Parotta is a widely-available dish at almost every eatery across India, but particularly in the South. It’s believed that this peculiar dish got its origin from Sri Lanka by Tamil migrant workers in the 1970s.
Later, these Tamil migrants introduced this flaky item to Kerala, and since then, this street-cum-restaurant snack became very famous in India. Although parotta-making is recognised as a man's job, either in hotels or at alleyway restaurants, a 23-year old girl named Anaswara Hari from Erumeli broke that glass ceiling of gender stereotypes by running a show behind the curtains of her hotel. Recently, she also conducted a quiz program for a TV channel, which will be aired shortly.
How Did It All Start?
Anaswara is an LLB final year college-going student of Al Azhar Law College. While she spends half of her time studying, the other half, she spends at her family-run hotel named “Hotel Arya”, making parottas for a living. The location of the hotel is close to Kuruvamoozhy junction, and you can find it while you are on the way to Sabarimala.
The hotel was started 50 years ago by her grandmother Narayani Kuttappan and grandfather Kuttappan. Now, it’s been 30 years, Anaswara’s mother, her aunt Sathy Kuttappan (Anaswara’s mother’s sister), and Anaswara - the trio are running the hotel at full pace, as they decided to carry the family legacy and their traditional values to the current generation.
Anaswara started parotta-making at the age of 10 to support her family financially. Initially, she used to look at her mom while she was making parottas and used to observe and learn from her. She has learned the rounding technique of parottas from her cousin brother, who is also a chef working for the catering services in Kerala. “I started making parottas 13 years ago. My mother is my first guru. I learned mostly from her”, said Anaswara thanking her mother.
“My mom has been making parotta since her childhood. So, I carried on doing the same after watching her. My friends and neighbours nicknamed me "parotta". I started making paratha when I was 10 years old. So it's been 13 years now. It's my craze to do what my mother is doing. I sat and watched and I was crazy about it.”
Well, this was a brave step taken by a 10-year-old a while back. Generally, children of her age back then would either be playing with neighboring kids on the street or probably lie on the bed comfortably and watch cartoons on the TV. But Anaswara’s altruistic thought to uplift her family at a very young age is inspiring.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
On a regular day, Anaswara makes around 150-200 parottas, an incredible feat.
“My mother wakes up at 6 a.m. and starts making parottas. After that, I cook the parottas at 7:30 a.m. So, from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. I'll be in the hotel making parottas. If there is an order, I'll stay for some more time. After that, I come back to the kitchen to make meals. As there are no servants, everything is managed by me, my mother, and my aunt. After that, I'll come back to my work and studies, as the rest of the work is taken care of by my mother and my mother's sister”, said the 23-year old.
Despite coming from a chef family whose hands play in the kitchen, cooking magic, and making yummy dishes, Anaswara has no plans of becoming a chef. On that note, she swiftly replied: “Though I don't have any thoughts of becoming a chef or working in the hotel industry, it's just my family makes food for parties, events, and Kerala-style variety foods. My family is a chef family. This hotel is my family business. To date, her (grandmother) taste has never gone from our tongue. We carried on the tradition.”
Parotta Making Process Explained
Now having more than a decade of experience in hand, Anaswara certainly became an expert in parotta-making. Just so you know, the whole process of making parottas is not that simple. But thanks to Anaswara who explained the step-by-step process of parotta making in detail.
Step 1: First take Maida (flour) in a bowl, add some salt and sugar, and then, add some water to it. Unlike Chapati, you have to add more water to get soft parottas.
Step 2: Then, knead the flour with your hands, strike repeatedly with the fists, and then make it into a large stretchy dough ball. After turning the mix into elastic form, pull the dough and make it into small balls.
Step 3: When it’s done, take the dough ball onto the plane surface and apply some pressure with your fingers to expand its size by applying oil or ghee to it.
Step 4: Toss the elastic raw parotta in the air with your hands and drop it on the surface. If you know how to toss it in the air, there wouldn't be any problem. Otherwise, spread the dough with both your hands.
Step 5: Now, take a knife and slice it along the spread. Post-that, from one end, take the slice and roll it into a flowery or coil shape. Tuck the end portion and stuff it inside the middle portion to form layers.
Step 6: Finally, press the spread gently to make a proper soft parotta. Put the raw spread on the hot Tawa and start cooking with the help of your hand. Flip the parotta up and down for proper cooking. Now the flaky hot parotta is ready to be served. You can have it with any curry you like, along with dal, if preferred.
Juggling Between Work & Studies
When you have so many things on your plate to handle all at a time, it's definitely pressurizing. Conversely, the 23-year old Anaswara didn't feel that way, which was quite jaw-dropping to hear that. One, she makes parottas with full enthusiasm in the hotel kitchen, and two, she never felt any difficulty balancing both her work and studies at the same time.
“From 9:30 to 3:30 I have class. If there's a free period, I'll be working in the kitchen helping my family. It's not easy to balance work and studies, but I'm trying to balance that. I'll be sitting till night 2 pm to complete my work. There are no challenges and difficulties because I used to adjust my time accordingly. I've been doing this since childhood so there's no hassle with my studies and work”, shared Anaswara on how she juggles between work and studies.
She also shared her expertise w.r.t parotta-making with us. “I don't know whether making parotta is an art or something, but I think cooking is an art. So parotta is cooking. So it's an art too. I make parotta briskly through practice. I've been doing this for the last 13 years, so I was able to do it swiftly. It's all about learning, incorporating, and experiencing”, said Anaswara with a smile on her face.
At times, she used to work beyond her stipulated hours, especially when there are more customers and home orders to deliver. “Sometimes, we deliver it to home by using an auto-rickshaw. My mother's number is given and neighbors have my mom's number. They call us, and we'll deliver it to home. My home and hotel are the same. There's no separation. I walk into the kitchen also”, stated Anaswara.
Dignity Of Labour
The best part of Anaswara’s story is that some of her friends visit her hotel now and then to taste the “Anaswara’s handmade special parottas”. And every time on their visit, they used to say something exciting about her talent. “All my friends are happy to see me working. They don't have wrong feelings. I don't feel bad about it. They feel happy to see me. They also supported me to do the work”, said the young girl with her head up.
Case-in-point, one day, two of Anaswara’s college friends came to her house. “They watched me with curiosity while I was making parottas. “How can you make these parottas so easily with speed?” commented one of my friends. “It's soft and tasted so good”, said the other”, Anaswara recalls it to be one of the happy incidents.
Down the line, Anaswara has plans to study LLM, followed by Ph.D. Post that she plans to write the magistrate test (The Kerala Judicial Service Examination). “As far as the hotel plan goes, I want to build a separate hotel for my mother and my mother’s sister (aunt) to run it together”, she added.
Finally, she concluded with a heart-touching message: “Learn to respect what you are doing. You should respect each and everything. If you are working as a sweeper or even doing a less-paying job, we should respect that work. Never feel shame. Respect the labor because what we are doing is for our satisfaction but not for what others are seeing in it. Our satisfaction is very important. We are ruling our life. We are the godfather of our life. So, never forget to give respect to your work.”