The boiling sugar syrup froths and bubbles as the confident cook squeezes egg yolk into the pot. Suddenly, vibrant yellow strings of hardened yolk emerge out of the foam. The strings, called muttamala (literally “egg necklaces” in Malayalam), are then placed artfully on top of a simple steamed pudding made of egg whites whipped with the sugar syrup leftover from boiling the yolks, called kinnathappam.
Consisting of just egg and sugar, with cardamom or other spices optionally added to taste, muttamala and kinnathappam is a classic sweet of Thalassery, a city in Kerala’s Malabar region. The dish reflects the rich composite culture of Kerala’s Mappila Muslim community. The Mappila people of the Malabar region have a history of strong trade relations with far-flung groups, from Arab and Chinese traders to Portuguese, Dutch, and British traders and colonizers. Mappilas trace their origins to unions between indigenous Malayalis (people from Kerala) and Middle Eastern traders who were among the first people to bring Islam to the Indian subcontinent. As a result of these cultural influences, Mappila people have unique literary, cultural, and culinary traditions, including their own version of the Arabic script, called Arabi Malayalam, and a cuisine that includes dishes with European and Middle Eastern roots.
Reflecting these European influences, muttamala likely descends from the Portuguese fio de ovos, one of the many egg yolk–based desserts that originated in Portuguese convents, including lampreia de ovos, ovos moles de aveiro, and pão de ló. Combined with kinnathappam, muttamala is traditionally served at weddings, to new grooms visiting their mother-in-laws’ houses, and to those celebrating Eid. The sweet dish is eaten at the beginning of a festive meal, before alisa, a cracked wheat and chicken porridge with origins in the Middle East, and famous Thalassery-style biryani, the local Malabari version of the classic Mughal dish.
Need to Know
While muttamala is traditionally made by pouring beaten egg yolk through a coconut shell with holes, today many people substitute a plastic water bottle with holes cut in the top to make muttamala’s signature strings. Ambitious home cooks can give the dish a go with the help of handy at-home recipes from Malayali food bloggers, or just watch in wonder as the egg yolk bubbles into separate strands.
Where to Try It
This restaurant showcases snacks and sweets from the Malabar region.