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Sunday, 8 November 2015

A festival of snack foods

Traditional sweets and savouries are in great demand during Deepavali. We take a look at what some of Tiruchi’s snack gurus have to offer this year

A selection of Aswins Home Special sweets on display as part of the store's Deepavali promotion in Tiruchi. Photo: B.Velankanni Raj
A selection of Aswins Home Special sweets on display as part of the store's Deepavali promotion in Tiruchi.

Deepavali is not just a festival of lights anymore. It has become a festival of food, especially of sweetmeats and savoury snacks that are bought, exchanged and eaten in great quantities all over the Indian subcontinent.

With more women taking up full-time employment, homemade festive snacks have been replaced by shop-bought alternatives. Worries about the high-calorie food consumed during festivals have led stores to improve their own methods of cooking to suit modern tastes.

From century-old establishments to more recent entrants, MetroPlus checks out what’s on offer from Tiruchi’s vendors this year.

Big love for boondi and elephants



Big Bazaar

Signature snack:
‘Koodai Boondi’

This small stall in Big Bazaar Street has got a bestseller in its sweet boondi, which is still available in its original packing – a palm-sized bamboo cane basket lined with coloured paper.

“My grandfather was among the first to start making this larger-size boondi, and it has continued to be our most popular sweet for the past 101 years,” says proprietor B. Kannan, who joined the family business in 1980. “Pilgrims to the Nagore Dargah’s Kanduri festival often stop by to purchase boondi for dedicating it to Nathervali Dargah here. We have seen generations of pilgrims returning to us for the boondi.”

His grandfather’s love for pachyderms was a reason why he chose to name the shop after the elephant, says Kannan. “He was among a team of friends who went to get an elephant from Thrissur in 1960, which was later dedicated to the Rock Fort temple,” says Kannan. “Thatha took care of Lakshmi (the elephant) when she was very young, and when we celebrated our 60th anniversary in 1974, she was a special invitee to our shop,” recalls Kannan.

A brass kadhai holds some 25-30 kilos of boondi, which is steadily replenished by the shop’s staffof two master cooks and two helpers. “We are planning to make khoa badusha, butter mysore paak and paneer jangri, for Deepavali this year. But our boondi will always be in demand,” predicts Kannan.

Keeping it natural


In Tiruchi since:

Sastri Road, Railway Junction, Femina Shopping Mall

Signature snack:
Nut-based sweets

Traditional sweets like adhirasams, Tirupathi laddoo, Mysore Paak and laddoos made of chickpea and semolina have always been a part of Adyar Ananda Bhavan’s menu. This year, the restaurant-cum-snack retailer, one of 96 franchises of the Chennai-based chain, is planning to focus on ‘natural sweets,’ for Deepavali.

“This involves only nuts and dry fruits ground to form sweets, without any added sugar or flavouring,” says P. N. Vijayakumar, manager of the Tiruchi operations.

“Customers seem to prefer this healthier version of sweets during the festive season, so we are offering items like kaju katli, pista roll and cassata, that are a great hit with children, and also good for gifting.”

Other options for the festive period include sweets made using milk solids and clarified butter, in addition to Bengali specialities.

The eatery chain’s prices are fixed throughout the year, which ensures a steady clientele, says Vijayakumar. “We have been getting a lot of enquiries for corporate bulk orders, in addition to requests for snacks that have that old-fashioned taste, with a healthier preparation.”

Reviving folk cuisine



Location (in Tiruchi):
Kumaran Nagar, Mambazha Salai

Signature snacks:
Laddoo, adirasam, achu murukku, kai murukku

Starting off as a domestic effort to revive folk cuisine of the Reddiar community in Perambalur by Mr. and Mrs. K.R.V. Ganesan in the mid-1990s, Aswins Home Special today is on its way to becoming a professional food manufacturer on par with international standards, with subsidiaries in Tiruchi and Chennai.

“The taste of Aswins laddoos should linger in my customer’s mind,” says Mr. Ganesan, which explains the sweetmeat’s enduring popularity throughout the eatery’s outlets.

This year, a special team of cooks has been appointed to deal with Deepavali orders to prepare fresh stock every day.

In Tiruchi, the store is showcasing its festive snacks at the Taj Marriage Hall on Karur Bypass Road until November 9. A similar arrangement has also been made at the restaurant’s Perambalur branch.

Sweet and savoury snack gift packs for Rs. 250, Rs. 500 and Rs.750 have a mixture of native goodies that are prepared using stone-ground flour.

Aswins employs a large number of women from surrounding villages as cooks at its Perambalur production facility, and also accepts physically challenged workers.

Keeping up with health-consciousness, the store has sugarless options for diabetics, and several delicacies made with ethnic millets.

Taste of tradition




Signature snack:
Thattai, Seepu Seedai, Adirasam, Badusha
V. Lakshmi learned cooking from her mother, but didn’t really think of making it a home-based career until 2008. “I was always interested in making snacks and used to share them with my friends and relatives.

“Then I felt confident enough to make it a small-time enterprise,” says Ms. Lakshmi.

Recreating recipes from her native village of Aravayal (Shanmughanathapuram) has helped her to make a mark among those who yearn for Chettinad delicacies that have slowly slipped away from public memory.

Among the ethnic items she is offering this Deepavali are Manakolam, Adirasam, Pasiparuppu Urundai, Thenkulal, Magilampoo Murukku, Seepu Seedai and Thattai, besides the usual rota of delicacies like Badusha, Ghee Mysore Paak, Dry Jamun, and Laddoo.

“I get my orders through word-of-mouth, and that is enough for me to work comfortably with my team of seven cooks and helpers,” says Ms. Lakshmi. “I can cater to any small family function or even for those travelling abroad with snacks as gifts.”

The recent rise in dal prices has affected the preparation of some of her recipes, which is why she has had to shift over to pricing her products by the kilo from piecemeal rates.

“I get the raw rice from Karaikudi, which is what gives my snacks their special taste,” she says.

Catering to one and all



No.30, Padma Vilas Bungalow, Bharathiyar Street, Town Station Road; special Deepavali stall at Sudarshan Mahal in Srirangam until November 10

Signature snacks:
Badam Halva, Gulab Jamun, Cashew cake, Tirunelveli Halva

Business seems to be roaring at the Sudarshana Mahal in Srirangam, where S. Vaidyanathan, who prefers to be known by his alias Ravi, has been overseeing orders for Deepavali for the past 10 days.

“We want to be part of celebrations in every household, and our Deepavali stall is proof of this,” says Mr. Ravi, who has spent over 20 years in the mass catering business.

For six years, he has been booking a marriage hall in Srirangam exclusively for Deepavali orders. “Even though the hall has to be booked six months in advance, we start preparing for Deepavali only 10 days ahead, because the snacks have a short shelf life,” says Mr. Ravi. “Having a hall encourages families to come and sample the snacks and even see their preparation in the kitchen before placing their orders, which you cannot do in a sweet stall,” he adds.

The caterer is offering 15 varieties of sweets such as laddoo, badusha, adhirasam and milk sweets and 7 types of savouries (kaara sevu, omam podi and ribbon pakoda among others) for Deepavali this year. “Usually, our most popular items are those that cannot be prepared easily at home, such as Badam Halva, Gulab Jamun, Cashew cake, Jangri, Tirunelveli Halva and Ghee Mysore Paak, but we don’t have any concept of minimum orders. Customers can buy any quantity according to their budget,” says Mr. Ravi.

The caterer also offers ‘Thalai Deepavali’ gift packs for newlyweds, besides accepting corporate orders.

“Though some of the sweets have become costlier due to the rise in prices of nuts and dried fruits, we have tried our best to keep our products as affordable as possible,” says Mr. Ravi.

The Deepavali stall starts working at 5 a.m. and closes doors at 10 p.m. It will be operational until 10 a.m. on Deepavali (November 10). “Nothing would have been possible without the co-operation of my team members,” concludes Mr. Ravi.

Source : The Hindu , 6th Nov 2015

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