During my last visit to Bangkok a lot of discussions with my friends in the city centred around the clampdown on street food stalls in the city. This government campaign to clean up the city’s streets has divided Bangkokians (or Khon Krung). There are those who welcome this move, they believe that many of the food stalls have created civic issues. And then there are those who rely on these stalls for their daily meals who believe the government has gone too far. It’s not uncommon for many Bangkokians to grab dinner from one of these stalls on their way back from work.
Madurai has long remained one of the cultural hotspots of Tamil Nadu. It’s also one of my favourite food cities in South India. Almost each time I walk through the busy streets around the iconic Meenakshi temple, I make some fascinating food discoveries. This happens more often when I place myself in the experienced hands of locals and local foodies. Madurai has a large transient population, people travel from across Southern Tamil Nadu. Many of them come to the city’s busy markets that are wholesale hubs including the famous flower market that you must visit if you’re ever here. It’s this floating population that also includes thousands of visitors to the Meenakshi temple that have shaped the city’s food culture. Many of the city’s iconic food establishments are essentially ‘grab and go’ outlets. Each of these has a fascinating story to tell.
Nagapattinam Halwa kadai is one such local legend. It was set up very close to the Meenakshi temple in 1901 by KS Viswanatha Iyer. Most locals will tell you that the shop hasn’t changed much over the decades. For more than a century this has been a popular stop for its wheat halwa. Regulars tell me that the shop added a dish back in the 1960s that became an instant phenomenon. Sixty years later, this home-style potato dish is still a popular add-on to many office lunch boxes.
Kizhangu refers to potato while pottalam translates to parcels. The Kizhangu pottalam is a great accompaniment for rice and sambar or rasam or curd rice. The dish is usually made in the morning, allowing many locals to grab one of these cone-shaped parcels on their way to work and add it to their lunch box. Many of Madurai’s food establishments have become Instagram sensations but Nagapattinam Halwa kadai has remained nondescript and largely a cult local phenomenon. But this dish has travelled all over the world thanks to food blogs. It’s very simple to make and is packed with flavours:
Madurai Kizhangu Pottalam / Masala Pottalam Recipe
2-3 tbsp Groundnut Oil / Cooking Oil (I’d recommend using cold-pressed groundnut oil or gingelly oil for this recipe)
1/2 tbsp Mustard Seeds
1/2 tbsp Cumin Seeds
1/2 tsp Fennel Seeds
4 medium-sized potatoes boiled, peeled and diced.
2 Onions Finely Chopped
1 Green Chili Finely Chopped
4 Garlic Cloves Finely Chopped
1 Sprig Curry Leaves
2 tsp Red Chili Powder
1/4 tsp Asafoetida
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Turmeric Powder
2 tbsp Gram Flour (Besan Flour)
7-10 Mint Leaves.
2 Sprigs Chopped Coriander Leaves
Heat oil in a pan. Add mustard, cumin & fennel seeds and allow it to splutter.
Add the finely chopped onions and sauté till they are golden brown.
Add green chili, garlic and curry leaves. Saute well.
Now add asafoetida, turmeric powder & chili powder and mix well
Do not over fry once chilli powder is added.
Add the gram flour and mix well.
Add the chopped coriander leaves, mint leaves and mix well.
Now add 1/4 cup water and cook the masala well. Add salt as required.
Add the boiled and diced potatoes to this masala and mix everything well. Now with the ladle gently press the potatoes. Don’t mash it completely.
Cook this in a medium flame for 5-7 mins till the potatoes are roasted mildly.
Stir occasionally if required.
Serve hot with mixed sambar rice or curd rice. You can also try it with hot phulkas.
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie — a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.