Praveen Raj never planned to play an active role in his father's business of making palkova, a sweet that is associated with the temple town of Srivilliputhur. He moved from his hometown to Chennai for an IT job. He struggled to find the same taste of the Srivilliputhur Palkova in Chennai's sweet shops. It prompted him to set up Palkova.in, an online delivery brand that brings this sweet from source. I still remember my first visit as a child to Srivilliputhur, a temple town that's about 70-odd km from Madurai. There were two things that have stayed in my memory to this day - the imposing 8th Century Gopuram (temple tower) that rises almost to 200 feet and the smooth, almost gooey textures of the Srivilliputhur Palkova.
Almost all visitors to Srivilliputhur come to visit the historic Andal Temple that dates back to the reign of the Pandya dynasty. This temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu is glorified in the Divya Prabhandam, an important Tamil liturgical compilation. The iconic temple tower is also the official symbol of the state of Tamil Nadu. There's a good chance that each of these visitors never leave home without a box of Palkova.
In 2019, this sweet received a prestigious GI tag joining some of the state's other iconic 'foodstuffs'. Palkova or paal kova is Tamil for milk khoa, a sweet that doesn't have its origins in the state. That's what makes this GI tag accreditation particularly interesting. Praveen believes that it was the Milk or White revolution of the 1970s that laid the foundation of the Sirvilliputhur Palkova phenomenon. Just like khoa, it's essentially two ingredients - milk and sugar. The surplus milk from the 1970s Milk revolution was the tipping point and saw a slew of sweet manufacturers jump into the fray.
Locals like Praveen will still tell you that shops like Venkateshwara Sweets and Bhagyalakshmi sweets (the locals refer to this as Pulia Marathu adi Paal kova to refer to this store located under a tamarind tree) are the best spots to sample this sweet. These family run establishments can trace their roots to North India. The sweet is prepared by reducing the milk. You can try this at home too.
Palkova Recipe | How To Make Palkova
- You will need Eight parts of milk and one part of sugar.
- Bring two litres milk to boil and then reduce the milk on a low flame. This should take about 45 minutes
- Add 250 gm sugar (You could add more if you'd like it sweeter) and keep stirring. Continue to cook on a low flame till the mixture thickens to a khoa consistency and separates from the pan.
- There are quite a few online recipes that also include ghee and a hint of cardamom, but the traditional recipe is just milk and sugar. While many stores sell a milky white version of the sweet, locals will tell you that a light brown tinge is the real thing. Traditionally, the sweet is cooked in large utensils with tamarind tree firewood; it's the smoke from this wood that lends the light brown hue.
Even before the GI tag recognition, the sweet's popularity had extended way beyond Srivilliputhur. Tamil Nadu's state owned Aavin milk federation sells a popular version of this sweet and many of the state's sweet shop chains sell Palkova or therathi paal (another name for this sweet). But Sriram the proprietor of the export-focussed Sri Diary believes that those versions can't match the Srivilliputhur Palkova. He attributes it to the native breeds of cows that dominate the region's milk production facilities. It's this milk that other sweet manufacturers in the state don't have access to. Almost all the milk used in the production of this sweet is not homogenised or pasteurised. Sriram also adds that none of the sweet producers refrigerate the milk and usually run two production cycles (in the morning and afternoon) as soon as the fresh milk reaches their kitchens. The traditional palkova has a shelf life of about seven days without refrigeration. But it's unlikely that you can resist this sweet for a week.
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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.