The nomenclature of dishes can alter the perception of them in the minds of children. It was the same when I was a child; unfortunately, I was quite judgemental about dishes that just didn’t sound cool. Pootharekulu was one of those dishes that I pre-judged. Almost each time my grandmother would return from my paternal village – Tadimalla, in the West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, she would carry a large packet of this unique sweet. I never sampled it for quite a while, until one day when I desperately needed a sweet fix and this was the only option. I was all of eight and yet I still remember the first time I bit into a Poothareku. It was the unique textures that blew me away. It was nothing like I’d ever tasted before.
Atreyapuram in East Godavari district, an hour away from Tadimalla, is where this sweet is believed to have been invented. There are more than a hundred families that have made this a cottage industry of sorts. But the sweet has travelled far beyond East Godavari district. There are sweet shops in Hyderabad like Almond House or Amaravathi in Chennai that sell authentic versions of this sweet and then, there are the online delivery platforms too.
Pootha means coating and reku translates to sheet in Telugu. The sweet is essentially a coated sheet. An ultra-thin paper roll made with rice starch that is traditionally stuffed with sugar powder; crafting this sweet almost borders on art. It’s not just a laborious process but one that requires great skill. The film or the thin sheet is created with rice batter and by dabbing it with a thin cloth over an inverted pot. The film forms almost instantly on the pot and is removed in quick time and then coated with ghee and filled with sugar
Exactly a year ago, I made my first visit to Tadimalla but missed visiting Atreyapuram. But thanks to Chef T Vinay Kumar – the Executive Chef at Novotel Vijayawada Varun, I discovered another delicious version of this sweet. Chef Vinay is from the region too and believes the dry branches of the trees and the clay of clay pot add to the flavour. As a child he would notice slight variations in the flavour depending on the season and the wood that was burned to make the sheets. He also believes the traditional rice – with more gluten, improves the texture while desi ghee and a hint of cardamom elevate the dish. I made a quick stop at Managramam an organic store in Vijayawada that focuses on traditional ingredients and lost recipes. One of the most delicious discoveries was a jaggery version of Pootharekulu that wasn’t as sweet as the traditional sugar version. Sweet shops have gone beyond the classic version, you can even get a chocolate version now.
Although the Pootharekulu is frequently served during festive occasions in Andhra, it’s not a sweet that many attempts to make at home. The long shelf life (from one to three months) makes it a safe bet to order online. But if you’re still keen to attempt this at home, check out Chef T Vinay Kumar’s recipe. You will need an outdoor cooking space to attempt this at home.