Category Archives: Abu Dhabi Diary

The Exclusive Bahraini Halwa – A Workshop at the Showaiter's

Would my Bahrain trip be a satisfied and complete one, without visiting one of those very popular Halwa Shops of the country? Certainly not.

Bahraini Halwa, is one of the most sort after sweets, during festivals and social gatherings, not only in Bahrain, but around the whole of Gulf region.

The strong resemblance the Bahraini Halwa has with the Bombay Halwa, that we savour back home, is a matter of cullinary research. I remember, when sweet boxes were brought by friends and relatives, while visiting our home, the Bombay Halwa wrapped in a transparent wrapper, orange or yellow in colour, would be the most sort after. It was always reserved for relaxed chewing. The highly glutenous texture of the delicacy, was the most attractive feature, I think. Chewing it slowly, enjoying the flavour it spread inside the mouth, still lingers in my mind.

Bahraini halwa is a direct descendant of the Omani version, introduced to the local cuisine more than 90 years ago following visits by Bahraini pearl divers and fishermen to Muscat.

The family modified the recipe to create a delicious local variety and then went on to establish a halwa dynasty which earned recognition beyond the Gulf. https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/sweet-dynasty-plans-uae-invasion-1.546296

The Halwa Showaiter – the Pioneer Sweet Shop of Bahrain, has been in the business of making sweets since 1850. When you travel, in and around Manama, as we did, one would come across a number of Showaiter Halwa Shops, which belong to the several cousins of the Showaiter family.

The factory of the Hussain Mohammed Showaiter Sweets, is located in an area called Muharaq, about 5-6 kms (around 15 minutes drive time) from capital Bahrain. A visit there, was a -‘ must do’ one, since they offer a gastronomic tour to their factory. Yes, the Showaiters are kind enough to allow tourists and connoisseurs, visit their kitchen, view, click pictures and take videos of the making of their speciality Bahraini Halwa.

I certainly didn’t want to miss the chance. It was not a dream come true, but a treat come true.

So, this was going to be my Halwa Workshop – to know about the making of the very famous Halwa of Bahrain.

Come along….it’s going to be an interesting, sweet journey..

First, the ingredients..

The basic ingredients that go in the making of the basic Halwa are,

  • corn starch
  • sugar
  • cardamom powder
  • corn oil
  • rose water
  • nuts

And, depending upon the variety of Halwa, for example pomegranate halwa, apricot halwa, fig or milk halwa – the speciality ingredients are added.

The two most popular Halwas are the Saffron Halwa which has cashew nuts, which is orange/red in colour, and the King of Halwa – which is green in colour loaded with almonds.

The Halwa is made with two to three members, taking turns to stir the mixture in the huge copper vessel, filled with ingredients.

  1. First, water is poured into the vessel, and sugar is added.
  2. After a boil, the other ingredients – corn starch, oil, rose water, cardamom powder, food colour and nuts – are added, one after the other.
  3. The initial thin liquid, becomes thicker and stickier with time. This process requires non-stop stirring and hence, is a tedious one.
  4. Once, the required consistency of the halwa is achieved, the halwa is poured in large containers and taken for packaging.

The videos below, show the making of the Halwa – the stirring and the continuous process of making several batches.

This video below, shows the packaging of the two special types of Halwa – saffron and almond halwa.

the packed boxes, ready to be transported…

and the super delicious gooey halwa…

The packed halwa, sets well inside the box..

when cut…

On the way to the entrance of the office of the Showaiter’s in Muharraq, there is a shop which displays the century year old tradition of halwa making, that is exclusive to the family.

They have preserved the utensils used during the initial years, in the making of Bahraini Halwa.

Halwas to taste and the different types they make-

This Halwa workshop, indeed made my Bahrain trip a complete one- opening new windows to my primary interests -history, culture and cuisine.

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

This year’s Pongal – the Harvest Festival of the Tamils, was a special one for me. After posting my experience of Pongal in Cambodia , way back in 2014, now, I am delighted to post my experience of Pongal in Abu Dhabi, in 2020. Pongal was celebrated on 15th January.

Abu Dhabi, as many of us know, is a place very close to a South Indian’s heart. I recall a few lines I already wrote in one my previous posts – Navaratri in Abu Dhabi

Living in Abu Dhabi, one doesn’t feel out of homeland, with millions of Indians, especially South Indians quite huge in number. But, it is certainly an amazing place where festivals are celebrated in their best traditional way, with undoubted authenticity.

The same feeling of being at home, was felt during Pongal too. Firstly, there was a Pongal celebration by local Tamil Community, at Khalifa Park, Abu Dhabi on the 10th of January, 2020. That gave a great start to the essence of our own Harvest Festival. There are a few more to join, in the coming days as well.

Apart from the events, that give a welcome feeling of being part of one’s own society, one of the most essential things to celebrate a traditional festival, is the availability of ingredients – exclusive to one’s native soil.

So, first step – I listed down the necessary things I needed to buy, for an authentic, traditional celebration – almost close to home, but away from home.

My list –

  1. Pongal Paanai – a new Mud Pot to make Pongal – The sweet rice pudding
  2. Manjal Kothu – Fresh Turmeric with the root and leaves, to tie around the pot
  3. Inji Kothu – Fresh Ginger with root and leaves
  4. Karumbu – Sugarcane
  5. Panakizhangu – Palmyra Sprout
  6. Maavilai – Fresh Mango leaves to make Thoranam or decoration in the house entrance
  7. Fresh traditional vegetables of Tamilnadu
  8. Banana Leaf
  9. Coconut
  10. Banana
  11. Rice
  12. Jaggery

Now, Rice, Jaggery, Banana, Coconut and vegetables are abundantly available in Abu Dhabi. Hence, the concern of getting those didn’t pop up at all.

My longing to make Pongal, in a new mud pot was fulfilled by Dar Al Meena Food Stuff Trading, located in Sharjah, which delivers organic produces from Tamilnadu, every week, on different days to different parts of the UAE. Click here to know more about the shop.

They deliver required native produces to Abu Dhabi every Sunday. So, my anxiety to get these trademark Pongal Agro products, was sorted out very quickly.

This post is not going to be one, with a recipe. But this one is, to share my happiness and fulfilment that resulted in this year’s Pongal celebration. Happiness, not because I could get those quintessential things – but specially and more specifically because, I could show my daughter, at least a glimpse of Pongal – the festival, so earthy, and so close to our roots.

Pongal is so special to the Tamils because, it is an ancient, non-religious, traditional festival, that is very strongly connected to the earthy aroma of our native soil. It is the Harvest Festival as well as a Thanksgiving Festival. Though, it is a festival in which the farmer is thanking his own eco system of nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, for providing the strength to achieve best yields. In turn, it is our duty to thank the Farmer, who produces the grains and vegetables we consume daily. Then, isn’t it very important to make our next generation value the sheer Hardwork of those humble souls, without whom, our filled plates with nutritious food and satisfied palates after each meal wouldn’t be achievable?

These are the things I procured from the shop, including my first priced possession of the new year – my Pongal Paanai/Mud Pot.

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

The quintessential things –

mud pot, coconut shell ladle, the pirumanai to place the pot, fresh turmeric with root and leaves, fresh ginger with root and leaves.

my priced possessions – mud pot and coconut shell ladle

Seasoning the Man Chatti/Mud Pot

After soaking the mud pot in water overnight, I washed it well with gram flour using coconut scrub. The next step, in the process of seasoning the mudpot, I fried grated coconut and nei/clarified butter. This aids in removing any mud, impurities and also makes the pot stronger. Coconut and nei/clarified butter, would provide a nice aroma to the mud pot, while making sweet dishes in future. This is because, the clay would absorb the flavour and aroma of the things fried or cooked first, for the rest of its life span. I discarded the fried coconut. Then, washed the pot with the coconut scrub and gram flour. Man chatti/mud pot is ready to make Sarkkarai Pongal, in fact every year.

Rest of the products – Karumbu/Sugarcane

Panang kizhangu/Palmyra Sprouts

Maavilai/Fresh mango leaves and Maavilai thoranam

the vegetables and different kinds of rice – mappillai samba, hand pound white, hand pound brown

Making Sarkkarai Pongal

I made Pongal, with 3 cups rice and approximately 4 to 4 1/2 cups jaggery. Too much for a nuclear family. But, the joy of sharing with friends during such festivals is the true spirit of celebration.

To start, I tied the fresh turmeric root with leaves to the neck of the manchatti. Placed the man chatti with water to boil, on the stove. A tip here – Add sufficient water for rice to cook… this is not pressure cooker cooking.. so no water measurements. Add water in between, if water is insufficient to cook rice.

Sufficient water and washed rice immersed in it.

Meantime, I kept the jaggery with water on stove. Once water boils and jaggery is completely dissolved, switch off stove. We shall strain later, directly into the pot.

Checked the rice off and on, until it had become soft

After a few minutes, the rice had become thicker, with most of the water absorbed while cooking;

At this stage, I strained the jaggery liquid into the pot

I added freshly ground cardamom into the rice and jaggery pongee

It was time to mix well and check whether everything was going right.

I used this beautiful coconut shell ladle, to mash the rice well. This dual purpose ladle, also serves as a masher.

I fried cashew nuts in clarified butter/nei and added to the almost done sarkkarai pongal

Sarkkarai Pongal was a thickened pudding now. I closed the lid and got ready to thank the farmers, cattle and nature – all at heart, in front of the worship area, with all family members present.

Symbolising the new Harvest – vegetables and rice

Thanksgiving Time! Pongalo Pongal!!!

After the humble celebration at home, traditional meal with rice, sambar, avial, pachadi, poriyal, vadai and pongal was the treat of the day. It was truly a festival, remembering and thanking the Farmers, and their eco system of Nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, that provide them their basic means of livelihood, besides enabling us to reap the benefits of our primary food grains and vegetables.

Exploring Culture of Bahrain – Pottery Demonstration at Al Jasra Handicrafts Centre

After visiting places of historic interest in and around Manama, it was time to delve into some cultural aspects.

Bahrain’s rich cultural heritage can be seen through various lenses. Though history and cuisine too fall under Culture in a broader sense, I chose to visit the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, which displays the country’s indigenous art forms and creations. It was established in 1990. The best artists of the country are brought under one institution, to display their skills and pass theirs to the next generation.

The centre’s website explains its focus and goals.

The center embraces many traditional handicrafts, in order to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Maintaining traditional crafts and industries from extinction, in light of the steady growth in the world of automated industries.
  2. Educating Bahraini youth, and giving them the opportunity to explore industries and crafts that were practiced by their ancestors.
  3. Highlighting the traditional industries and handicrafts as an interface of the country, where foreigners visitors can learn more about our great past.
  4. Encouraging the craftsman and artisans, urging them to continue working in this distinctive field which requires major effort, and precise skills, by providing  support  to ensure the development of this industry  while maintaining the original characteristics of the Bahraini products.

http://www.btea.bh/aljasra-handcrafts

To me, this is the need of the hour for any society, especially societies where modern life style has become synonymous to neglecting the traditional past.

Additionally, what I learn from their website is-

Each village or town in the island has become known for a particular crafts such as the textile industry in Bani Jamrah village, basket weaving in Karbabad village, pottery in Ali village and AlSaffah in  Jassrah village, while Manama and Muharraq cities are famous for vessel industry and related tools.  http://www.btea.bh/bah-handcrafts

Al Jasra Handicraft Centre has different rooms for different crafts. It is not only a display or an exhibition house, but also a place where workshops are conducted. Tourists and visitors are given patient explanations on the specific art work. When we went there, we could find young students learning the beautiful craft forms, from experts.

Here are a few hand made wonders by specialist artists of Bahrain…

Traditional Chests

The metal chests with intricate carvings were beautiful.

Basket weaving

Basket weaving is a traditional handcraft, with the abundantly available native palm leaves. Apart from baskets, there were more innovative pieces made too.

Ship Building

Ship building is like a life-line expertise, as far as Bahrain is concerned. Fishing and Pearl Fishery, being two of the foremost occupations, Ship building is an integral part of Bahrain’s traditional livelihood.

Textile Weaving

The textile village Bani-Jamrah in central Bahrain, is known for its traditional cloth weaving.

Gypsum Craft

This place was mesmerising. The artisan Mr. Ali Abdulhusain, a very patient personality, explained his art. Though, we didn’t follow each other’s language, art didn’t need communication through language. His craft revives Bahrain’s medieval heritage. Now, we know that, the patience that he exhibits, is transformed into such fascinating pieces.

Pieces of gypsum art pieces, ready to be given colour

the artist and his art

finished piece

transformation from paper to gypsum

tools …

and the piece of art

Pottery

The video below shows, how much hard work and muscle power goes into making the clay pliable for different articles.

Incredible Artistry in those hands – the making of a pot

Such delicate craftsmanship – Removing the pot from the place of making

The great respect and adoration that I always had, for those craftsmen and their craft, seems to have grown multi-fold in my heart. The ingenuity and expertise that dwell in their humble personalities, deserve a higher and bigger adulation in this world of worldly pleasures.

A trip to Bahrain – Dilmun Civilisation and the First Oil Well in the Gulf Region!

Everyone loves to travel. The choice of things to explore is enormous, but, it is the traveller who selects the best preferred way of exploration. When I travel, first, I like to explore historical places. Since I am amazed by the unique cultures of different countries, next, I hunt for places where the culture of the place of travel is displayed. Then, I like to know about the culinary specialities of that place.

So, these are the main aspects that I concentrate while I plan…

  • travel extensively
  • explore thoroughly
  • know the history of the place
  • understand their culture
  • learn about the cuisine

Well, I tried to squeeze my above mentioned priorities in the best possible pattern, in our recent trip to Bahrain.

While we were getting ready for the journey, I started exploring Bahrain through the eyes of google.

When we landed in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, and came out of the airport towards our place of stay, it was past sunset time. The city seemed like a relaxed holiday spot. Why did it seem so? Manama was noticeably calm. No heavy traffic, there were no vehicles trying to breeze past each other on roads. The air was pleasant and cool, since it was November. There were high rise buildings, but with enough breathing space between the sky scrapers. This was the initial feeling, travelling to the Hotel. But, this didn’t change much, even after the busy scheduled stay. Bahrain is a relaxed city.

We set out to explore Bahrain’s ancient, medieval and modern history, within the short stay, through these places…

1. The first Oil Well of the Middle East

The first trace of oil in the Gulf region, was discovered in Bahrain. The area, below Jebel Dukhan, is about 40kms from the capital Manama. There is a well and a stone pillar, where the detail is carved. The carving says, Oil first spurted from the well on 16 October 1931, and started striking oil from June 1, 1932.The Oil museum, which is a building close to the well, was closed. So, had to give it a miss.

2. Ancient Burial Mounds

The Dilmun Burial Mounds, were built between 2200 and 1750 BCE. The burial mounds are evidence of the Early Dilmun civilization, around the 2nd millennium BCE, during which Bahrain became a trade hub whose prosperity enabled the inhabitants to develop an elaborate burial tradition applicable to the entire population. These tombs illustrate globally unique characteristics, not only in terms of their number, density and scale, but also in terms of details such as burial chambers equipped with alcoves. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1542/

3. Barbar Temple

4. Bahrain National Museum

National Museum of Bahrain in capital Manama, is a store house that exhibits the country’s ancient, medieval and modern history. A normal tourist would be awe struck by the exhibits that open doors to the very ancient Dilmun Civilisation. Dilmun Civilisation dates back to 3rd millennium BC.

Here are a pictures of a few exhibits, from the national museum, Bahrain…

Dilmun Seals

5. Al Khamis Mosque

6. Bahrain Fort/Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Qal’at al-Bahrain is a typical tell – an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata of the 300 × 600 m tell testify to continuous human presence from about 2300 BC to the 16th century AD. About 25% of the site has been excavated, revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. They testify to the importance of the site, a trading port, over the centuries. On the top of the 12 m mound there is the impressive Portuguese fort, which gave the whole site its name, qal’a (fort). The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1192/

These were the few places that we visited, among the numerous venues of historic interest in Bahrain. Our next journey would be a cultural trip to the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, with a varied display of rich artistic heritage. I can’t wait to share the Pottery Demonstration!

‘SIGNATURE’ by Sanjeev Kapoor – The Biriyani Workshop

Recently, I had this wonderful opportunity, to visit the Kitchen of the fine dining restaurant – ‘Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor’ in Abu Dhabi. A very big Thanks to friends, who made this happen.

The restaurant stands in a prime location, in Nation Towers, overlooking the Corniche. The restaurant prominently showcases modern and contemporary interiors. Yet, the elegance of Indian cultural elements are not to be missed. The menu here, boasts of traditional dishes served with a twist.

Disclaimer: This post is not a review on the restaurant. I was not invited to write about the cuisine or the restaurant.

It is my own personal interest, to learn new things, from speciality chefs that has led to this post. It is hard to find restauranteurs, who are open-minded to share their recipes and kitchen. Especially, allowing a blogger like me, who doesn’t even have an account in any social networking arena, certainly isn’t a normal trend in either today’s restaurant business or blogging field . That is why, I need to extend my warmest gratitude to the owners of the restaurant, to have given me the opportunity to learn the dishes and also share them with my readers.

Signature By Sanjeev Kapoor, is a well known chain of restaurants in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha. The restaurant serves signature dishes of Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor, well acclaimed Celebrity Chef of the Indian Subcontinent. He can easily be hailed as, one of the first very few Chefs in India, to have popularised the Job of a Culinary Artist, if I can say so, to the most respectful status it enjoys today. Due to such devoted as well as media friendly/articulate Chefs like Mr. Kapoor, the profession has acquired a Cult Status today. This in turn, has motivated a big chunk of the younger generation, to join the crew of Chefs, in a dream to become Sanjeev Kapoors of their Restaurants. And millions of home cooks like me, also feel the aura of a Chef’s Cap, when a dish is cooked to perfection.

All said and done, the struggle of a chef to reach the desired heights is enormous. Especially, to reach the Pinnacle of one’s career, is not a mean feat. And Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor, continues to be the Super Speciality Chef, even after years of attaining the Apex status of the most popular Chef of Modern India.

One of the few first cookery books, I bought to keep on the coffee table at home, were three books of Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor. While we live away from our homeland, I feel authentic culinary experts like Mr. Kapoor are the Best Brand Ambassadors, who represent Indian Cuisine abroad.

I thoroughly made use of the opportunity, to learn two of everyone’s favourite dishes, Biriyani and Kabab. The recipe of these two, among many more, makes me feel truly inquisitive about the several processes of preparation.

Among the Biriyanis, the Chef demonstrated –

  1. Chicken Biriyani
  2. Easy Mutton Biriyani, with left over Mutton curry

The Executive Chef at ‘Signature By Sanjeev Kapoor’, was very patient, to explain the step by step processes of the making of Biriyani . After his demonstration, the recipe now looks very simple. A very big Thanks to him.

First to grab on, is the Chicken Biriyani.

Now, to the recipe-

Chicken Biriyani (serves 3-4)

Since it was a demonstration, the right quantities of chicken and rice are only given. Other quantities are approximate values. As told by Chef, It is a usual norm to use 1/2 kg chicken for 1/2 kg of rice.

Marinating the Chicken

  1. Half a kilo of cleaned chicken pieces

2. Add 4 slit green chillies and 3 tsp ginger garlic paste

3. Add turmeric, chilli, cardamom, pepper powders and salt to the chicken

powders

4. Add ginger juliennes, ghee, crispy fried (browned) onions and coriander leaves

5. Add yoghurt and mix well

6. Let this chicken and added ingredients marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Making Biriyani

  1. Wash and soak rice in water, atleast half an hour prior to boiling water.

2. Boil water in a wide pot or pan, that is big enough to cook rice and throw away excess water. Add dry spices and other ingredients listed below. Let the water boil with the spices for about 8-10 minutes.

  1. cardamom
  2. cinnamon
  3. bay leaves
  4. cloves
  5. black pepper
  6. fennel seeds
  7. ginger julienne
  8. mint leaves
  9. coriander leaves
  10. green chillies
  11. oil
  12. salt

3. Remove the spices from water.

4. Drop the soaked rice in the boiling water and let it cook.

5. Choose a good hard bottomed pan. The quality of the pan would facilitate in making a successful final product, which doesn’t stick to the bottom of the vessel.

6. Add the marinated chicken to the pan.

7. Two pans, one with rice and the other with marinated chicken, are kept alongside each other, both getting cooked simultaneously .

8. After a while, they look like this…

9. The chicken now, is half cooked. And the rice is also half cooked. It is time to give the first layer to the chicken curry. The stove is always kept in medium to sim position. Once we start keeping the layers, the flame should be in sim position only.

10. With half cooked chicken at the bottom, first layer of rice on top- add crispy fried golden brown onions.

11. Now, the second layer of rice; then golden brown onions and coriander leaves.

12. Add saffron water and khewra water (extract from distilled pandanus flowers)

13. Moving on to the third and the last layer…rice, golden brown onions, coriander leaves, saffron water and khewra water. This time, add ginger juliennes and garam masala on top

14. Remember, all this while, the stove is kept in sim position.

15. The next step, is to seal the vessel and allow the chicken and rice to blend well with the spices added. Take kneaded wheat flour and press it on the edges of the pan.

16. Close tightly with a lid, and let the combination of multiple ingredients bring out the best of each other. This might take approximately 20 minutes. Keep the flame in full for the first 2-3 minutes and then simmer and cook for another 18 minutes.

in full flame for the first 2-3 minutes

17. A better way to cook 100% unburnt Dum Biriyani, is to place the pan on a hot cast iron pan, which is kept on medium flame. This way, direct heat doesn’t affect the bottom layer of the biriyani, that is the chicken.

18. We are almost done. Hold your breath tight and open the pan to see the beautifully cooked delicacy. Enjoy the wonderful aroma of the slow cooked Dum Biriyani.

A truly inspiring and delightful experience over all.

National Day Celebrations – December 2019

This is a subsequent post to the previous one on the UAE National Day. This year too, the roads were lit and are still lit, for the arrival of Christmas and New Year. The air show conducted afternoon, showcased the skills of specialists on air maneuvering, and spread the colours of UAE, indeed a joyful event to watch. In the night, the fire works glittered and all roads seemed to have led to Corniche.

By evening, all roads led to Corniche...

And when the sun started his setting journey, more and more cars..

Zoom for a close up view of the traffic..

One of the highlights of this year’s decorative lights on the roads we noticed, was the inclusion of UAE’s first astronaut, Hazza Al Mansouri, who returned back after 8 days in space. It is a proud moment for the country and it is truly a great gesture of honour, the Government has showered upon the pioneer astronaut. He is certainly a symbol of Inspiration. It would be every parent’s wish that their child dreams big, aims big in life and achieves it too.

The Astronauts

These pictures show the immense pride that comes from the transformation of a country from a Desert Landscape to a Land of Greenery and Tall Raised Buildings… a perfect portrayal of Concrete Development with an Eco friendly Environment. Modernisation with a sense of History, Civilisation and above all Tolerance is what the world needs today. And that’s what the UAE proudly stands for.

The Marina Eye Observation Wheel

Deepawali – The Victory Story

Deepawali in the south of India or Diwali in the north, the festival signifies victory of good over evil. In the north, it is Lord Rama’s homecoming, after his victory over Ravana; In the south, it is the day of Lord Krishna’s victory over demon Narakasura.

Now, my victory story, doesn’t involve any such philosophy. It is the victory of perseverance, victory of persistence, diligence, commitment and the list is endless. Why have I suddenly drenched myself in a sea of boastfulness? Let me elaborate. Exactly on the victorious day of Deepawali – I was a changed person. I suddenly felt my soul reached an unexplainable ecstatic state – with my victory over two things.

One – victory over the tricky Athirasam and Two – victory over the complicated Boondi Laddu! Doesn’t that sound awesome??

Athirasam

Athirasam has always been a tricky affair, since my first article on Athirasam in November 2011. It seems to have been a long journey, but this time, I am a contended soul.

I prayed very hard to all Gods, not for me, not for Athirasam, and also not for the Gods to whom I devoutly offered…. but extensively for my family. They are super appreciative of my efforts in the kitchen. A few times, I succeeded making replica of flattened pumice stone with the athirasam batter. Though it was capable of breaking any tooth, as strong as diamond, they appreciated the polished texture of the thing I made.

A few other times, the batter disintegrated in oil, they sweetly commented, it looked like blooming flowers in a lake. I was smart enough to stop with the first batch. I converted the batter into Appam with Banana or sweet Paniyaram. I even got hugs and kisses for being so very innovative.

Though, my heart brims with pride, having made them proud, on such countless occasions, I could somehow feel they were worried souls, on the eve of Diwali. They were in fact getting panic attacks, when I was preparing the Athirasam batter. With a true feeling of helping them out of this stressful situation, this time I prayed to all Gods, with utmost Devotion.

Thankfully, the Gods didn’t drop – good looking, perfect athirasams from Heaven. That’s when, I started to think, and hence, got so much stories to share with you guys.

So what made the difference? There were a few things I thought I should re-analyse. All numeric ratios were checked and they seemed just right. The measurements were perfect; the ingredients were exact; the procedure was flawless. I felt like a school going kid, with my math problem gone wrong. All formulas right, done in the exact step by step procedure, rechecked several times….. but the answer went wrong. All my teachers stood in front of me, and seemed to be telling me – Maths is all about Practice. Not only Mathematics, anything in life comes with a price – and the most important of all might be…. Time – Devoted Time to practice and practice again.

I realised, making Athirasam was more than a tough mathematical calculation. Practice was not enough. But, learning new nuances from continuous practice helped. What I learnt from continuous Practice is listed below-

  1. Rice flour used for Athirasam needs to be moist and not too dry. That’s why, raw rice is soaked, dried at home for an hour or so, and powdered in the mixer while slightly wet.
  2. Jaggery used should be the darker variety and also one which is right for syrups – we call it the ‘Paagu Vellam’ in Tamil.
  3. Though the ratio is provided, always keep additional rice flour. Because, some varieties of jaggery might take in more flour. If there isn’t enough flour, the mixture would be watery, a consistency not suitable to make athirasam.
  4. Also, always mix rice flour to syrup and, do not pour the syrup into rice flour. This helps in binding the mixture well, and gives room to add more rice flour if needed. But, while pouring syrup into the flour- one might end up having a very thick batter. And, if there isn’t more syrup in hand, it would be difficult to alter the consistency of batter.
  5. The most important of all – THE SYRUP…. that makes the difference. What we need, is a single-string consistency or soft ball consistency syrup.

Soft Ball consistency – How to make the quintessential syrup?

  • Heat jaggery with 1/4 cup water in a vessel to dissolve
  • Filter when jaggery is dissolved and make a syrup.
  • Check for Soft ball consistency? When the jaggery is boiling well in the vessel – keep a bowl of water and add a few drops of the syrup. The drops should settle in water and one should be able to make a soft ball out of the droplets.
  • Soft ball consistency is same as single string. Take very little syrup in between thumb and index finger (be cautious… the syrup is too hot), now, single string should be formed. This is the right consistency of syrup.

Now, after getting the consistency of syrup right, add the rice flour to the syrup and let the batter ferment overnight.

For recipe and ingredients of Athirasam, and my initial stories on how I learnt athirasam from our family kitchen, visit – https://dosaikal.com/2011/10/25/the-tricky-athirasam/

RICE FLOUR

The next important aspect of this year’s Athirasam making was the rice flour. I had store-bought rice flour, that was Idiyappam maavu. While I was wondering, how to use this flour, as an easy option .. this website came to my rescue. https://www.sailajakitchen.org/2018/10/adhirasam-recipe-using-ready-made-rice.html

It had an answer to keep the store bought dry rice powder in moist condition. The author asked to sprinkle water little by little on the rice flour, and after mixing, powder the bread-crumb-like flour with dry ginger and cardamom in a mixer. The moist rice powder for Athirasam is ready.

Isn’t this super smart! I adapted this method, with a slight correction in the syrup consistency- accurately soft ball.

Thank You Sailaja! you made my Day!!

After allowing the batter to ferment overnight, I made athirasam on the day of Deepawali. Gods had answered the prayers of my family. My Athirasams were just perfect.

I had mixed feelings… Had I scored full marks in mathematics? Or was I an athlete, who has just reached the finish line, faster than ever? I touched my head…. do I feel a chef’s cap? I suddenly realised, my feet didn’t touch the ground, then, I pressed myself down.

It might sound like an exaggerated triumph, but, this is no mean feat either. My mother agrees with me. Since Deepawali until today, she has been the lone soul, to have listened each word of my triumphant story of Athirasam, in complete silence on the other side of the telephone. And just said, ‘I’m proud of you’ with tears in her eyes, that I could visualise through my BOTIM call.