As a child, one of the things I would look forward to is my mother’s return from her visits to the market. She always had a treat for me, be it in a tiffin-carrier or something wrapped in a piece of leaf or paper tucked away in her rattan marketing basket. I was never disappointed by the choices she made and one of them would usually include one of my all time favourites – Putu Mayam. My earliest impressions of the soft stringy looking South Indian String Hoppers were that they resembled what we would refer to as Bee Hoon or Rice Vermicelli, pressed together into a flat pile. It was something that may be eaten with curry, which my parents often did, or as it is often served in Singapore, accompanied by orange coloured sugar and grated coconut. It’s something that we still find in Singapore, only that it isn’t made with the love and care of the hawker, but, as with most local snacks and cakes we find these days, produced in a factory. Ironically, it is across the Causeway where most of the factories that produce Putu Mayam are located that we still find Putu Mayam, or Putu Mayong as it is known as there, being made as it might have been all those years back – the dough of rice flour mixed with hot water, salt and oil pressed using a Idiyappam (its proper name) mould and cooked over a steamer fashioned from upturned rattan baskets (I have seen this being done at two locations at Pulau Tikus and Air Hitam in Penang).
I was to discover, much to my surprise, that there are still outlets in Singapore that maintain the tradition – one being Ananda Bhavan, which I had a chance of visiting a month or so back thanks to the good people of the television series on Singapore’s food history, Foodage (in which Ananda Bhavan and its late 3rd generation owner Nadarajan was featured). It is here, at Singapore’s oldest Hindu vegetarian restaurant that Idiyappam is made as it might have been – soft and moist and unlike the somewhat dry out of a plastic bag variety we tend to find these days.
The visit offered a lot more than just Idiyappam of course, there was another old favourite – something that is perhaps less common than Putu Mayam – Putu Bola – made from the same dough and rolled into a ball, as well as a chance to watch an Appam making demo and dig into the wonderfully tasty Mysore Masala Thosai, try some Naans, some sweets and Masala tea.
Ananda Bhavan traces its history back four generations to 1924 and was started by the the great-grandfather of current generation that runs the business at the location of one of its current outlets at the Ellison Building along Selegie Road and has over the years re-invented itself to cater to the changing needs of its clientele, offering home delivery services and catering – orders can be placed over the phone or online – as well as through a recently introduced free smartphone application (for the application on Apple iTunes App Store – click here). The restaurant also caters to groups of a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 30 for dining with activities such as appam or prata making apom or prata. Arrangements can be made by dropping an email to Mr Viren Ettikan.