What is idiyappam?
Idiyappam is a traditional Sri Lankan and South Indian specialty consisting of rice flour (or finger millet flour called kurakkan ragi flour) that is squeezed into a press to form thin noodles, that are then steamed before being served.
What is the origin of the word idiyappam?
The name idiyappam derives from the Tamil words idi, meaning “broken down”, and appam, meaning “pancake”. Appam is actually another South Indian and Sri Lankan specialty which consists in a bowl-shaped crepe, often topped with an egg.
Across the Indian subcontinent, idiyappam is also known as indi appa, semige, semé da addae, shavige, noolappam, nooputt or noolputtu, irmandappa, putumayam, and string hoppers in English,
What are the different versions of idiyappam?
In the Southwestern India coastal areas of Karnataka like Mangalore and Udupi, idiyappam accompanies chicken and fish curries (gassi), as well as a coconut milk dish called rasayana. In South India and Sri Lanka, the thin noodles are served with a variety of dishes such as stews (e.g. vegetables stews or chicken curries), kormas, aatukal paya, egg curries, sothi or kiri hodi (in Sri Lanka).
In Malaysia and Singapore, where it is called putu mayam, it is typically served for breakfast with coconut palm sugar (gula melaka), date palm sugar (gur) or cane sugar (jaggery) as well as grated coconut. In Penang, a version of puttu mayam incorporates mustard seeds with the rice flour, thus giving it a brownish color. Another commonly found version is the green colored one that is prepared with pandan leaves (screwpine) extract.
Putu piring is a Malaysian version in which the rice flour dough is used to make a small cake filled with coconut and gur or jaggery.
In Indonesia, the noodles are called putu mayang and are served with palm sugar mixed with coconut milk.
In South India, there are several variations of flavored idiyappam like lemon sevai, coconut sevai, tamarind sevai that are prepared by seasoning the thin noodles after they are steamed.
How to make idiyappam
The process of making string hoppers is fairly easy if you have the right equipment. At a minimum, you will need a noodle press called sev sancha, idiyappam press or idiyappam maker, basically a press with tiny holes to make very thin noodles.
After combining the rice flour with salt and hot water and mixing until reaching the right consistency (not too sticky), the idiyappam dough is then pressed through a wooden or metal press which has holes at the bottom, to create long stringy noodles. The noodles are squeezed out in a circular pattern onto a steamer basket or mat, that is sometimes lined with banana leaves. They are then steamed for about 5 to 10 minutes. If you do not have those mats, you can just place them directly on a bamboo steamer lined with banana leaves like me.
What is the origin of idiyappam?
Rice and coconut-based dishes are very common in South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. Appam, idiyappam, and puttu have been popular for a very long time. According to Indian food historian K.T. Achaya, both idiyappam and appam were dishes that were sold by kaazhiyar and kuuviyar (vendors of snack foods on the seashore), as described in ancient Sangam poems, Perumpanuru, Mathuraikanchi and Silappathikaram, that date back to a period from 300 BC to 300 AD.
Both idiyappam and puttu were steamed and appam was cooked in a clay pot with a curved bottom over a wood burning stove.
The recipes for these three ancient dishes have remained fairly the same over centuries. Rice flour for idiyappam has however replaced the traditional method of soaking and grinding the rice. And savory coconut-based curries are now complementing those dishes, beyond the traditional sweetened coconut milk.
I went all in and chose to serve my string hoppers with both pol sambola and kiri hodi, which was perfect as an idiyappam side dish for a Sunday brunch. The only place where I had these dishes before is Chef Niza’s restaurant not too far from where I live, and I have to say I am very satisfied with my authentic Sri Lankan meal. I think the whole family was quite satisfied too as there was absolutely no leftover!
Idiyappam is a traditional Sri Lankan and South Indian specialty consisting of rice flour (or finger millet flour) that is squeezed into a press to form thin noodles. The noodles are then steamed before being served with coconut sambol or coconut milk gravy.
- 2 cups rice flour , or finger millet flour (kurakkan or ragi flour)
- ½ cup warm water (or more)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- String hopper press (sev sancha)
Toast the flour in a pan on low heat for 6 to 8 minutes while stirring regularly (optional).
Add the flour and salt to a bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add water slowly and work into a soft dough. Add more water or adjust with more flour if necessary. Dough should detach from the sides of the bowl and not be sticky.
Place the dough into a noodle press (sev sancha or string hopper press).
Press the idiyappam dough onto string hopper mats (or directly onto a bamboo steamer lined with banana leaves) in a circular fashion.
Place the mats into the steamer, over a wok on medium flame with boiling water.
Steam until idiyappam is fully cooked, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Serve hot with coconut milk gravy (kiri hodi) and coconut sambol (pol sambol).