Sunday, 4 August 2013

South Indian Puttu and South African Putu: Are they related?

Puttu Steamer - deconstructed.

Puttu - Appropriated from Pranis Kitchen Blog. Check out the recipes!

The puttu maker which I was reluctant to purchase because I had no space in my bag. Am I sorry? It was all of 260 rupees ($3) and I cannot find it in Kampala. Clearly, most Indians in Uganda are not from the south!

So, on returning from the Allepey Backwaters, I decided to eat in the restaurant across from the Fort House Hotel in Fort Kochin. The restaurant is part of the cultural centre complex and looked like a good place to dine. It was! Because it was late in the evening, the daily specials had come to an end. Almost. There was still some pork curry and waiter suggested that I try puttu. He went through lengthy explanation of what it was. It all sounded vague, and I was still intrigued by the name: puttu. Could it have anything to do with 'putu' - the crumbly corn/maize porridge eaten as a staple in the Zulu province of South Africa?

When the dish arrived, I noted that it, too, was crumbly, with a very similar texture to the South African version of putu. (I am trying to research the etymology of the word. Could this South Indian word have crept into Zulu? Intriguing!)

I'll keep this short because anyone interested in making the South Indian version of puttu can find recipes online or on youtube. I have found several.

After raving about the dish, the manager asked if I would like to go into the kitchen and let the chef demonstrate how it is made. At first I was reluctant; I was tired and wasn't keen on watching a long procedure at that hour of night. He assured me that it was a six-minute affair. It was!

The chef used the steamer that sits on top of a pressure cooker and takes 4 minutes to steam through...perhaps less. I witnessed it. The normal steamer takes about 8 minutes. I haven't tried it yet because I cannot get my hands on one!

But, here's the recipe a la chef from the Fort Kochi Cultural Centre. Come to think of it, I have pictures of this event. Where are they? (BTW, the kitchen was sparkling clean and modern!)

South Indian Puttu

1.5 cups rice flour
1 cup coconut (freshly chopped is better)
1/3 cup of water
Salt to taste

Add salt to the flour. Mix the flour and coconut. Add small amounts of water and crumble lightly, rubbing the dry ingredients through the making scones, if you will! Once the mixture resembles a course crumble mixture, throw it into the stainless steel tube of the puttu steamer. Stick it onto the steaming container/pressure cooker. Once the steam stops pushing through the top...after about 4 minutes, take it off and slide it out onto the plate. Voila. It is ready to serve with a curry or sauce of choice.

That simple. And I did not bring one back. Shite. And shite again. I have never ever used rice flour and now I cannot wait to try it. According to some blogs, putt can easily be made without the puttu maker/steamer, but they all seem tedious.

By hook or by crook, I will get my hands on one of these gadgets! And, sooner or later, I will let you know if I get any insight into the origins of the word and if, indeed, there are any connections to the South Indian/Indonesian word, and the Zulu word. I will keep you posted. Ta-ta for now.

So, for what it is worth and if Wikipedia is to be trusted, here is an informal etymology of the word.
Phuthu or Uphuthu (also incorrectly spelt: putu or phutu), pronounced "poo-too", is a traditional maize meal dish from South Africa. It is a crumbly or grainy type of pap (polenta) or porridge, eaten mainly by the BasothoBantu and Afrikaner people. It is cooked incauldrons or potjies over an open fire, stirred with great care until a course consistency in texture is reached. It is often eaten with meat, beans, gravy and/or sour milk.
The word 'phuthu' could originate from the Tamil word 'puttu' which is prepared in a similar way but with ground rice. Puttu is also made in Malaysia and Indonesia where it is called 'putu' as in Putu Bambu. Words from Indian dialects and Malay have entered into the Southern African vocabularies, and so maize meal could have been used as a substitute for the ground rice by the slaves from Malaysia/Indonesia and the indentured labourers from southern India, but given the same name.

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