Recently, Nithya, one of my friends called me and told me her misadventure with the stone tava she got from Bellur. She stayed in a homestay there and saw her host using the stone tava to make Neer dosa. Excitedly she added one of this tava to her loot and took it to Mumbai. At home she promptly switched on the stove and kept the tava, only to see it crumbling in few seconds with a loud bang!
I was telling her how the same thing happened to me when I tried using a terracotta tava which I got from Rajasthan a long time back and somewhere in my head I thought of this kalchatti (stoneware vessel) my mom used to keep talking about. I remember her being very careful about it. It was the spoilt child of the family so much that mom wouldn’t even let anyone touch it! Even the maid wasn’t allowed to wash it.
I was never really curious about it till I managed to get one myself. I have had this endless fascination towards villages, traditions, culture and of course cooking. Travelling also gave me the opportunity to explore and collect few things here and there. That is how my parents, my husband and I ended up roaming around the crowded streets of Kalpathy in Palakkad searching for the famous kalchatti.
To quickly give the story, Kalpathy is one of the largest settlements of migrated Brahmins from Tanjore in Tamilnadu. It is also preserved as a heritage village by the Kerala Goverment. What is interesting is that in this fairly large village there is a street named kalchatti theruvu (literally translated to stone-vessel street). It can only be imagined that once upon a time there were artisans selling these stoneware vessels on the streets of Kalpathy.
Fast forwarding to now, Kalpathy happens to be a slow sleepy town with a few shops selling typical Palakkad style goodies and fairly good number of home run mess which supplies food for the elderly Tam-brahms. The annual excitement in this village happens to be the Kalpathy Ratholsavam . People from the near by towns, states and a few from aboard flock here to witness the sight of the giant sized chariot pulled by people and pushed by an elephant. Like any village fair it also attracts a lot of vendors who want to make most of the crowd. Now, that’s what I was interested in! After a quick check of the chariot and a salute to the idol inside, we waded past the crowd to the shops that were inside the temple premises.
We walked past the stalls displaying plastic vessels, imitation jewellery and other attention seeking things and in a corner that can be easily overlooked in that crowd was this one guy selling stone ware vessels, pan and mortar pestle. Of course, mom took over from there; the checking, the asking questions and the bargaining was all done. The end result was that I became a proud owner of two kalchattis.
Mom later gave me some stoneware cooking tip. I think she is also a bit too careful by nature and one doesn’t have to be so obsessed over a vessel. Yet I liked the way she gave a very dramatic personality to the kalchatti, telling me that I am supposed to coax it to cook. Beginning with pouring just plain water, then hot water, then slow boil the water in the stoneware vessel, in a span of few days, I am supposed to build a relationship with the vessel. To be true it sounded quite fascinating to my romantic head and I did exactly like I was told.
The day my in-laws arrived jet lagged after their US trip, I decided to inaugurate the kalchatti by making some rasam; the comfort food of any Tambrahm. I added the tamarind water, dal and tomato pieces in the kalchatti and let it slow boil while sprinkling all the necessary masala to give the rasam its flavour. Once done, I switched off the gas but found that the rasam was still bubbling, all thanks to the hot stoneware it was in. What was fascinating was that even though we had our lunch two hours after I had made the rasam, it was still hot.
While most of us are cutting it close with time and want ‘instant’ food, there are handful of others who cherish the old and find it rather hard to let go. I guess I am one of them. Of course being brought up in Mumbai my patience does run out when it comes to anything slow, yet I like to indulge in it once in a while, for nostalgia sake.
Quicks tips on buying a kalchatti
- The smallest size would cost around 150 to 200 if you buy it from a small town. Its double in exhibitions.
- See to it that you fill something in the stoneware vessel before placing it on the flame. Heating an empty stoneware vessel would cause cracks.
- The flame must always be low. Since it is stone the heating is equal and balanced even if it is a bit slow. It also stay hot for a longer period of time.
- Any type of dal, sambar, gravy based curries and kootu can be made in the stoneware vessel. Best known South Indian dish to be cooked in kalchatti is of course mor kozhambu and vetta kozhambu.. (Drool happening!)