Putu Mayam – Traditional Penang Street Food in Little India
In the evenings, I would scout around Little India for delicious strings of Putu Mayam, a traditional Penang street food.
Galeel sells the pre-packed Putu Mayam from a big wicker basket on top of his bicycle. His spot is at the corner of Queen and Market Street.
Years ago, they commonly sold Putu Mayam as street food from market stalls or carts.
In the afternoons, traveling vendors used to ply residential areas to sell the snack door to door. Sometimes they stop by the 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 Putu Mayam
Putu Mayam’s origin can be traced back to Southern India, known as string hoppers. This simple dish only comprises rice flour pressed into noodle form and then steamed.
Is Putu Mayam the same as Idiyappam?
This rice noodle dish originating from South India and Sri Lanka is called Idiyappam (Tamil: இடியாப்பம்)
Although 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 Mayam is eaten cold with grated coconut and brown sugar.
What is Putu Mayam?
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 Putu Mayam 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 Putu Mayam looks like exactly like the plain rice vermicelli or bee hoon.
The difference is in the texture.
Putu Mayam’s texture is fine; the almost fragile texture is fluffy and soft.
It’s like eating air.
How Do Locals Eat Putu Mayam?
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 Putu Mayam delicacy during the month of Ramadan at Penang’s Queen Street Ramadan Bazaar.
The Indian Muslim community makes this aromatic dish with the Putu Mayong steamed with biryani spices and meat. This special Putu Mayam dish is served with dalca (lentil and vegetable curry)
Traditionally, some families enjoy Putu Mayam with curry for breakfast to celebrate the first day of Hari Raya.
Sri Lankans call it string-hoppers. They prefer to pair it with light coconut milk curry-tinged yellow with turmeric called “Sothi,” curries, and other condiments.
In Indonesia, it is called Putu Mayam and is usually served with palm sugar mixed with coconut milk.
Can You Make Putu Mayam 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.
Then What is Puttu Piring?
Putu Piring is a variation using the same ingredients and making it in different sizes and shapes.
The saucer shape “Piring” is made with rice flour without the cornflour.
It has a filling of palm sugar inside it so it can be eaten without additional sugar topping.
Like its cousin, the Putu Mayam, Putu 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 this soft, sweet, and creamy taste of the humble Putu Mayam.
One great tip is a tiny pinch of salt mixed with the freshly grated coconut that will heighten the flavors more.
In the evenings, head to the crossroads of Queen and Market Street.
You will find Galeel selling his ready-packed Putu Mayam from a big wicker basket on top of his bicycle.
Where to buy Putu Mayam in the evenings?
You can buy this readymade Indian snacks at the crossroads of Queen and Market Street, Little India, Penang | Time: 4 pm – 8 pm
Don’t worry if you miss this, head to Penang Street for your delicious supper Putu!