Adhirsam can't be made by anybody. Its not a 'i feel like eating it today evening so let me quickly do it' type of sweet. Its a hard sweet to make and people almost always ruin it. The key aspect of making an adhirsam is getting the softness of the paagu correct. The Jaggery paste that you make and mix with dough is critical. If it becomes too soft, it won't fry well in oil and will probably break in pieces. You make it hard and you have people, in the dining table, literally tearing out the Adhirsam with a cutting-plier. Some adhirsams even give a 'katak mutak' sound because their edges have been fried like an appalam. I hate those. You have to get the softness right. The reason why grandmothers consistently hit that optimum point the way Glen Mcgrath bowls on the C of U is because of experience. Years of Maamas throwing back stone hard adhirsams on maamis has led to this development of laser sharp perfection.
Parthasarathy Temple, Thiruvallikeni makes the best Adhirsams in the world. I say this with considerable Adhirsam eating authority. In all my years of eating adhirsams in a variety of devasams, deepavalis and what-nots, the ones from Mr.Parthasarathy's stable ranks first. Some people have severe problems with temple food. In a discussion about Adhirsam, I always have to mention my father and his hatred towards temple food. He generally has terrible problems with eating food outside. Several times he has even asked Saravana Bhavan waiters to wash their hands. Temple food, to him is an anathema. Just seeing it makes him go cranky. Stories have been doing the rounds in my family as to how he emptied a bucket full of temple prasadam (kesari) into the street garbage tin (The reality is that in those days the garbage tin was a cylindrical pipe made of stone with holes on both sides). The stories became very interesting when people described how his father-in-law gurgled in fits upon seeing the prasadham empty out into garbage.
'Viragu aduppu' (old fashion stove which used wood as fuel) was the reason temple prasadham generally sucked. They wouldn't close the lid of the vessel while cooking and smell of burning wood would invariably find its way into the Kesari. Hygene was the second, and most times, an inevitable casuality. Visits to Parthasarathy temple would invariably lead to arguments within my family. My dad rarely visited temples and he'd agree to come to Triplicane only because Partha's sarathy welcomed his guests in an A/c room. I secretly thought he argued with me in the hope that it would force my mom to stop bringing him along to temples. While we were doing our second pradakshnam around the complex, my dad would try innovative ways to prevent me from buying temple food. Sometimes he'd try the "I am the ultimate authority" trick and preempt me. "No Adhirsam today. Lets not even get into that argument again. Lets just walk straight back outside" he'd say and walk quickly towards the exit half-knowing that I might not follow him. Of course I wouldn't hear of it. The Adhirsams would already be dancing before my eyes seductively. I would then bring up the point that temple food was at least cleaner than the 'Kai yendhi' Bhavans. We'd typically be arguing loudly by the time we were in front of the food counter. Adhirsam was Rs 5, which most times made my father's eyes pop out. He would then get into a vitriolic argument with the Adirsam mama about the astronomical prices. Not to mention the cleanliness and other 'ness' the mama behind the counter had never heard of. Sometimes, I'd wait for my father's standard punch dialogs; "kai kaal ellam soap pottu nalla thekkanum saar" (wash you hand/legs with soap). Poor bharjara mama would be non-plussed at the sudden change of fate Mr. Parthasarathy inflicted on him.
In my opinion Parthsarathy temple's kitchen (madapalli) wasn't a model of cleanliness but the conditions there were acceptable. They were better than many other temples and they did the best with what they could afford. Let us just say, I had to earn every millimeter of that adhirsam, I finally got to buy. If people decided to give Six Sigma awards for perfection in Adhirsam, Parthasarathy temple would win it. Easily. As my cousin would say "chaaance'a illai". Their Puliyodharais could be easily faulted. But not Adhirsams. Not even 1 among a million of them would be .0001 standard deviations away from the optimal taste. They'd made rich Adhirsams with liberal application of ghee. Typically the exterior of most adhirsams are at least slightly hard. Here, you'd find them to be cotton candy soft. They would just melt in your mouth. Ah! ambrosia. It is really food for the gods. Every time people made adhirsams and give it to me, I can't help but think of these rock star Thiruvallikeni Adhirsams. These weren't like the normal sized ones made at home. They were XXXL sized and looked like a small dosai. The consistency with which that mama makes the adhirsam is so amazing. When S. Bhavan was bulding up in the early 90s people wondered at the consistency level of their sambhar, coffee and idli. Thiruvallikeni will probably go unsung in annals of food consistency but it will forever get a special mention in my heart.