This elegant, beautifully shaped cooking vessel was traditionally used for cooking in my family – the name literally means “cooking vessel with ears”. My mother had got it as part of her dowry and used it daily in her early married life, as there was nothing else at the time. But as the changes came, first from coal and wood fire to kerosene stoves and then the gas, the cooking utensils also changed. Her vessels did move with her from Kerala to Delhi in the 50s, but were sold off in bits and pieces, at various times during the many moves her household made. Their functionality had been replaced by the aluminium/hindalium/ss revolution, and they were heavy and space occupying. Of the few she had left, I had brought some back with me a few years ago – not with any idea of their utility – more as family memorabilia, decorative piece etc…
The chatti is made from the same alloy as the better recognized “uruli”, which with floating flowers, seems to define the entrance of every “Kerala” Spa. This alloy of tin and copper (called ‘ode’ in malayalam) was molded into many a shapes and my mother remembers her mother getting these made at their home. She can recall the whole process and they were made in varying degrees of polish. The polishing process was called ‘kadanj minikal’ – meaning ‘churning to shine’. Since this was a tedious process, the more shine you wanted the more you paid. So, cooking vessels were left dark (like the chatti) and others were more polished (like the uruli). The uruli was also used for cooking, usually for payasams and other sweets.
These vessels were lying in my loft and came down during my recent move of house. So, since I was cooking a typical “puttar” lunch for the family today, I thought I would make the “keerai molakuttal” in this vessel. Much to my disappointment, it has a leak, which I doubt I can get plugged anywhere in Gurgaon. So, the chatti made under my grandmother’s supervision and in which my mother made her daily fare for many years, is now adorning my new kitchen’s counter,
I tried to trawl the net to learn more about the traditional cooking vessels used in Kerala, as my mother recounts many types. Much to my disappointment, barring the uruli there is little available. And that too has a lot more exposure because Anthony Bourdain spoke about it in his show. These are heavy vessels, and so the cooking would be slow, probably add to the taste! Much is made of the rasam made in the “eeya” (tin) vessel. I can’t vouch for this, as I don’t remember these tastes from my childhood.
I know that we cannot stop the changes that come with the march of time, but that the traditions should disappear as though they never existed?? Should there not be some records of these? Or, am I being a romantic? Some may even ask, why do we need to remember? I do hope some one reads this and is able to throw more light on these Kerala cooking traditions.