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Some Like it Hot

Think of India and you think of Taj Mahal. Similarly think of Andhra Pradesh and you immediately think of Nawabi cuisine. However, do you know that there is something called Andhra food, quite Hyderabadi cuisine?

“What will you have?” he asked me reeling off the names of the items on the menu card. What caught my fancy had an unusual name. It was called MLA pessaratu. MLA is the acronym for the member of the Legislative Assembly. Pessaratu is an Andhra dish, a spicy pancake made of pulses, the recipe of which I will give you soon. Visions of the political goose being cooked in this griddle pancake kept my spirits up till the dish arrived. The pancake was an appetizing colour combination of mustard and brown. When I queried as to why it was called differently as savoury pancakes are normally called dosas, the waiter pointed to the combination that was intriguing. The pessaratu was filled with another exotic dish, the uppuma! (dosas are usually filled with potatoes or served plain).

While the pessaratu cools, let me tell you all that I have learnt about Andhra food on my visit to this colourful, vibrant state.

Of Hyderabadi cuisine most of you would have heard, for it is famous all over the world. The Nawabs who ruled over the Deccan brought some of the best cooks from all over the country to make the Deccan the food capital of all items. So much so that when you talk of Andhra or its capital, Hyderabad, visions of a mouth-watering biryani come to mind. If there is any one statement that can, in a nutshell, describe the Andhra kitchen, it is: Andhra food is hot! Local legend says there was once a severe famine in the area and all that grew, and grew well, were chillies – red chillies, famous in a place called Guntur in Andhra. So people made as many dishes as possible with chillies.

A more realistic explanation comes from nutritionists who say that being a very hot area, there are more chances of stomach infection for the local people. They probably make use of large quantities of chillies to guard against stomach infection. A parallel can be found in the desert state of Rajasthan in northern India.

The invitation of dinner at a friend’s place in Hyderabad did not bring me many surprises in terms of the ambience that makes the dining are. The dining room is generally a well defined region outside the kitchen. It is a multi-purpose room which acquires the role of a dining room at meal times. Banana leaves are laid out and mats, or slightly raised wooden seats called manias, are placed on the floor. This culture is common to the whole of South India. A glass of water is placed near the leaf. Now, if you want to impress your local friends, just sprinkle a little water from your glass on to your leaf and brush it on its surface, thus cleaning the ‘plate’.

Rice is the main dish. Invariably a few drops of melted butter are poured over it. The aroma kindles your appetite but, if you host is a heart patient, do not be surprised if he does not treat you to this delicacy, People of yore, never knew about the linkages between cholesterol, butter and the heart so they relished the taste of the freshly melted butter as it mingled with the softly butte as it mingled with the softly cooked rice. May be you could suggest the butter ingredient. Since Andhra food is so hot, the butter helps tone down the impact of the chilly.

There are infinite powders and chutneys that come as the first course, along with some vegetable preparation which is generally simple, retaining the freshness and taste of the green. The powder could be of anything, like groundnuts. Mix this spicy powder with rice and you have a delicious dish! One chutney which I love and you must taste is ghonghura chutney. Ghonghura is a leaf widely grown in the state of Andhra. The chutney they make with it is beyond description. It is out of the world. Even commercial preparations are available so if your host does not favour it, buy yourself a bottle.

Moving over to the pickling story of Andhra kitchens, one of the most famous pickles is the avvakkai. It is a pickle made with mangoes. Some chick peas are also added to the pickle. The best avvakkai can be had only in Andhra. Similarly there is a ginger-garlic chutney, that will leave you licking your fingers. By the way, chutneys and pickles get that extra touch of pep when licked from the forefinger!

Before you think I am getting too excited, let me move on. The pappu is the equivalent of smabar of Tamil Nadu. It is a dish prepared with pulses, tamarind and vegetables. There is a soup-like dish called rasam. It is of very thin consistency, made of pulses and really spicy, often flavoured with pepper. A curd rice, where freshly set yoghurt is mixed with rice, ends the meal. Fried poppadams, a largish crispy made with pulses accompany the meal.

For the rest there are many rice preparations and varieties of pappu, like Usirikai Pappu, nimmikai pappu and so on. The sweet dishes and the embellishments to a meal on festive days with items like vadas are similar to the rest of South Indian. Of course, the manner in which they are prepared is different. One of the main reasons why savouries are different is because of the extra use of chillies in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

The same is true for snacks too. Pessaratu is a unique Andhra dish. It comes with uppuma filling as mine. Uppuma is a dish made with semolina and can be served by itself too. So the dish, named for no fathomable reason as MLA pessaratu, was actually a two-in-one dish. The pessaratu may be smeared with some chutney and finely cut onions. It may come with black pepper…. I shall leave the rest for you to find out Happy eating!



Peeled Green Gram Pulse: 1 Cup

Cumin Seeds: 1 Tsp

Green Chillies: 3

Red Chillies: 3

Finely Chopped Onions: 3

A sprig of coriander leaves

Soak the gram for four hours. Wash and grind to a smooth paste with the chillies. Chop the onions finely and add to the paste along with salt and coriander leaves. Shape into a round pancake on a griddle and let it cook with a little oil sprinkled on its sides. Turn it around and cook on both sides. Serve hot.

It may be eaten with jaggery, or coconut chutney.


Scrape a quarter of the coconut and grind it to a smooth paste with a green chilly. Add salt and season mustard.