What comes to mind when you hear the name “Ooty”? Breathtaking hills? AC climate? Acres and acres of colorful flower gardens? Boating?… There is another one, equally famous. It is also the home for the ubiquitous “Ooty Varkey”.
Every year during peak summer season, people wishing to escape the sultry conditions on the plains, go vacationing to Ooty. They go boating on the lake, admire the roses, go to the topmost point and view the hill from below …basically enjoy the climate there, avoiding even switching on an electric fan. When it is time to leave their heart go heavy. As memories of this wonderful place, they buy some mementos and Ooty Varkey is one of them. With a shelf life of one month, this snack is a cool reminder of the times they enjoyed in the beautiful hill station.
What is Ooty Varkey and how it is made?
It is a crunchy cookie made by the bakeries across the Queen of Hills, Ooty. It looks like a small box with crisp layers (varks) on top. Not a Chef presentation in looks, it tastes heavenly with a cup of coffee or Tea in the evenings.
It is prepared with flour, salt, sugar, rava, ghee and Mavai blended with local waters and baked in firewood kiln. Method of preparation of Ooty Varkey is similar to the French Puff where fat is added to the dough at different stages. The fat used for this snack is called Mavai. Now, mavai is a mixture of Banana, semolina, maida and sugar. The total time taken for the process in the cold climes of Ooty is 12 hours! The distinct final taste is due to the water and the climatic conditions of the hills.
Kids eat it as it is. Adults try it alone or dip it in a cup of tea and coffee. It is also be soaked in boiling milk and eaten for breakfast like a mushy cereal.
Due to its taste and shelf life most tourists who visit the hill station purchase it in huge quantities along with aromatic oils, homemade chocolates and spices.
Traced to the Raj this dish was prepared when the British stayed back in Ooty during the summer months. The actual dates of inception are not known but various stories abound in the region.
A point to note that the ethnic tribe of Ooty, the Todas, treat Ooty Varkey as a special dish and serve it on important occasions like marriages.
The dish has since been liked by the local populace and tourists who are now patronizing the manufacture since the last 7 decades. And it is the fastest moving confectionary in bakeries across Ooty and its suburbs like Coonoor, Gudalur, Kothagiri and Manjoor.
Application for GI tag
As it is very popular, it has been adapted by bakeries in Kerala, other places down in the plains in Tamil Nadu. Sometimes it affects the market of the original stuff and the manufacturers up on the Blue mountain are the losers. However these cloned vareys they have not been able to replicate the amazing taste of the original one due to various reasons.
The Ooty Varkey manufacturers association, wary of these spinoffs have decided to apply for a GI tag for this heritage item. The process is on after which this snack will exclusively belong to the Ooty region and the local bakeries can get back their market share. Just like the Tirupati’s Laddo and West Bengal’s Rosogulla, Ooty Varkey will belong to Ooty alone.
Until then there will be imitations….. They may look like the real stuff but the amazing taste will be missing.