Will You Root for Kozhukattai over Modak on Ganesh Chaturthi?
This Ganesh Chaturthi bite in to Kozhukattai. The king of modak.
Kozhukattai is King
Now don’t take this personally.
Look, it’s not a regional thing. In general, and especially when it comes to food, I’m anything but…
And yet, I cannot help rooting for Tamil Nadu’s ‘Kozhukattai’ when it comes to Ganesha specific condiments as opposed to the Modak (Maharashtra, the North and the East), the Kadubu (Karnataka), the Kudumu (Andhra/Telangana) or the Sughiyan (Kerala).
I know, ‘Kozhukattai’ is a mouthful. But when you actually get to taste it, you’ll realise this is exactly the way it should be.
So here’s the literal and figurative cross section:
The experience begins with the name. Variants of this sweet in other languages are of two, or at the most, three syllables. But in Tamil, it’s got four syllables and a ‘ழ’ sound that your tongue can handle only if you mimic having a kozhukattai in your mouth.
Ko (rhymes with Yo) – Zhu (say it like an upended wolf howl) – katt (rhymes with nut, but with an extra ‘t’) – tai (as in tai-chi).
Not sure? Listen
Only Steamed, Never Fried
In Tamil Nadu, there is no fried variation of the modak. Frying a modak is like tying a rope after binding one with a bramha-astra*.
*Termithology - According to Hindu mythology, the bramha-astra is the most powerful missile ever and is capable of incapacitating the most powerful beings in the universe. Until, of course you happen to be overzealous and decide to use extra rope, in which case, it is nullified.
Let me explain.
As you read this, imagine you’re imagining this with your eyes closed; the filling of a ‘kozhukattai’ is sweet, warm, slightly chewy and coarse (thanks to the desiccated coconut).
The covering of steamed rice dough is smooth, almost buttery and as you press it between your tongue and palate, it stretches and melts into nothingness, giving way to the delicious within.
As textures go, it is the antithesis and the perfect complement to the coconut-jaggery filling.
Frying the outer layer shatters this delicate balance and makes the modak a crunchy, extra chewy ball, which could shock you with an over-hot filling.
So, no frying. And no experimental chocolate/pistachio/banana/badam/sandesh fillings either.
The Inside is Golden
There is an aesthetic to the ‘Kozhukattai’.
It is slightly larger than a comfortable mouthful. The outer layer is almost paper-thin in certain areas, where it has been pinched and tweaked to form the almost sharp cone tip.
Like a saree made of the finest muslin silk draped over sunlit skin, the outer layer reveals a golden sliver of the delicious filling.
The golden colour of the filling has to do with the type of jaggery used and the exact moment the mixture is taken off the stove. While the process may be replicated, the ingredients are Tamilian. Therefore, the golden hue and the mild chewiness are not.
What more can I say, the first batch of ‘Kozhukattais’ is waiting. It is time for a truly transcendental gastronomic experience.
(Vikram Venkateswaran is a freelance writer, TV producer and media consultant. Headings, titles and captions are his kryptonite. He lives in Madurai and is occasionally struck by the feeling that the city likes him back.)
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