Life is simple and the food is flavoursome in Kattankudy, home to a large community of Tamils and Muslims who are warm and friendly.
The streets come alive as the sun begins to set with the oil pan’s sizzling and producing aromas of fried cassava that wet your appetite. Chips and boiled cassava aka manioc are commonly found, but in Kattankudy the preparation is a little different, more exotic, and they sell like hot cakes.
“Maravalli kilangu parcel” the dish popular amongst Hindus is the vegetarian version of the street food, a serving of large chunks of fried cassava with spicy powder and gravy, maravalli kilangu being the Tamil name for manioc. Amongst the Muslims there is another variation called “tasty parcel”: the same preparation of cassava and gravy topped with fried babath and beef chunks.
Around 4.30 in the evening we walked into the little shop of Vairamuthu Selvarasa and his wife who led us on a little culinary tour. The preparation, though simple, is time consuming. Here the manioc is chopped in to 2-inch sized chunks, peeled and washed in water. While the oil heats in a large pan the manioc is seasoned with a form of saffron powder and salt and is fried for around 10 minutes or until he’s sure the middle is cooked – that takes experience. The gravy is a simmered down preparation of tomato, curry-leaves, onion, chili-powder, salt tamarind and water while the spicy powder is a mix of tamarind, breadcrumbs, chili powder and salt. Once the manioc chunks are fried they are squashed so that they absorb the curry better. Usually shopkeepers squash it with their hands, but Selvarasa does this using a wooden tool of his own creation.
So once you place your order, the manioc is crushed and placed on a polythene sheet and topped with spicy gravy and powder. It’s a tangy succulent bite with a tinge of crispiness and a hint of spiciness: delicious indeed. The dish is so popular that during the peak season they sell up to 25 kilograms of manioc per day, but January and February are slow months.
A walk to the city and we found Zubair’s Tasty Shop, where there is a strong smell of fried beef and a long line of impatient customers. The preparation is the same except he adds a sizeable potion of babath (fried tripe) and fried beef on top of the manioc and then garnishes with spicy gravy and powder. He called it a “tasty parcel” and the name speaks for the dish – its tangy, spicy, soft, starchy, meaty and crispy all in one bite. He also serves the vegetarian version but the meaty delight seems to be more popular in the heart of the Kattankudy town.
So if you ever venture into the East coast travel to Batticoloa and make your way into one of these street shops crackling with flavour and grab yourself a “maravalli kilangu parcel” or “tasty parcel”. It’s a taste bud-tantalising experience.