Little India’s Delicious Strings of Puttu Mayong Snack
In the evenings, I would scout around Little India for delicious strings of Puttu Mayong. A traveling street food vendor like Galeel is a rare sight in Penang. Galeel sells the ready packed Putu Mayong from a big wicker basket on top of his bicycle. His spot is at the corner of Queen and Market Street.
Years ago, Puttu Mayong is commonly sold as street food from market stalls or carts. In the afternoons, traveling vendors used to ply residential areas to sell the snack door by door. Sometimes they stop by busy main road. Only a few remain to sell their sweet and savory wares on their pushcarts and motorcycles. Malaysian kids used to listen for their familiar horns in the quiet afternoons and know instinctively which vendor is coming.
ORIGINS OF PUTTU MAYONG
The Putu Mayong’s origin can be traced back to Southern India where it is known as string hoppers. This simple dish only consists of a few ingredients and though it used to be eaten at breakfasts, it is now mostly sold as snacks for afternoon tea here.
An influence from Kerala Indians, locally Putu Mayong is eaten cold with grated coconut and brown sugar.
WHAT IS PUTTU MAYONG?
Many may not think much of the plain coils of white rice noodles that resemble bee hoon or vermicelli. This bland and tasteless looking coil is Puttu Mayong or Putu Mayong.
The coils of white thread-like strings are made of a mixture of rice flour. The thick mixture is filled in a mold and pressed out by hand into small fragile coils. These are placed on overturned rattan baskets and steamed.
When cooked the Puttu Mayong looks like exactly like the common rice vermicelli or bee hoon. The difference is in the texture. Its fine almost fragile texture is fluffy and soft. It’s like eating air.
HOW TO EAT PUTTU MAYONG?
Malaysians love to eat these delicate lacy coils with grated fresh coconut with a hint of salt mixed in. Some prefer it served with fine brown sugar or chopped palm sugar. Others take it with white sugar, making it both a sweet and savory treat. Penangites love this as a teatime snack, a dessert or even a light supper.
Eaten piping hot, the fluffy white strands taste incredible when mixed with freshly grated coconut and sprinkled with chopped palm sugar. This simple breakfast fare is also eaten at teatime to stave off hunger pangs.
In Penang, you can find a special Puttu Mayong delicacy during the month of Ramadan at Penang’s Queen Street Ramadan Bazaar. The Indian Muslims community makes this aromatic dish with the Puttu Mayong steamed with briyani spices and meat. This dish is served with dalca (lentil and vegetable curry)
Traditionally, some families enjoy Puttu Mayong with curry for breakfast to celebrate the first day of Hari Raya.
Sri Lankans call it string-hoppers. They prefer to pair it with a light coconut milk curry-tinged yellow with turmeric called “Sothi”, curries and other condiments.
In Indonesia, it is called Putu Mayang and is usually served with palm sugar mixed with coconut milk.
HOW DO YOU MAKE IT AT HOME?
Even though the ingredients are simple, most home cooks shy away from making it as the process is tedious.
Rice flour, water, and salt are kneaded together to form a smooth white dough. The dough is filled into a wooden press with tiny holes attached to a metal plate on the end. It takes very strong hands to press the dough through a sieve to make vermicelli-like noodles.
Puttu Piring is a variation using the same ingredients and making it in a different size and shape. The saucer shape “Piring” is made with rice flour without the corn flour. It has a filling of palm sugar inside it so it can be eaten without additional sugar topping.
Like its cousin, the Puttu Mayong, Puttu Piring is best enjoyed with freshly grated coconut. This gives it that added rich flavor and taste.
These teatime snacks are sold as takeaways wrapped with a layer of clear plastic and covered in newspapers.
Old-timers love to indulge in this treat and once in a while will crave for this soft, sweet and incredibly rich taste of the humble Puttu Mayong and Puttu Piring. One great tip is a tiny pinch of salt mixed with the freshly grated coconut will heighten the flavors more.
In the evenings, head to the crossroads of Queen and Market Street, where you will find Galeel selling his ready packed Putu Mayong from a big wicker basket on top of his bicycle.
Crossroads of Queen and Market Street, Little India, Penang
Time: 4pm – 8pm
Don’t worry if you miss this, head to Penang Street for your delicious supper Puttu!