In the Tamil movie Roja, there is a moment that breaks the unhappiness in the life of a women. Roja, the heroine, grows up a happy child in the countryside of Tamil Nadu, India, but under unusual circumstances, in an effort to support the dynamic of the family she loves, she agrees to marry a man who grew up in the city and whom she barely knows. She is unhappy with the marriage and plans to return home. Just then, as part of a formal event at work, she meets her husband’s boss. When the elderly gentleman realizes that he and Roja grew up in the same countryside, he immediately asks her about paniyaram, a rice, water and milk-based savory fritter traditional to the area. As he proceeds to longingly compare the paniyaram’s shade of white to that of, thumbapoo, a local white flower, Roja breaks out into a smile and nods her head in acknowledgement indicating she knows how to make it. Seemingly breaking protocol, the gentleman wonders if he might be invited to taste the paniyaram, but Roja says she has to return home.


Here’s a method to make vellai (white) paniyaram:

Raw rice

Urad dhal (black gram)





Clean and pre-soak rice and urad dhal (in the proportion 1 cup rice to a few teaspoons of urad dhal) for about an hour. Grind using a wet-grinder to a smooth flowing paste adding water as required. Add a few tablespoons of milk and a big pinch of sugar; beat to aerate the batter. Heat oil for deep-frying and to it, gently ladle a small amount of batter in concentric circles. As the batter cooks and rises to the surface, ladle oil on top of the fritter to ensure even cooking. Once crisp, flip the fritter and fry for a few seconds more. The fritter is just done once it looks crisp on both sides but has not started to brown. Transfer it with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate to drain any excess oil. Serve with any savory accompaniment. The paniyaram can be served as dessert, paal or (milk) paniyaram, when made in smaller sizes and soaked in a mixture of lightly sweetened coconut milk and milk.

Paniyaram with tomato chutney


In the midst of any negative moment I don't enjoy a meal as much as I normally would. However, the meal does break the negative weight. Maybe it is just a distraction, but can a satisfying meal or the mere recreation of it in the mind help glide over negative moments?


Paniyaram soaked in milk

8 thoughts on “Paniyaram

  1. nirmala

    Making vellai paniyaram is sure an art. Pouring the batter into hot oil and trying to retain the shape letting it get cooked and at the same time to retain the white colour never stopped amazing me. Inspite of it being deep fried I have found it light on the stomach. It is a speciality from Chettinad. The paniyaram and the chutney I am sure was delicious. A feast to the eye and stomach.

  2. Bala

    Post author

    Comment from Facebook reader, Champa:
    Your vellaipanniyaram, breaks my ascetic taste for food. I certainly would love to watch you cook it and wait to enjoy the same with you.

  3. Bala

    Post author

    Comment from Facebook reader, Sudha Sankar:

    I was not aware that you had savory accompaniments to paniyaram. Looks and sounds delicious. Thanks for circling around Tamil culture and traditions in many of your blogs. Reading them is always a quick trip across time and distance.


    Bala,the beautiful shot of the enticing paniyarams & the accompanying recipe was indeed an invitation to try one's hand at it ,especially as I have never made them before. It was a timely post as I had partaken of the spicy & sweet paniyarams (from a vendor)on the very same day.The sweet paniyaram had a filling of vellam ( brown sugar) & was tasty,but I fancy the one with the sweet coconut milk.
    I like the social & emotional angle that you give food & the scene from Roja gave it an interesting connect .I have found a good dish to be a mood enhancer & a pacifier & it certainly helps in glossing over negative emotions . Delicious food gives a high & is more than just being a way to the heart of a man or woman through the stomach ! The palate wins the day.

    1. Bala

      Post author

      Mrs. Pershad,

      Thank you.

      What a coincidence that you had paniyarams the same day as this post?! Both the varieties you describe seem tasty.

      The " more than just being a way to the heart" you mention is what fascinates me about gastronomy.

      I hope you've been well.


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