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In the film, Imsai Arasan 23rd Pulikesi, the king, played by Vadivelu, is happy that his spymaster has come to see him. There is a rebellion brewing in his kingdom and the spymaster could help him beat back the rebellion. An excited Vadivelu, who hails from Madurai, welcomes Vathakodari, the spook, by offering him Paruthi Paal (cottonseed milk).

For Madurai folks, cottonseed milk is close to their hearts. It’s a drink they associate with, just like Jigarthanda. Though Pulikesi offers the drink, cottonseed milk is not for royals. It is for common people. After all its source is the same as cow fodder. But just as cows perk up and gobble their fodder, cottonseed milk lights up the eyes of those who like it. It is filling, gives energy and is tasty too.

In the age of social media, cottonseed milk has a huge fan following. YouTube videos are liked by thousands of people and helped take the drink everywhere in Tamil Nadu.

 

Cottonseed milk is sold commercially. One can go to shops and buy it. Even Amazon sells powdered cottonseed milk. But it can also be made at home.

Paruthi Paal (cottonseed milk).

The ingredients are: cotton seeds, raw rice, palm jaggery or regular jaggery, and herbs like Alpinia Galanga (chithirathai), dried ginger (sukku), long pepper (thippili), cardamom, pepper and grated coconut. To serve five people, 250 grams of cotton seeds, 100 grams of raw rice and 250 grams of jaggery are sufficient.

Soak cotton seeds and raw rice separately. Cotton seeds require at least four hours of soaking before they are ground in a mixer or grinder for one hour. The liquid (paruthipal) should be separated using a sieve or cloth.

The soaked raw rice should be ground to coarse consistency. Add one or two cups of water to the rice batter. Millets could also be used in place of rice.

In the age of social media, cottonseed milk has a huge fan following. YouTube videos are liked by thousands of people and helped take the drink everywhere in Tamil Nadu.

Grind the herbs and make a powder. There are two methods of adding jiggery: boiling with water to make syrup or adding directly. Making syrup out of jaggery is better because impurities like sand can be sieved away.

Boil the extract from cotton seeds in a pot. After it boils, add the rice batter. Use a ladle and keep mixing to avoid lumps and add jaggery syrup when the mixture boils. Add the powdered herbs and grated coconut before serving.

Govindarajan

The recipe may sound simple but requires considerable practice to get the consistency, says Veeraiah from Sellur who has been selling Paruthipal at Town Hall Road in Madurai for the last 30 years. There are around 80 vendors like him selling cottonseed milk for a living.

Push carts mounted on huge copper pots with cottonseed milk are a common sight on the streets of Madurai. In the 1980s and 1990s, when Madurai was a booming industrial town with textile mills, cottonseed milk was a favourite among workers. Stalls were found around the mills. “It was once a booming business but pani poori stalls and fast food carts have taken away some of our business,” says Veeraiah.

Push carts mounted on huge copper pots with cottonseed milk are a common sight on the streets of Madurai.

Govindarajan, a third generation vendor, lists the benefits. The milk extracted from cotton seeds gives stamina and the herbs added to the brew enhance immunity, he says. Since palm jaggery is used, diabetics can also have the drink. The brew is cooling, says Govindarajan.

Storing cottonseed milk in copper pots is good for health, he says. Govindarajan’s stall near Dinamani theatre has been there for some 90 years. For the regular customers and visitors, the tiny stall is a landmark.

Govindarajan’s father Santhanam

Cottonseed milk is now going through a revival of sorts. YouTubers have created a buzz around it, say Govindarajan and Veeraiah. People come looking for them. An Arab man came looking for it and took a parcel to Dubai, Govindarajan recalls. Cottonseed milk turns solid if not kept hot but warming it by keeping the plastic pouch in hot water can help get back the consistency, Govindarajan said.

Cottonseed milk stalls are there in neighbouring districts of Madurai. They are making an appearance in Chennai, too. But those setting them up are Madurai folks, says a proud Veeraiah.


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