IF you ask your Malayalee friends to name their favourite traditional sweet, their answer would probably be payasam, a milky porridge-like dessert that is enjoyed across south India and the diaspora.
The dessert is so loved by the Malayalees, a community that traces its roots to India’s Kerala state, that sadhya (feast) on Vishu (spring festival) and Onam (harvest festival) are incomplete without several varieties of payasam on the menu.
So, it made perfect sense that payasam should be the theme for a celebration of Malayalee culture and tradition.
The brainchild of the women’s wings of the Negri Sembilan Kerala Samajam (NSKS) and All Malaysia Malayalee Association (AMMA), Payasam Mela 2.0 was held at a hotel in Seremban.
The festival, which included payasam tastings, cultural performances and a fashion show featuring Kerala sarees, was held in conjunction with Mothers Day.
An array of 22 types of payasam was displayed for guests to sample.
The selection included King of Fruits payasam (durian), aviyal payasam (carrots, potatoes, yam, pumpkin and green banana) and elaneer pradhaman (young coconut cooked in double-boiled coconut milk).
AMMA president Datuk Rajan Menon said the event was a good opportunity to pass on culinary traditions to the younger generation.
“It also provides members of the community a chance to learn about payasam prepared in different parts of Kerala.
“Payasam prepared in northern Kerala may not be familiar to people in southern or central Kerala, and vice versa,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by NSKS president Sukumaran K.S. Nair, who said the festival was conceived to commemorate an important part of Kerala culture: its cuisine.
“The festival brings together Malayalees from all across the country to try the different varieties of payasam and also enjoy a day of fellowship,” he said.
The second edition of Payasam Mela (the first was held in 2019) also shone a spotlight on a group of senior women who have tirelessly served the community.
The 13 women were presented with a sash each and crowned with tiaras while their achievements were read out by the emcee.
Among those honoured was octogenarian Vidyaratnam C.S. Menon, an avid golfer, hospice volunteer and director of the Rotary Club of Kota Melaka.
All those who received recognition had contributed their time, energy and expertise to society – be it in dance, music, education or charitable initiatives.
The women also received tokens of appreciation from NSKS that included a para (miniature paddy measure), nilaivilaku (brass oil lamp) and ponnada (shawl usually presented to a guest of honour).
NSKS ladies chairperson and event organising chair Sheila Menon expressed her gratitude to the payasam chefs who had contributed their time and effort to the cause, as well as shared their family recipes with guests.
She said payasam was chosen as the festival theme because the dessert was one that united families and communities.
“There is just something about good, sweet payasam that warms the heart and binds families and communities together.
“It has also created a keen interest in the younger generation to want to learn more about our culture and the origins of our cuisine,” she said.
A compilation of the payasam recipes presented at the festival was sold at the event.
More than 550 guests attended Payasam Mela 2.0.
After sampling the payasam, guests were treated to a sumptuous lunch.