Despatches from Elsewhere: Eating paalkova in Srivilliputhur

The origins of South India’s most famous milk dessert lie in a little town in Tamil Nadu.

Written by Rakesh Raghunathan | Chennai | Updated: April 6, 2016 7:41 pm
Paalkova is made boiling milk and sugar until it thickens. (Photo: Puliyogare Travels) Paalkova is made boiling milk and sugar until it thickens. (Photo: Puliyogare Travels)

Paalkova is to South India what khoya sweets are to the North. Made by boiling milk and sugar until it solidifies, paalkova is dried, evaporated milk solids combined with sugar. While khoya is also used to make sweets such as gulab jamun and barfis or when you make a rich gravy such as khoya mutter, paalkova is the stairway to sublime as far as the milk sweet journey in the South goes.

My journey to find the best paalkova in South India took me to Srivilliputhur, in Virudhanagar, in Tamil Nadu. As I reach Srivilliputhur, the gorgeous gopuram (tower) of the Srivilliputhur Andal Temple welcomes me from afar. The 11-storied gopuram, soaring over 190 feet, is the official symbol of the government of Tamil Nadu. The origins of the temple can supposedly be traced to the Pandyas and Pallavas, who ruled the region. Godai or Andal is the presiding deity.

The caramel-coloured gooey milk dessert is a result of hours of stirring the milk until it thickens. (Photo: Puliyogare Travels) The caramel-coloured gooey milk dessert is a result of hours of stirring the milk until it thickens. (Photo: Puliyogare Travels)

I’ve always wanted cows around my house. As a child, I’ve seen cows being milked right outside our house everyday for fresh supply of milk. But I had a unique, fun experience in Srivilliputhur. I headed to a farm (that supplies milk to paalkova manufacturing units) located on the outskirts of Srivilliputhur to actually learn to milk a cow, and to trace the paalkova story right from where it begins.

At the milk distributors co-operative, I get talking to the manager Mr Raja, and he tells me how the town got famous for its paalkova. Sometime in the 1940s when there was excess milk production in the region, people didn’t really know what to do other than make butter, ghee and buttermilk with it. There was a sudden idea to make ‘halwa’ out of milk. Milk was boiled with sugar and slow-cooked over fire and voila, the famous paalkova was born.

Srivilliputhur is famous for two reasons: The Andal temple and its paalkova. (Photo: Puliyogare Travels) Srivilliputhur is famous for two reasons: The Andal temple and its paalkova. (Photo: Puliyogare Travels)

For every 10 litres of farm fresh milk, 1.25 kg of sugar is mixed and slow cooked over fire, and is stirred constantly. The end result is a gooey, caramel-coloured, sinful paalkova. Everything is made by hand and slow-cooked over firewood (wood from jackfruit tree).

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