When we were kids there were a few weekend treats that would instantly light up the house with excitement and make us drool while running around the kitchen waiting for the preparation to be complete. Ottu Shyavige (Pressed rice noodle) in Karnataka, Idiyappam in other parts of southern India, is an epitome of simple cooking. Made with just two simple ingredients, Rice and coconut this dish never fails to bring a smile on face and transcend into nostalgia. It’s a mystery how this rather bland rice noodle has managed to captivate the minds (rather tongues) of millions for years, I thought. Until, I learned that this dish I have savored for years is truly a time travelled delicacy, that has been passed onto generations after generations starting from 1st century AD! Yes, you read it right, this dish has stood the test of time and managed to survive for well over two thousand years!! Not just that, it was consumed exactly the same way it is consumed today, in sweet coconut milk!!!
Rice has been a staple food in several parts of the world and the oldest reference to rice cultivation in India dates back to 6500 BC according to literatures. Though it is today the main food in Southern India, as history has it, the cultivation originally began in Northern and middle India slowly making it’s way down South. As is the case with most food habits, it must have suited the environmental conditions of the southern India to have stayed with them so strongly. As the evolution of food would prove, the ever creative human mind has always found it’s way to make what’s available more interesting by means of different cooking processes.
Ottu Shyavige does take some preparation and perseverance. Though today you can buy them in the Indian grocery store frozen sections, from the scratch preparation requires several hours of work.
The process begins by soaking rice for 7 to 8 hours to be able to grind it to a fine thin paste. The sweet aroma of cooked Shyavige comes from the dash of coconut that goes into the batter that gets ground along with it.
Then comes the time to exhibit some muscle power, boiling the rice batter on low flame constantly stirring and mixing the batter into a smooth yet firm dough.
As per food historian A.K Achaya, the ancient Indian Vedic literature references point to the habit of consuming cooked flour or dough of various grains along with Milk, Coconut Milk and sometimes even some forms of meat. A practice that still exists in parts of Karnataka where dough balls of Raagi (finger Millet), Jowar and Rice is consumed for everyday meal.
The first reference of various preparations of Rice based dishes, including Idiyappam is dated by historians to 1 Century AD Tamil literatures of Sangham era. Also, known as Iron age, people had figured out various forms of cooking the grain flours, such as Appam, Idiyappam and often consumed with Sweet Coconut Milk.
Though Rice batter can be completely cooked over flame, the Shyavige process takes it to a second level of cooking, in steam.
The cooked rice batter is slowly made into oval shaped balls and cooked in a steamer for about 15 minutes.
Every step decides the texture of the final product, the quality of rice, the level to which it gets steamed.
It is important that the dough gets steamed right consistency, not too soft not too hard either one of which means a added trouble for making into noodles. But practiced hands of moms and grandmoms, just knew how to get it right!
Different parts of Southern India practices different styles of cooking Shyavige, making the noodles from dough before steaming, steaming with a dash of grated coconut, mixing the batter with jaggery for sweet noodles and many more. Every process has it’s own beauty and taste and this tiny little noodle never fails to gratify the taste buds.
There are various moulds used to press the dough balls into noodles. The steel mould that is easily available today is fragile and requires the dough to be a bit softer but with little practice, does the work.
Childhood days there was this brass mold about 3 feet tall with the perforated brass container dangling at the bottom of an iron plate and a wide steering wheel type of handle to slowly bring down a heavy brass rod pressing the dough into noodles. It was a process that required good muscle power though we all enjoyed catching the noodles that came out in a plate while dad pressed it. There it was a full family involvement for a delicious morning breakfast!
- White Rice – 3 cups
- Grated Coconut – ½ cup
- Salt – To the taste
- For Coconut Milk
- Coconut Milk – 3 cups
- Jaggery – 1 cup grated
- Cardamom – 2 to 3
- For seasoning:
- Oil – 2 tbspoons
- Mustard – 1 tb spoon
- Urad Dal – 1 tb spoon
- Turmeric – ¼ tb spoon
- Ground nut – 2 tb spoon
- Curry leaves – 5-6 leaves
- Hing – 1 pinch
- Green Chillies – 3-4
- Ginger – 1 inch
- Lemon Juice – 2-3 spoons
- Salt – To the taste
- Soak Rice for 7 to 8 hours
- Grind it with grated coconut and salt to a smooth paste
- Add as much water needed for a thin batter
- Keep a deep pan on flame and pour batter and cook slowly stirring constantly
- When Batter is about 80% cooked remove it from flame
- Once it cools a bit take a tennis ball size dough and make it into egg shaped balls
- Place it in a pan and steam it for 15 mins
- Once the dough balls cools down use any noodle mould and press it into noodles spread in a flat round shape.
- Mix Coconut Milk, Jaggery and Cardamom powder and mix them well
- Place each noodle round into coconut milk and serve it warm
- For seasoning:
- In a pan heat the oil and add mustard, Urad Dal, hing, Turmeric, and ground nut. Once mustard splutters add chilli, ginger and saute it for a min. Add Rice noodles and mix it well add a dash of lemon juice and grated coconut.
A typical consumption of Shyavige is with sweet Coconut milk which is prepared by mixing a cup of jaggery and ground cardamom in a bowl of Coconut Milk. The delicious sweetness of rice noodle steamed carefully and soaked in coconut milk is something that needs to be experienced to understand!
There are also savory preparations, where noodles are sauteed in typical south Indian seasoning of mustard, Urad Dal and turmeric with green chilli, ginger and ofcourse some curry leaves.
The dough balls can be consumed as is which is a practice in some parts of coastal areas, where the Sweet Coconut Milk also includes ripe banana cubes.
However you consume it, you are sure to be delighted with the sweet aromas of these noodles. Only next time you do eat, remember that it is the mind work of our ancestors that has been carefully preserved through the years… Next time when you eat Ottu Shyavige/Idiyappam, remember it’s a slice of time in your mouth! 🙂