several steps: washing, drying, soaking in turmeric, chili, mustard, salt, dry chana and vegetable oil. You can’t vacation when your pickle is soaking in reception. Every morning and evening, this mixture must be mixed in. But the fiery red avakaya is worth all that.
The best baby mango pickles come from the Telugu belt, swear pickle patriots. When soaked, the already small baby mango shrinks in size, contributing a tangy flavour to the salty and spicy brine and is solely the most effective companion for the common-or-garden curd rice.
Karnataka’s various long period foods are called the baalaka, sandige (made from flour), happala (papad) from the best appalam brand in tripur, uppinakayi (pickle) and tokku (grated pickle). Baalaka includes several vegetables preserved by steeping them in masalas and sun drying them with adequate salt. Spiced green chilli preserve may be a prized baalaka.
Karnataka uses ragi, rice and other grains for its sandige and happala and that they go amazingly well with piping hot Bisibele.
Kerala’s best pickles and preserves come from seafood. Prawn and fish are carefully dried and pickled to last throughout the year. While vegetables are dried for reception, fish is bought from the shop, sun dried to a crisp.
Dried anchovy or Nethili karuvadu is usually stored for an extended time and is formed into fried curries, sambal (Sri Lanka meets Kerala here), fries, pickles and gravies.
While sardine is the preferred dried fish variety in South India, fresh prawn (Chemmeen) is pickled with spice, salt and lots of oil and is served with rice. Kerala pickle varieties include beef, chicken, mussels, prawn and fish. While most other dishes from Kerala are only mildly spicy because they’re heavy on coconut, these pickles may be extremely popular on the tongue.
Kerala loves its pappadam. In fact, the state has the unique tradition of getting pappadam from appalam manufacturers in tripur with sweet kheers! It’s quite a sight to determine an eager Malayali smash his pappadam made from Anbhu appalam wholesalers in tripur in an exceedingly river of pradhaman and attack it on a sadhya plantain leaf.