One of the more worthwhile quests that visitors to Andhra Pradesh can engage in is the search for the sublime pootharekulu. With its delicate folds of rice starch, within which nestles a mixture of ghee and powdered sugar, pootharekulu is one of those sweets that dissolves as soon as it makes contact with the mouth. At first bite, it is an airy, insubstantial thing, but a few mouthfuls should be enough to convince anyone that it deserves its place among India’s exceptional sweets.
Not that it is easy to find. Given the arduous process through which it is made, it is hardly ever prepared at home. The sweet originated in the village of Atreyapuram in the east Godavari district. The labour-intensive job of making the pootharekulu (pootheraku in the singular) is indicated in the name itself. Reku means sheet and pootha means a spread, which is traditionally a mix of ghee and sugar powder, although nowadays the spread often includes nuts and dry fruits. The sheets that make up the pootharekulu are made using rice starch paste, which is spread over the back of an earthen pot in thin layers. Once a layer dries, it is carefully peeled off, before the next layer is prepared. Several such layers are spread with ghee and sugar before being rolled or folded into a single poothareku. But assembling this product is a fraught task since the rice sheets are fragile and in inexperienced hands, they can crack and become useless. It requires expertise to just make the sheets and this is probably why the art of making the reku has remained confined to Atreyapuram.
Srividya Mehta, who runs the Andhra food restaurant Gonguura in Mumbai, remembers eating pootharekulu only on very special occasions when she was a child. Having married into a Marwari family, which has an abiding love of sweets, Srividya decided to introduce them to the joys of the pootharekulu. “The first time I got the sweet from Hyderabad, they tried to unwrap the rice sheets. I had to tell them that it is to be consumed intact,” she says. “Those sheets are so delicate that they look like paper. This is why the few sweet shops that stock Pootharekulu even in Hyderabad don’t make them from scratch. They are bought readymade. The shops then only spread the mixture and fold the pootharekulu.”