With all the hullabaloo surrounding cupcakes, chocolates and flavored yogurts, don’t you think our humble milk puddings went unnoticed! But no amount of accolades will ever vanquish our dear payasam as the reigning king of the dessert world. It is so exotic that one can never say no to a creamy morsel of payasam even after a full and replete meal.
My early memories of payasam are that of vermicelli payasam loaded with cashews and dried grapes which my mother would dutifully make every Diwali. I remember waiting for the ceremonies to end and so that I could gobble down my share of payasam. Badam Kheer, a cooked mixture of coarsely grinded badam paste, milk and sugar, usually served chilled, is another one of my mother creations that increased my payasam indulgence.
As I began penning this post, I heard my aunt who was deliberating on what payasam she should make that night, godhumai, aval or jevvarasi, on the account of ekadashi. She finally decided on godhumai payasam, which is basically a wheat semolina porridge cooked in milk and jaggery. It is not just a dessert but a complete meal in itself. As she began stirring the milk and jaggery mixture, the intoxicating smell of the payasam infused the entire house and evoked its wholesome goodness. An hour later, as I began relishing my bowl of payasam I could not help but wonder how Payasam is so customary and ingrained in every Tamil household.
Although we might feel Payasam is our culinary heritage, it is in fact a part of a huge global family. Phirni, Payesh, Sheer Khorma, Kheer, Arroz- esne, are few among the wide array of variants this universal delicacy has to offer. One among them, Sheer Khurma, an Arabian delight, is a vermicelli pudding with milk, dates and sugar. Arroz- Doce, the Portuguese version is a rich rice pudding flavored with lemon and cinnamon. It is obvious that their universality can be traced back to their basic ingredients , milk rice and sugar which are so quotidian and blend with almost every culture.
My obsession with these creamy delights soared to the peak when I started to cook desserts as a hobby, it was a natural choice owing to my sweet tooth. An interesting thing about experimenting with milk puddings is that you can never go wrong because the flavors are endless. My first adventure was with mango payasam, where I replaced milk with coconut milk, and the result was another splendid creation. Another adventure, where I made Phirni, sans the cardamom, which I felt stole the show from the rose scented pudding. I have tried variations of Phirni using Lichi, oranges and pineapples. Permuting with flavors and imagination I have come to realize that every recipe has a surreal experience attached to it. Undoubtedly payasam is the befitting king of the dessert world.
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