25th August 2022

The delightful “chakkarappam”

Mattancherry, Kochi, Ernakulam, Kerala, IND

Sometimes smells become part of the persona of a locality. Mattancherry being a cultural melting pot of several diverse communities is a region where the odours inhaled act like pointers of the nature and history of the location. Even with enough familiarity of the various locations, occasionally a smell can just wade in and leave back a perplexing trail of curiosity. The aromatic culinary preparation named ‘chakarappam’ became a factor leading to such an instance. At the first glance, the procedure involved seemed like that of making the soft and fluffy Vellaappam popularly known as just Appam in Kerala and found all over the state. The frying pan used is the same as the one used for Appam and the method of spreading of the batter into all the sides of the pan by the cook using a circular motion is similar. But with a better view, it looked like a blend of appam and of some interesting gastronomic experiments.  No one around really knows the history related to the origins of this delicious preparation. 

Chakkara Appam is a light brown version of ‘Vellappam’, although not as much popular. Even in it’s birth place, Mattancherry, this preparation savoured in the morning  is not found commonly. It is surely prepared in some homes but is not as widely known or popular as Erachi Chor or Meat Rice which is considered to have originated in the West Cochin town. The brown texture of Chakkarappam is due to jaggery that is added to the appam batter. Garnished with finely chopped and sautéed shallots in the centre and a light drizzle of coconut oil, the delicacy is an explosion of flavour in the mouth. Foodies are baffled by the lightly friend shallots and coconut oil, as it resembles syrup of sorts, and also due to the unusual practice of adding a spoonful of this light golden brown oil based fluid in the preparation, just before the appam is transferred from the pan – a practise that is not seen in the making of any other food preparations in the West Cochin cuisines. 

Every day at 5.30 in the morning, ‘Chakarra Appam’ is made at the Hotel Najina owned by Mr. Mohammed Ali. Located at Ammayimukku Junction at Kochangadi in Mattancherry, this 50-year-old hotel has been preparing this delicacy as an early morning food since the past five years and is one among the few places where one can savour it. Before the hotel started making the Chakkarra Appam on their own, it was sourced from a nearby household. But as the demand soared, it was decided to prepare it in the small eatery. The task of preparing the appam is carried out in a gas stove of four burners. The cook in charge prepares it with a rhythm visible in his body language and made perfect and interesting to watch by with ample experience. 

Right from the pouring of the batter into the first frying pan followed by the next and finishing  with the spreading of the batter into the fourth pan to coming back, opening the lid of the first pan ‘s content which is ready to be scooped out, the cook’s body movements resembles that of a dancer amid a step which needs to be continuously repeated.  This process goes in loop at a steady pace and once the ready to eat appam is taken out, a teaspoon of the fluid which makes it distinctive is emptied out into the centre before being put on the tray kept in the counter. From there it’s is delivered to the frenzied waiters moving around the small space attending to the multiple orders coming primarily for the Chakkarra Appam. Every day in a time span of two hours and sometimes a little more, around 200 sweet appams are sold. Hordes of people from the adjoining areas throng hotel Najina to savour the appam, often accompanied with a glass of hot milk, tea or black tea. 

The practice of adding the mix of ‘oil and shallots’ is what imparts Cakkara Appam its heavenly flavour. The unique technique of doing this after the dough solidifies in the pan is a very rare method designed for adding flavour as well as acting like an ingredient aiding in savouring the delicacy deliciously without the need of any other garnish. One ‘Chakkara Appam’ at Hotel Najina in Kochangadi costs Rs.5 and is only prepared in the morning.