‘My ottu shavige dreams were rarely indulged, until I got married, and took notes from my mother-in-law’
As I effortlessly unmoulded the steaming hot rice cones on to the shavige press without having to run a knife along the sides of the tumbler, my husband quipped, “So, you are quite a pro now.”
I was thrilled at the rare compliment from him, for ottu shavige is a speciality in his hometown Parampalli in Udupi district and occupied a place of pride in my mother-in-law’s vast cooking repertoire. In fact, there was always a certain sense of anticipation and hype whenever she made it.
This was not entirely unwarranted, as the preparation was laborious and had to be done a day or two in advance, and the quantities prepared were quite large. But it was an occasion much looked forward to and the dish was immensely enjoyed by all in the family. Given that it was my childhood favourite too, I decided to learn how to make it over a decade ago.
Also known as ‘akki shavige’ and ‘idiyappam’, ottu shavige, which roughly translates to hand-pressed rice noodles, is a speciality in different parts of South India. My mother would always wax eloquent on its preparation, which was akin to a minor celebration in her childhood home, with a household of over 40 people. A lady help would be called in for the occasion and a pressing machine brought in on hire. Kilograms of rice flour would be cooked and steamed into balls, and the pressing would go on for hours. Satiating the entire household was a mammoth task.
As a child, I often fantasised about this delicacy, but we would never make it at home. Growing up in a nuclear family in 80s’ Hyderabad, where the dish was hardly known, getting hold of a shavige press was an onerous task, if not impossible. So, my shavige dreams were only rarely indulged, mostly when we happened to visit a friend of my mother who used to make it. Otherwise, it was always good ol’ Bambino vermicelli that was our source for shavige bath. But, as my mother always said, this could never compare to the taste of freshly pressed rice noodles.
When we eventually moved to Bengaluru in the late 90s, we tried making it at home. The onerous process involves cooking rice flour in boiling water until it becomes soft yet firm enough to be rolled into balls and steamed for about 15 minutes, after which the balls are sent into the press to emerge as string hoppers.
The quantity of rice flour and water is of utmost importance — too much water and the ball gets too sticky and cannot be pressed. Too little water and the flour stays uncooked and brittle. Often, during our trials, we ended up with a sticky mass of rice flour that had to be repurposed into akki rotis or dosas.
The right formula continued to evade me, until I got married. On a visit to my husband’s hometown for the festival of Gowri Habba, my joy knew no bounds when I saw my mother-in-law deftly pressing out beautiful mounds of shavige. I quickly began taking notes. I was surprised to learn that the batter was made from soaked raw rice as opposed to rice flour. My enthusiasm to make the complex shavige was met with scepticism since I wasn’t really known for my culinary prowess. Nevertheless, I made my notes with steely resolve.
Back home, I splurged on a small shavige press, known locally as a shavige mane. I followed my notes to the tee and the result was not bad at all. I made it many times thereafter, and each time it turned out better than before. One self-taught trick was to grind the batter thick while adding small quantities of water at regular intervals.
It has been over a decade of shavige-making and now I have a much larger brass press. I always make it a point to use red parboiled rice, which is not only healthier but tastier too. The dish is a regular feature at home and one that not only makes holidays and festivals more special but also conjures up fond memories of a simpler past.
4 cups red parboiled rice or long body boiled rice
1 cup Sona Masuri raw rice
1 tbsp coconut oil/ cooking oil for greasing
Salt to taste
1. Wash and soak the parboiled and raw rice in water overnight, or for 10-12 hours. Grind to a smooth but thick paste which is spoonable or can be held in your palm. Let the batter rest for 8-12 hours. Add salt and mix well.
2. Grease some tumblers with oil and fill up to 3/4th with the batter.
3. Place in a steamer and steam for about 45 minutes.
4. While still hot, unmould the steamed rice cones from the tumbler on to the shavige press. (Use a knife on the sides to demould in case the steamed rice cones stick to the sides of the tumbler.) Move the shavige press in a circular motion to get delicate string hoppers.
5. Serve with sweetened coconut milk/ mango rasayana for a sweet version. For a savoury treat, toss the noodles in a tempering of mustard seeds, lentils, curry leaves and freshly grated coconut, topped with lemon juice and asafoetida.
The freelance writer from Bengaluru has a passion for travel, culture, food and design.