Putu mayam



Putu mayam is a south Indian snack of rice flour noodles, steamed and eaten with sweetened toppings such as grated coconut and gula melaka (palm sugar), or with savoury dishes such as curry, stew or chutney. Known in English as string hoppers, the snack is usually served as a breakfast item or dessert.

Description
Putu mayam is a dish eaten in Singapore, Malaysia, south India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.1 The snack is made of rice flour mixed with salt and water. The preparation process begins with soaking rice in water for hours and then grinding it into flour, which is sifted for impurities before it is steamed or roasted. The rice flour is then mixed with water and salt to form a paste.2 Pandan leaves are sometimes used to add fragrance and flavour to the mixture.3

The mixture is pressed through a wooden mould known as sevanazhi, which has holes at one end, creating long, thin strands. The strands are squeezed out in a circular motion to produce round lacy pancakes, which are then steamed.4 In restaurants and stalls, putu mayam is usually steamed on an overturned rattan basket that provides a larger surface area, thereby allowing more pieces of putu mayam to be steamed at the same time in order to meet customer demand.5 Once cooked, putu mayam can be served sweet with gula melaka or jaggery (palm sugar) with grated coconut; the dish can also be savoury, accompanying a meal of curry, stew or coconut chutney.6 Otherwise, it can be served cold as a dessert.7

History
Putu mayam has its roots in Tamil Nadu, South India, where a similar rice flour noodle snack called iddiyappam is eaten with sugar and coconut, or even banana.8 Unpolished or unhulled rice is the preferred choice of ingredient for making iddiyappam in the Indian state of Kerala, giving the snack a reddish hue.9 Sri Lankans call the dish pittu. Rice or wheat flour layered with scraped coconut is steamed in the hollow of a bamboo,10 reminiscent of putu bambu commonly found in Indonesia but less so in Singapore.11

In Indonesia, the dish is known as putu mayang and is usually eaten with palm sugar mixed with coconut milk. Mayang means “grated coconut kernel”, a reference to its topping. Mayam, on the other hand, means “weight of gold”, which some dismiss as having little connection with the dish. Thus putu mayang is believed to be the more accurate enunciation.12

In Singapore’s early days, putu mayam was sold by itinerant south Indian vendors who carried the dish in a basket balanced on their heads.13 One of the earliest references to putu mayam in Singapore can be found in reminiscences such as that of author Ian MacLeod. He spent the first seven years of his life in Singapore in the 1920s and remembered eating the dish with gula melaka and coconut wrapped in  The Straits Times newspaper.14  Putu mayam was traditionally served with gula melaka cut into small blocks instead of the granulated sugar grains we see today.15

While putu mayam remains a main staple served during Indian festive occasions such as Deepavali,16 weddings and birthdays,17 the Indian Muslim community has helped to make it a popular dish during Hari Raya Puasa and other Malay festivities.18

Variations
There is a variation of the dish found in Penang that is made of biji sawi (mustard seed) and which results in a healthier, brown version.19 Another variation found in Penang that is available only during Ramadan is prepared by the Indian Muslims who call the dish briyani putu mayong. Putu mayong is steamed with briyani spices and meat and served with dalca (vegetable curry).20

In 1950s and ’60s Singapore, putu bola made from the leftover ingredients of putu mayam was eaten as a breakfast dish. The rice flour mixture was rolled into balls that were steamed and eaten with desiccated coconut and brown or red sugar. A dish regarded as unique to Singapore, putu bola used to be sold for five cents each and was popular among all races. Over the years, putu bola fell out of favour and was almost unheard of until 2010, when the vegetarian restaurant Ananda Bhavan revived it as a special commemorative menu item to celebrate Singapore’s 45th National Day.21

Variant names
Putu mayung, putu mayang, putu mayong, kutu mayam,22 string hoppers, idiappam,23 iddiyappam, pittu



Author

Bonny Tan



References
1. World Heritage Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Putu mayam. Retrieved 2016, April 22 from Kindle ebook Library website: http://kindle.worldlibrary.net/articles/Putu_mayam
2. Iddiyappam.com. (n.d.). Iddiyappam. Retrieved December 8, 2010, from Iddiyappam.com website: http://www.iddiyappam.com; Iddiyappam.com. (n.d.). About Iddiyappam. Retrieved 2016, July 6 from Iddiyappam.com website: http://www.iddiyappam.com/about_iddiyappam.php
3. Cheong, S.-W. (2007, March 6). Drool in Penang. The Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; World Heritage Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Putu mayam. Retrieved 2016, April 22 from Kindle ebook Library website: http://kindle.worldlibrary.net/articles/Putu_mayam
4. Oehlers, J. F. A. C. (2008). That’s how it goes: Autobiography of a Singapore Eurasian. Singapore: Select Pub., p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 617.6092 OEH); Jacob, H. (2005). Flavours of Kerala. Kerala, India: Dee Bee Info Publications, pp. 20–21. Retrieved 2016, April 21 from Google Books: https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=JLUnwHZKl0wC&pg=PA21&lpg=PA21&dq=sevanazhi+Idiyappam&source=bl&ots=SofwBYcF5v&sig=4vgiknZptwIIXvnBWIqB5DnFGoc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiE_IvQ_Z7MAhWJm5QKHX8TA8YQ6AEIUTAI#v=onepage&q=sevanazhi%20Idiyappam&f=false
5. Ong, E. (2014, November 16). Preserving the heritage dish. Retrieved 2016, May 29 from Malaysian Food Heritage blog: http://eunisong-mfh.blogspot.sg/2014_11_01_archive.html
6. Naleeza Ebrahim, & Yaw, Y. Y. (2006). Singapore: Not just a good food guide. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 246. (Call no.: RSING 647.955957 NAL); World Heritage Encylopedia. (n.d.). Putu mayam. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from Kindle ebook Library website: http://kindle.worldlibrary.net/articles/Putu_mayam; Lam, C. K. (2008, July 28). Putu mayam with biji sawi in Little India. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from What2Seeonline.com website: http://www.what2seeonline.com/2009/07/putu-mayam-with-biji-sawi-in-little-india
7. World Heritage Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Putu mayam. Retrieved 2016, April 22 from Kindle ebook Library website: http://kindle.worldlibrary.net/articles/Putu_mayam
8. World Heritage Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Putu mayam. Retrieved 2016, April 22 from Kindle ebook Library website: http://kindle.worldlibrary.net/articles/Putu_mayam; Mohan, N. R. (2008, May 25). A taste of home. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Neelakantan, S. (2003, August 7). Pressing engagement [Web blog post]. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from Shailaja website: http://www.shailaja.blogspot.sg/2003/08/pressing-engagement.html
10. Rmnathan. (2007, September 3). Pittu – A popular food item in Sri Lanka. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from Hubpages Inc. website: http://hubpages.com/hub/Pittu_-_A_Popular_Food_Item_in_Jaffna__Sri_Lanka
11. Tay, L. (2014, August 19). Indo Sumatera: Putu bambu in Chinatown! Retrieved 2016, May 31 from ieatishootipost website: http://ieatishootipost.sg/indo-sumatera-putu-bambuu-chinatown; Chan, M. (1981, August 13). Treat yourself to a putu bamboo feast. New Nation, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.   
12. World Heritage Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Putu mayam. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from Kindle ebook Library website: http://kindle.worldlibrary.net/articles/Putu_mayam; Sundram, R. (2003, October 31). It’s ‘putu mayang’, not ‘putu mayam’. The Star. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from The Star Online website: http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2003/10/31/its-putu-mayang-not-putu-mayam
13. Oehlers, J. F. A. C. (2008). That’s how it goes: Autobiography of a Singapore Eurasian. Singapore: Select Pub., p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 617.6092 OEH)
14. Yeo, G. (1999, March 11). He saw GPO open in 1928. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Shareem Amry. (2000, May 21). Give us back the original stuff. The New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
16. First the prayers, then the feast. (1979, October 21). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Iddiyappam.com. (n.d.). Iddiyappam. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from Iddiyappam.com website: http://www.iddiyappam.com
18. Lee, K. Y. (2013, August 20). Up north for putu mayam. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from Makansutra website: http://makansutra.com/stories-detail.aspx?tid=5&id=933
19. Lam, C. K. (2008, July 28). Putu mayam with biji sawi in Little India. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from What2Seeonline.com website: http://www.what2seeonline.com/2009/07/putu-mayam-with-biji-sawi-in-little-india
20. Lee, K. Y. (2013, August 20). Up north for putu mayam. Retrieved 2016, May 31 from Makansutra website: http://makansutra.com/stories-detail.aspx?tid=5&id=933
21. Eu, G. (2010, August 7). Old faithful. The Business Times, pp. 2-3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Ho, M. (1987, July 23). Tutu, kutu or putu. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Naleeza Ebrahim & Yaw, Y. Y. (2006). Singapore: Not just a good food guide. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 246. (Call no.: RSING 647.955957 NAL)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Snack foods--Singapore
Cooking, Indic--Southern style
Ethnic foods
Ethnic Communities>>Food
Cookery>>International and regional cooking>>Southeast Asian
Cookery>>International and regional cooking>>Indian