If the ever-famous puttu-kadala combo is the king of Kerala breakfast table, the soft and lacy velleppam is the queen, and Thrissur’s Vellepangady, her majesty’s favorite abode.
Located on a pocket road near Swaraj Round, Vellepangady is a prominent spot on Thrissur’s gastronomical map, thanks to the household chefs who prepare and sell velleppam in front of their houses upon prior orders. The proximity to Puthen Palli and Erinjeriangady has made the street a part and parcel of the central Kerala district's food culture.
The street is marked by white mists of steam rising from the velleppam pans set on portable mud-hearths, which are fueled by coconut shell ember. A mouthwatering aroma of the the fluffy, moon-faced appam wafts through the air all the time.
Apparently, the unique style of preparation lends the appams a special taste and flavor. The pan is never exposed to the flame and the appam is cooked by the heat of the glowing ember.
Early mornings and evenings are the busiest business hours here. Vendors literally lose count of the customers who randomly walk in to order big batches of vellappam. On an average, a vendor sells 500 velleppams a day. One velleppam costs around rupees three.
Despite being an age-old business, the velleppam trade here still flourishes without any kind of infrastructural development and modern marketing techniques. The velleppams made here travel to different parts of the state owing to its popularity among food lovers.
“We cater for functions and gatherings. Just tell us in advance if you need more than a 100 appams together,” says Jessy, a velleppam chef. “My mother was into velleppam business even before my birth. I grew up here in this angady (market). Now my daughter is 12 and the angady is still the same,” smiles Jessy, as she tells the story of the many generations of the street's vellepam chefs.
While some have left the velleppam business altogether, there are many, including a few north Indians, who have immigrated to the street to take up the trade. Pooja (name changed), who runs a velleppam stall in the street, hails from a remote village in Madhya Pradesh. “We came here a couple of years ago. My family was new to the city as well to the velleppams. Now that we have mastered its making, the town and its language came by our way,” says the confident chef.
Most velleppam chefs buy their main ingredient (rice) from Ariangady (rice market), which is another busy lane of Thrissur city. Velleppangady is also famous for a few other rice snacks, viz., achappam, vattayappam, unniyappams and kuzhalappam.
And if you are wondering if the chefs of Velleppangady keep a well-guarded secret that makes their appams softer, you are not wrong. But if it’s that secret, which sustained their unique food culture for almost a century, why reveal it and destroy its beauty?