In September, Chennai’s gold prices touched an alarming new high at Rs 3265 per gram. While that news may have been hard to swallow, many Chennaiites seemed prepared to swallow the metal itself— in the form of a Gold Aappam, a fancy food innovation launched by Nalas Aappakadai in our city.
Yes, there’s real 24 carat gold in them thar rice-flour hoppers. And if you are willing to pay Rs 499 a plate, your Gold Aappam will arrive with 100 mg of pure gold flakes sprinkled all over, giving your dish a sparkling luxurious sheen.
Intrigued by an ad in the papers, I set off to this popular food stop in T’Nagar’s ever-crowded Pondy Bazaar. As I waited to see the incredible edible golden wonder, I chatted with Mr Ramesh the restaurant’s MD. And I hear that it’s not just for the wealthy, but for the healthy too. Of course one has heard of the curative effects of gold in Siddha and Ayurvedic medicines, and its age-old use as a detoxifier and rejuvenator. So, swallowing gold with this aappam was going to do no harm, in fact perhaps some good too. But I am told not to over-indulge myself (!) and to allow at least a week’s gap between eating one gold aappam and the next.
I am shown a tiny plastic box with pretty little bright yellow flecks: 100 mg of pure edible gold: the exact amount that will get into a single aappam. This itself costs the owners about Rs 450; so on second thoughts, aappam + 3 side dishes + dessert at Rs 499 a pop suddenly seemed like a reckless indulgence by the restaurateurs, not the curious diner!
My gold aappam arrives. Diners in the next table peer to catch a glimpse of it. Well it certainly looks sensational. Tiny sparkles all over the most perfectly made aappam I have ever seen. The generous accompaniments –vegetable stew, ulli theeyal, kadalai curry (mutton curry, fish/chicken fry curry, if you are a non-vegetarian), plus a complimentary juice and fruit salad thrown in— make this a full meal in itself.
“We had 20 orders on the very first day, and on an average now, we sell about 10 plates every day,” says Ramesh, the shop’s MD.
I take my first gilded mouthful. Hmmm. The gold adds a feeling rather than a flavour. It’s delicious anyway, so I smile and nod…(mainly for the benefit of the family in the next table staring at me for a reaction).
After that unusual meal, I step outside to find that I’m only a gemstone’s throw away from Chennai’s bustling gold haven –Usman Road—where thousands flock everyday, fuelled by a gold obsession that’s hardwired in our DNA. There are 64 listed shops you can buy gold jewellery from in this street alone! Gold is in the air here… and, apparently on the pavements too.
I recall an interesting picture essay on Chennai in National Geographic recently, where an American photo-journalist Randy Olson writes about a bunch of women sweepers who turn up well before dawn to ‘pan’ for gold flakes amidst garbage every day— outside every leading gold ornament shop on Usman Road! They do this in stealth before the garbage collectors arrive—and lucky ones end up getting a gram of gold a week, sifting minute particles from trash in the streets.
No worries that any such ‘wastage’ flakes ever gets back to the consumer: in this case, the aappam consumer. What I had was gold in a pure edible form, not the type that makes ornaments.
Walking back to my car, I hoped the gold I swallowed would do its health-enhancing bit… It had many choices: it could improve my complexion or make my heart function better or make my brain sharper or guard me against a lung disorder. Or increase my longevity: a useful immunity to have as I nearly get run over by the manic evening traffic on the road…
Meanwhile, I hear there’s a dosa innovation in Bangalore whose ‘masala’ is real gold too, and priced at Rs 1100 a plate. National Geographic is right, we are indeed gold-hungry Indians.