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What Is Putu Mayam?

Putu Mayam is a delightful South Indian street food, often found in Malaysia and Singapore. It's made from rice flour noodles, steamed to perfection, and served with sweet coconut and fragrant palm sugar. This dish is a cultural tapestry, weaving together flavors and traditions. Curious about its origins and how it's enjoyed today? Let's unravel the story of Putu Mayam together.
Karize Uy
Karize Uy

Putu Mayam is a popular Indian street food that originated from the state of Tamil. Its appearance is like that of noodles, very much like the vermicelli noodles used for Chinese dishes. It is best served cold, along with a small amount of sweetener, making it a good breakfast or snack during hot days. In English, Putu Mayam is known as “string hoppers.”

In the Malayan languages, the word putu is translated to “rice cake,” while the mayam may have been derived from the word “mayang,” which is translated as “grated coconut.” Serving food in the form of noodles may not have been an original Indian concept and may have come from the Chinese influences when Asian countries began trading with one another. Traditionally, the dish was served as a main course, accompanied with viands such as meat and curry. Eating the string hoppers as a snack was an idea from children who added some sugar to the noodles.

Desiccated coconut, which is often used to top putu mayan.
Desiccated coconut, which is often used to top putu mayan.

The main ingredient for the Putu Mayam noodles is rice flour formed into dough by mixing it with some coconut milk or just water. In the state of Kerala, India, cooks favor the “idiyappam” flour, which comes from unpolished rice, giving the flour a browner color. The dough is then made to pass through a sifter that creates the noodle strings. The sifter was traditionally a rattan basket, whose holes produce the noodles. The strings would then be placed horizontally on stacks of baskets and would undergo a few minutes of steaming.

Pandan leaves are from a screwpine.
Pandan leaves are from a screwpine.

Steaming the noodles in the basket would allow the “woodsy” aroma to be absorbed into the strings for more flavor and fragrance. A leaf of pandan can be added into the water. After the noodles are cooked and cooled for a few minutes, grated or desiccated coconut can be added as a topping to give the dish more texture. To sweeten the Putu Mayam, sugar blocks made of either sugar cane or coconut will be added beside the noodles. A more traditional way of serving the dish would be to put it on a banana leaf to make for easier consumption without the need for a spoon and fork.

The popularity of the Putu Mayam has led to its variations in several countries. In Malaysia, the dish is called “Putu Piring,” the latter word meaning “small plate” since the Malay putu is cooked on small plates instead of baskets. The putu is not in the form of noodles, but is shaped like a round, flat cake instead, with the sugar sitting inside the cake. The Penang region in Malaysia has another version that uses sweetened mustard seeds as the accompaniment for the rice cakes.

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    • Desiccated coconut, which is often used to top putu mayan.
      Desiccated coconut, which is often used to top putu mayan.
    • Pandan leaves are from a screwpine.
      By: Christy
      Pandan leaves are from a screwpine.