Watlappam is a popular sweetmeat made with only three ingredients—eggs, coconut milk, and a sweetener. While eggs and coconut milk are constant across geographies, the sweetener varies. For instance, in my coastal hometown of Kayalpatnam in Tamil Nadu, we use karupatti, a type of sugar made from the sap of palmyra, while in Sri Lanka, they use kittul karupatti, derived from another palm. In some cases, refined white sugar is used instead.
Among the Muslims of coastal Tamil Nadu, Watlappam is synonymous with Eid celebrations. In fact, an Eid without Watlappam in Kayalpatnam is unheard of. Mooma, my maternal grandmother, presides over the ritual making of Watlappam in my family. She spends the eve of Eid religiously spent whisking eggs, and extracting coconut milk for this sweet, and then and then steams it. She lets it cool in the same stainless steel container it was cooked in, and puts it away in a safe corner of the fridge; we like our Watlappam chilled in my family.
On Eid, Watlappam takes pride of place amid a spread of turkey meat curry, koliappams, and idiappams. All my great aunts follow the same recipe as my grandmother, and so does my mother. Even the ingredients are sourced from the same set of people. In spite of this, each person’s Watlappam tastes slightly different from the others’. In Tamil, this is referred to as kai kanam, which literally translates to the smell of the hand.
Although a quick Google search would suggest that Watlappam is a Sri Lankan sweetmeat, coastal Muslim towns such as Kayalpatnam fully own their Watlappams. The reason for this lies in the history of Kayalpatnam as an important Indian Ocean trading post along the Coromandel Coast. Merchants, porters, and sailors from this part of the world travelled between Sri Lanka and Kayalpatnam until the 1990s. The connection between the Sri Lankan Moors and the Muslims of Kayalpatnam dates back several centuries, and in many cases, seafaring men married women from both sides of the coast. Through these complex interwoven bonds, recipes and cooking techniques were exchanged, and Watlappam found its place as an important culinary tradition in Kayalpatnam.
|Karupatti (palmyrah palm sugar)||250 g|
|Coconut milk (first extract only)||250 ml|
|Cardamom powder||¼ tsp|
|Nutmeg powder||¼ tsp|
|Turmeric powder||Half a pinch|
What You Will Need
The dish can be made using a pressure cooker or rice cooker, a ring stand, a hand whisk or electric blender, a stainless steel container, a cover for the container, muslin cloth (enough to wrap the cover in), and other utensils typically available in a kitchen.
Extract coconut milk from grated coconut; make sure not to add any water.
Pour water to cover the bottom three inches of the cooker, and place it on the stovetop.
Keep wrap the cover with the muslin cloth, and keep it aside; the cloth ensures that water doesn’t get into the Wattlappam mix while it’s being steamed.
Break the karupatti with the back of a knife; it doesn’t need to be finely pounded.
Pour coconut milk into a mixing bowl, and crack the eggs into it.
Add the karupatti to this, and use a whisk or electric blender to mix it well.
Add turmeric, cardamom and nutmeg powders and whisk lightly.
Pour the mix into a large stainless steel dish, one that can go into the cooker.
When the water in the cooker starts boiling, place a ring stand in it. Over this, place the vessel containing the mix, and over that the muslin cloth covered lid. Now, cover the cooker with its lid. Do not plug the whistle on.
Steam the mixture for 40 minutes; then do a knife check. If the knife doesn’t come out clean, steam it for a few more minutes, and then take the cooker off the stove.
Cool it before slicing the Wattlappam.
Refrigerate for 3 to 6 hours for the best taste.
While measuring the ingredients, take a standard cup of your choice to measure. Measure coconut milk and broken Karupatti, and crack eggs into the same cup until it fills. This always works best.
Do not add any water to the mix.
The mix can also be poured in small flan moulds and steamed in a microwave oven. For this, first make a water bath in a tray, place your moulds in it, and the tray in a pre-heated oven.
Sumaiya Mustafa is a chronicler of the culinary heritage and everyday life of her hometown, Kayalpatnam—a Tamil Muslim town in coastal Tamil Nadu. She is an enthusiast of the Indian Ocean world and writes stories that intrigue her. In her piece for The Locavore, Kayalpatnam’s Palmyra Sap Delicacies, Sumaiya talks about how the sap from this palm and the sweets made of its shapes lives and livelihoods in Kayalpatnam.
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