Pootharekulu - Tips on how to make it in authentic Andhra style!

“Is it very spicy?”, I innocently asked. I wanted to reconfirm if I had understood my driver-guide right.
Subbu, my driver, looked confused and tried once again.
“No saar, it’s very sweet. We fill it with ghee, jaggery and cashew nut, and it’s very tasty. I know you will like it.”

We were discussing the famed Coastal Andhra sweet Pootharekulu, also commonly known as Paper Sweet, which I had misunderstood as Pepper sweet. Pootharekulu is a sweet which originated in the town of Atreyapuram in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh a long long time back. The word Pootharekulu is made of two different words - Pootha which means coating and Reku which means sheet. Muthu certainly had me intrigued and I inquired about it as soon as I reached my weekend home, and learnt who I had misunderstood the term Paper was lost in translation and I assumed Pootharekulu to be a spicy dessert!


Pootharekulu ready to be served

This, however, was least of my concerns as all I wanted to do was eat it soon and so dutifully ordered it along with my meal. The property manager was touched that I wanted to eat this local delicacy, but regretfully informed me that the cook at the hotel couldn’t possibly make it and it can only be had in a village home or a village sweet-shop. This little piece of news devastated me but I wasn’t ready to go back from East Godavari, the birthplace of Pootharekulu, without tasting it. I hatched a plan with may driver who promised to take me to a village where the women made it, but for that I needed to leave the hotel at the break of dawn. We agreed to meet at 6.30am the following morning to discover the origins of this fabled sweet.

Exploring Pootharekulu in coastal Andhra

Subbu didn't come as he was going to a girl’s house to ask her hand in marriage, so his elder cousin brother, Kasi, came. Much well versed with the region, Kasi became an enthusiastic guide to me, though he spoke very little English or Hindi and our conversations had more grunts, hand gestures and frowns.

Anyway, we met as planned and drove straight (well I stopped the car to take some morning shots) to a village called Machili and knocked on the door of Mr Srinivas and his wife Renuka. Srinivas worked earlier as a farmer, then in a spinning mill and finally in the business of making paper sweet. His wife, along with other women form the neighbourhood, makes the sweets everyday based on the order received. The day starts at 4am and ends late in the evening, however many small groups of women come home and help in this.

Recipe of Pootharekulu

The process of making the paper sweet is not as complicated as I imagined it to be, though the process of making the thin rice sheets (the paper part in the sweet) requires a lot of skill.

Ingredients of Pootharekulu:

1. Paper-rice
2. Desi Ghee
3. Jaggery (or sugar)
4. Broken cashew nut (or other dry fruits)
5. Lots of skill and love

Here are the key steps to follow for making the sweet.

Step 1: Take three layers of the rice paper, the bottom layer is a complete one while the others on top are more like broken pieces and put them on a small wooden table in front of you.

Step 1: Pootharekulu
Step 2: Put a few drops of desi ghee, jaggery and broken cashew nut on it. Ghee makes the rice paper a little soft which allows it to be folded easily.

Step 2: Pootharekulu

Step 3: Make two folds and put some more ghee, jaggery and broken cashew nut.

Step 3: Pootharekulu
Step 4: Make more folds and the sweet is ready to be eaten or packed!

Step 4: Pootharekulu
Step 4: Pootharekulu

Step 5: Pack into plastic wraps and then in a carton box to be sent to homes or shop for sale. The plastic wrapper is used for holding it so that your hands do not get oily.

Step 5: Pootharekulu
Step 5: Pootharekulu

Step 6: It’s best served fresh and warm. However, if you eating it later, you can cool it down a little bit and that makes the roll a little less oily.

I had it when it was still warm from the warm ghee being used. The paper rice and the chew nuts added the crunchiness, while jaggery added sweetness to this delicacy. Each bite into it came with a distinct little sound and the paper melted soon after in the mouth. I ate two and was done with my breakfast already :)

Step 6: Pootharekulu
Pootharekulu on sale in a village shop

Making of the paper-rice

However, my Pootharekulu exploration was incomplete without witnessing the making of the rice-paper. The making of the paper is almost an art in itself and only a few women do it. We decided to trace the woman who supplies to Srinivas and then visited her house.

Dhanalakshmi is a widow who lives all by herself in the house of parents and makes paper from rice every day. It’s something she learnt from her mother and has been doing it all her life. After the death of her husband (due to excessive alcohol consumption), she made her living with the money she earned from it. Now she makes the paper for Srinivas only and it’s enough to sustain herself.

She actually welcomed us with open arms and heart and nicely showed us how to make rice papers also. The process can be broken down into the following steps:

Step 1: Make a very thin rice batter called jaya biyyam. It’s consistency is only slightly more than water.


Step 1: Rice paper
Step 2: Taken an earthen pot, invert it and light a fire underneath.

Step 2: paper rice

Step 3: Let the pot get very hot, otherwise the paper won’t be formed nicely. Coconut leaves are used to make and sustain fire. The earthen pot is good for retaining heat consistently.


Step 3: Rice paper

Step 4: Dip a thin cotton cloth and use it to spread a very thin layer on top of the earthen opt. This is done in one quick shot and the rice layer is barely even seen till it’s scarped off. The first few will get wasted, but then it comes out as almost circular rice sheet with a bulge in the centre.


Step 4: Rice paper
Step 4: Rice paper

Step 5: The rice sheets are stacked on top of each other and that’s how they are supplied for making Pootharekulu.

Step 5: Rice paper

I thanked Dhanalakshmi profusely and she gifted me a few rice-paper to take back home. I also bought some Pootharekulu from Srinivas, and it costed a paltry Rs 150 for 50 pieces. These are often sold for a much higher prices in the sweetshops in the cities.

Pootharekulu - a dying art

Making Pootharekulu is a special art and not too many people can do it well. Due to this it has not spread much beyond the twin Godavari districts and can sometimes be seen in nearby big cities also. There have been efforts to get the Geographical tag for the sweet as well, but so far no work has happened on that front.

Comments

  1. A very touching writeup... it was very sweet read about that paper rice(: .... somewhere it's the story of local people too, their kindness, hospitality... its like a gem... nice and yummy

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Andapo. It was such a pleasure to walk around the villages and meeting the people who made this rare sweet. I was privileged to be hosted by them :)

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  2. What a intriguing story. I could see this expanding into a series about types of food that are special art forms. Maybe I missed it in the story, but did you like the taste of it? Is there any Western food you could compare it to?

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    1. You are right, I should have written more about it. I love sweets, and loved this too - especially the simplicity of taste and unique texture. I can't think of a western dessert to compare it to...it's a little close to the Vietnamese rice rolls, though not in texture or taste.

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  3. Congratulations! Your blog post was selected for Tangy Tuesday Picks edition on November 17, 2015 at BlogAdda.

    Please find it here : http://blog.blogadda.com/2015/11/17/tangy-tuesday-picks-17-november-2015-weekly-blogs

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  4. Thank you for showcasing this Sid! This sweet looks divine and the stories behind it are heart warming. Delighted to discover new dishes in India… there's so much to be found in every corner of our country.

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    Replies
    1. That's absolutely right Chaitali! Now a days when I travel, I always eat local food and especially things that are not made in city restaurants - there are discoveries to be made everywhere :)

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  5. Such an engaging behind a dessert... you might become a food blogger now!!

    www.myunfinishedlife.com

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    Replies
    1. Haha, not a chance! I just don't have the skills to become one :)

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  6. Mouthwatering .Really loved reading this post.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Congratulations! Your blog post was selected for Best Tangy Tuesday Picks of 2015 edition on Dec 29, 2015 at BlogAdda.

    Please find it here:
    http://blog.blogadda.com/2015/12/29/best-blog-posts-2015-tangy-tuesday-edition

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  8. Nice to read your experience.Can I have mobile number of Srinivas so that even I can enjoy the taste of Pootharekulu

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  9. Nice to read your experience.Can I have mobile number of Srinivas so that even I can enjoy the taste of Pootharekulu

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  10. Looks and sounds delicious! I must try this sweet when I am able to visit India again

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  11. Lotus Country KitchensOctober 8, 2017 at 7:59 PM

    Hi all

    This is Mahendra, I am from Andhrapradesh, we will supply the Pootharekulu as per order (Rice paper sweets), Email: lotuscountrykitchens@gmail.com

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  12. Just now I read your write up about pootharekulu, it's simply amazing

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  13. Had a chance to taste it in far Algeria as one friend from South India brought for me. I fell in instant love for the taste. You are right Sidhartha the fifth ingredient "love" is most essential

    ReplyDelete

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