The making of a South Indian appam is not intuitive to me. It’s nothing like a straightforward rice boil or a roti flip on the stove. The saga of culinary steps involved in making an appam – soaking uncooked rice in water, grinding it up with cooked rice and coconut water, sprinkling in a leavening agent, letting the whole gloopy mixture ferment for hours and then rotating about a spoonful of it in a small, heated appa chatti fry pan until fluffy and angelic – would never occur to me were I faced with a lone coconut stew in need of a carb accomplice.
Which is why I’m thrilled that there are souls exponentially more ingenious than myself who wander into kitchens and devise edible wonders such as the appam. What’s fascinating about the appam is its duality of textures – it is both crunchy and spongy at the same time. The batter is made to gyrate around the wok-like edges of the chatti, leaving behind crispy slopes that I’m convinced become the sheer organza of a bridal dress in an afterlife. Eventually, gravity forces the batter to plunge down into the valley of the utensil, transforming the centre into a soft, cushiony, perforated reservoir of cooked batter.
The role of the appam in Keralite and Sri Lankan communities is similar to that of rice and roti. It is not a main course by itself, but one that exists for the sole, selfless purpose of helping you sop up another vegetable or meat dish, preferably one that’s soupy and needy of a carb soulmate to help mop it up. One of life’s unsaid truths is that for every South Indian vegetable stew, duly thickened with coconut and tempered with chillies, whole mustard and curry leaves, there exists a stack of hot appam that’s waiting to be ripped, dipped and savoured alongside.
Available at Calicut Paragon, Karama, 04 335 8700, or at Simran’s Aappa Kadai, multiple branches, 04 334 8030
Arva Ahmed blogs about hidden food gems in Old Dubai at www.ILiveinaFryingPan.com