Chef Wijendra reminisced about his childhood home in Galle where they would painstakingly hand pound the rice with a large mortar and pestle. He dared me to try a similar pestle at the resort and I finally obliged. After a serious workout for my arms – my gym instructor would probably approve, I managed to pound the rice to flour. The dish actually takes its name from the Tamil/Malayalam word for ‘idi’ meaning ‘broken down’ and ‘appam’ meaning ‘pancake’. While the dish’s other name ‘nool puttu’ refers to its ‘string’ or thread-like form, which eventually the British adopted for ‘string hoppers’.
The idiappam might taste similar everywhere but there’s a marked difference in the accompaniments. In Kerala, it’s usually served with a stew or a kurma while some of Chennai’s iconic restaurants do a pepper paya cooked with mutton trotters. Samco is one such legendary restaurant (it used to be a regular haunt for actor Kamal Haasan) that hasn’t tweaked its recipe for Pepper Paya since 1962. It’s similar to the Nihari Gosht cooked with lamb shanks. Quite a few meat shops in North Chennai supply specially smoked pieces of lamb shanks for paya.Here’s the recipe:North Chennai Paya
Serves 21. Clean 4-5 lamb shanks (You can sprinkle some turmeric water and scrub the pieces).2. Pressure cook the lamb shanks with ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder, two teaspoons of ginger garlic paste and salt to taste for about 30 minutes. Set the broth aside.3. Fry 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, one bay leaf, 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, a small bunch of mint leaves, a small bunch of coriander leaves, a few curry leaves, and one finely chopped onion in a vessel using a little oil.4. Add one finely chopped tomato and one teaspoon of ginger garlic paste to the same pan. Add one teaspoon of chilli powder, ½ teaspoon of garam masala and one finely chopped green chilli.5. Add the lamb shanks (not the entire broth) to the gravy and cook for 10 minutes.6. Add the broth and pressure cook for 20 minutes. Idiyappam is served in most vegetarian restaurants in Chennai and Tamil Nadu as an anytime meal or a light snack for dinner with Vegetable Kurma and/or what the locals call Tenga Paal (Coconut milk). You can try this at home by adding a small quantity of sugar and powdered cardamom to coconut milk. The other easy and healthy way to eat idiyappam is with a sprinkle of freshly ground coconut mixed with sugar or jaggery. In Sri Lanka, the idiyappam is served with a curry and also pol (coconut) sambal.
Serves 2 1. Fry 8-10 pods of finely chopped garlic in two tablespoons of coconut oil in a shallow pan.2. Add a few curry leaves, a few sprigs of pandanus leaves (optional), two finely chopped onions (medium size) and two finely chopped tomatoes to the pan. Sauté for 2-3 minutes.3. Add half cup water, 200 grams of prawns (cleaned), 2 teaspoons of red chili powder, 1 teaspoon of black pepper powder, ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of mustard paste (optional), and cook on a low flame (covered with a lid) for about 10 minutes. 4. Add ¼ cup of thick coconut milk once the prawns are cooked and then cook on a medium to high flame for about a minute.
Serves 21. Finely grate half a coconut.2. Add two finely chopped green chillies, one finely chopped medium-sized onion and a finely chopped tomato.3. Add 2 teaspoons of red chilli powder, two teaspoons of red chilli flakes and the juice of half a lemon.4. Mix these ingredients together and serve as an accompaniment for the idiyappam and Sri Lankan style curry.
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.