Monday, June 30, 2008

Adhirsam

When we talk about the Food empire and the associated Sweets Kingdom, Adhirsam should find a place as the chief of a council of sweet ministers. Ladies and germs, this is a fantastic sweet. Very underrated. For the uninitiated, it looks like a large Cutlet or Patty you find inside a Burger or a Sub but tastes very sweet. Every time I see an Adhirsam, I can't help but think how it could easily be part of a self-praise Rajinikanth song. You know, the one that goes 'dark and rough on the outside but sweet on the inside'. We could even have Rajini morph into a Jaggery syrup to drive home the point. Adhirsam has show biz potential. Sometimes, Adhirsam has been stereotyped into a Devasa saapadu (food made during death anniversaries) and has unfortunately been served along with the devasam team of sweets such as SuiyyaN (another Jaggery based sweet) and Ellu Urundai (er...Won't explain. Couldn't, even if I wanted to). However, Adhirsam isn't always a devasam sweet. People still make it as part of the Deepavali menu and during some other functions. Update: I forgot to mention that adhirsams are forcibly thrust on the groom during marriages. At least in my marriage during the segment where I have to eat my last-bachelor-meal with another bachelor, they shoved a gargantuan adhirsam down my throat. The one with more dough than Jaggery. It was so massive that I thought three people lifted it and got the act of shoving photographed too.

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.

32 comments:

Kirti said...

Nice article.
One small doubt. Why are gents referred to as germs?

Hawkeye said...

nothing big. i picked it up from TV series MASH. its used commonly as an alternative for 'ladies and gentlemen'. just google that phrase.

given that it was in MASH maybe it had to do something with phrases said by 'Groucho' Marx. can't think of any other reason why.

Sowmya said...

Don't talk ill about Parthasarathy kovil puliyidorai. Despite my dad telling me that it was mixed by the madapaLLi mama using his legs, I have devoured kgs of that stuff and so has my dad.

Hawkeye said...

They put some (extra) ingredient in T.P kovil puliyodharai that I dont like. I used to remember what it is. Now i forget.

'Annan' kovil puliyodharai (Mayavaram/seergazhi) is among the best I have eaten. I used to have a top 5 list.

R said...

Do I happen to be here when you talk food or do you talk food when I land here?

Sriram said...

I hate to say this, but for all your gaga over Saravana Bhavan, the best Tamil meals are available in Bangalore. Its a place called Krishna Kafe. Have never had "arachu vitta sambhar" in any other hotel. You must go there once to know what I am talking about.

Speaking of temple food, add Azhagar koil adai to the list. Standards are slipping however, I must say.

Hawkeye said...

r,

:-) its a mix of both

sriram,

i said S. Bhavan of early 90s. although even today there are some branches which are pretty good in making sambhar.

your bangalore experience is enhanced by the arachu vitta vellam :-)

Sriram said...

arachu vitta vellam ellam naan saaptadhe illa. I avoid it as if it has hepatitis virus in it. The hotel I am talking about is run by genial Tamils. Ellame unlimited dhaan. Including appalam and vadai.

amanchap said...

Wow!,this post made my mouth water, I donno when the last time I had Arisa ( In Telugu adhirasam is known as Arisa)

Well about the jaggary syrup and mixing with the dough:

I remember a funny technique my mom used to check whether the syrup is ready to be added to the dough.
From the boiling jaggary syrup, a little amount ( tea spoon full) is taken and placed in a plate of water and it is shaped out into a form a pellet or small toffee and is s thrown hard on to the plate , If it makes a noise like a church bell (not that loud though) then the syrup is ready.

Sowmya said...

they put molagu instead of molaga

Hawkeye said...

sriram,

wait until they become rich. idlis become small, plates become small, unlimited will become very limited

amanchap,

my mom read your comment out to my grandma and both gave your mom certificate. Apparently that is the standard operating procedure. My grandma said that the 'danggg' (what you called church bell)sound is critical to the jaggery test.

sowmya,

bingo! you are sharp!. apparently even sathyanarayana temple have started doing that. it reduces the taste incredibly.

tilo said...

adhirsam -- eaten only in kalyana baksanam.

Babu said...

he he he...man u sound like that character in "Boys" who knows which temple has which meal @ what time....only u know which one tastes better ;-)
I dunno know why but we make Adhirsam like u do otai vadai (whole in the middle) and oh yeah I love'em too

maxdavinci said...

I've always loved temple food be it the payasam, puliodare etc. The taste can rarely be replicated elsewhere...

well researched post...

R said...

The only upside of eating at Parthasarathy temple is you wont get AIDS.

Selvaraj said...

super! 63 vayadil enakku echil uruthu!

WA said...

seriyaana saapaattu raaman only :)

Selvaraj said...

What is your name? Where are you working Sir? I understand you are in USA after Ross MBA. Did your MS in what? Crescent is good college. There is no intro page?

R K said...

selvaraj seems to have a daughter for marriage!

Zero said...

"Sri Krishna Kafe" uNavagaththai orumuRaiyEnum dharisikkAmalE, adha paRRi poththAmpodhuvAga vimarisanam aLippadhu kuRiththu, engaLadhu vanmaiyAna kaNdanangaLai theriviththu koLgiRom.

ivaN,
cheyalALar, "Sri Krishna Kafe" rasigar manRam

Sowmya said...

Apparently molagu is more aacharam than molaga. I like the puliyodarai because it has molagu in it. Tastes different.

Sriram said...

Zero, yenakku theriyamal rasigar mandram aa?

In my opinion, the only upside of living in Bangalore for a Tamil is Sri Krishna Kafe and if you are like me, the availability of wider variety of liquor.

I said...

uduthu kettan thulukan, thunnu kettan vaishnavan apdingaradha kaatita.

Hawkeye said...

tilo,

yes. yes. viradha bakshanam. bad un-sweet adhirsams.

babu,

ada paavi! although when you say 'vadai'.... ;-)

maxD,

temple food is good only in few temples. not all.

r,

:-) in which temple would you get AIDS?

dear selvaraj,

thanks sir. Welcome to this blog.

i'd prefer to go through life anonymously. hence no intro page.

wa,

its a good thing only :-)

r,

unakku poramai!

zero/Sriram,

i seemed to have somehow managed to miss eating in Krishna Cafe during my Bangalore days. I am surprised. I 'vizhunthu/ezhunthufied' in Woodys and SLR.

You both seem to indicate that krishna cafe is Rayars or Madurai Mess levels. appadiya?

Sowmya,

molagu takes the essential puliyodharainess out of puliyodharai. I protest any form of 'aacharam' that results in food-taste reduction (or) more work for men.

I,

You have to re-look into you Vadama status if you are going to stand here and undervalue food. Maybe you are a chozhiyar. Go back to your single-malt.

Sriram said...

You dont get it. Do you? I could go on to say the place is like the benchmark or grammar for Tamil (brahmin, may be) food. To put things in perspective, lunch typically costs 80 or so on a weekend. And there is absolutely no frill whatsoever. No candle light, no boyfriend-girlfriend silmishams to endure.. The entire money you pay goes to the food.

Hawkeye said...

sriram,

i'll try it next trip to bengaluru.

/* And there is absolutely no frill whatsoever. No candle light, no boyfriend-girlfriend silmishams to endure */

these perks are available in many places. its when you say 'grammar' or 'benchmark' - i am now curious.

Zero said...

Sriram,
Qualifying the food available in Its Highness as vegetarian is clearly necessary. By virtue of this very restriction, it can't be the benchmark for Tamil food!

blackaccord said...

I remember eating an Adhirsam in some temple (may be Thiruvallur kovil paththu kadai) which I still long for.. As for the sweet, it has to be made in the right padham... The sweetness should be in the right percentage.. A little bit too much or little too less might ruin the sweet..

Chenthil said...

Next time you are in Madurai, do try the Alagar Koil prasadams. Their appams and adais are something to be written about.

Anonymous said...

Hey Hawkeye,
You were spot-on when you talk abt the adhirasam in Parthasarathy kovil. I used to live in the same street as that of the temple even though I kuppai kottify in bangalore now. My parents still live there.. Whenever I go to Tcane, I go to the temple but I go in such odd hours that prasadams wont be available. I like their venpongal as well..
Talking abt Annankovil.. you are right again.. My grandma lives in poompuhar and i go to that temple once in a while. You just visit that temple or you have some one nearby?
Finally krishna Kafe.. Sriram and Zero are right to a greater extent. I dunno since when they eat there. When they opened in 2003 super sappadu for 35Rs... Even before inflation they slowly started to increase and it is now in the sixties on weekdays.. Definitely the quality has come down but still a good bet for tamils esp tambrams..
-Rajagopalan.

bombay dosti said...

oh my god!!! I was not a fan of Adhirsam till i read your post!! I had always thought of them as a huge strain on my ever failing teeth; ya the worst cutting pliers!!!
Hawkeye, this post was awesome!!!
Rajnikanth and adhirsam, i cant stop laughing!!!
But i love, ellurundai too;-(!!!

I enjoyed this post, too much.More importantly, i kinda realised on the so many traditional sweets I was missing these days.Evenings have been graced with pastries and puff/patties.
I dont have much to add, but this post was such a lovely read for the day!!!! thanks!

Hawkeye said...

zero,

poor sriram did qualify the 'tamil' in his paranthesis :-)

black accord,

I have never eaten in thiruvallur. As i visit it mostly on my way to thirupathi. in the rush there is no time to eat.


chenthil,

I havent been to alagar kovil after my IXstd. I havent eaten there. I will try it the next time.


Rajagopalan,

so they opened krishna cafe only in 2003. No wonder.

Annan kovil - I have visited every year for past 3-4 years. More due to luck than by design.

bombay dosti,

thanks. if you live in bombay you can get adhirsam in chembur temple :-)