What is the correct name for the thin and crispy wafer that is served with Indian meals? The answer depends on where you live.
If you are in Kerala, you call it a Pappadam. If you are in Tamil Nadu, you call it an Appalam. If you are in north India, you might call it a Papad. Other states call this tasty treat by even other names!
Usually served with the meal (like potato chips would be served in the U.S.) they are also served as a starter or appetizer. They are usually made from lentil flour like urud dal and chickpeas or rice with oil, salt and perhaps baking soda to make them light. Some are plain while others are flavored.
Once the dough is made they are rolled out into very thin circles and then dried in the sun. I am amazed at how thin the purchased Pappadams are. There is no way I would have the patience or skill to make such consistently thin circles all day!
Now that I have given you an overview, I am going to share the advanced topic of “What is Pappadam versus an Appalam?” The truth is that they are different. Let me explain.
In North India, Pappadams or Papads, are made with urud dal and sometimes with other primary ingredients. Often they are spiced with coarsely ground black pepper, cumin seeds or red chili flakes. They are the medium tan ones that you most likely have tried in Indian restaurants. These can be fried, roasted over a flame or microwaved. They are thin and remain flat when cooked and are 6 to 7 inches in diameter. Their texture is crunchy and crispy.
The Appalams of Tamil Nadu are usually not often served in restaurants in the U.S. so you may not be familiar with them. Made of urad dal, they do not have any added spices. Like their North Indian counterparts, these do well fried, roasted and microwaved. At 5 inches in diameter, their most striking difference is their texture and color. These are light tan and have a very smooth finish. When cooked, they have a delicate crunch.
Kerala’s Pappadams, made from urud dal with no spices, are different from the other two. They are a little thicker, smaller in diameter (a mere 4 inches) and not as smooth as the others. These can be fried, roasted and microwaved but I have to be honest that roasting or microwaving leaves them with a raw smell so don’t even try it. When these cook in hot oil, they “puff up” or curl when they are done. They have a delicate crunch and are absolutely delicious.
After I had the idea to write about Pappadams for this blog entry, I thought for a minute about how to get the props for the photograph. Would I have to drive to the store and buy several different packages of Pappadams? I dreaded this idea because there is so much food in my house that I couldn’t bear to purchase more just for a few minutes of taking pictures. When I opened the refrigerator to make lunch, I remembered that I had a few packages in the bottom drawer. When I pulled them out, I counted 14 different packages! I actually had samples from each of the three varieties I’ve described above. In the photograph, you can see packages and samples of each.
In my next entry I will share with you one of Kachi’s recipes on how to make Kerala-style Pappadams.
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