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Pal payasam is usually made with red rice

Every Indian has eaten it at least once in their lifetime, and many times during festivals, weddings, or after a sumptuous meal. Payasam is the bedrock of Indian dessert cuisine and the lingering flavour of every single festival.

Made with milk and sugar, or jaggery in the south, payasam takes on a multitude of core ingredients. Some cultures prefer adding rice into the mix, some add vermicelli, still others use broken wheat. The milk is boiled with sugar and the core ingredient is added. Saffron, cardamom, or nutmeg is added to elicit a spicy balance to the sweetness. The mixture is stirred until all the ingredients together begin to emit an aromatic fragrance. It is garnished with nuts like almond and cashew.

Aravana payasam Payasam made with nuts and jaggery Image credit: wikimedia commons

The payasam originates from a legend. Krishna disguised as a sage visits the king of Ambalappuzha who challenged him to a game of chess. The wager is set for grains of rice that will increase exponentially for each win. The sage wins all the games, and the kings debt grows enormous. The sage reveals his identity and tells the king to serve payasam to the people in the temple every day to repay his debt. This is how payasam became food served as prasad in temples.

On festivals like Deepavali, the fragrance of payasam comes from the kitchen in the early hours of the morning, as the women prepare food to offer the gods. The entire family comes together for this dessert, and its creamy taste sweetens the atmosphere throughout the day.

Keywords: Payasam, Legend, Deepavali, Festival, Dessert


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