CHENNAI:In the wee hours of the morning, two tempo travellers reach Frazer Bridge Road of chaotic Park town. Two to three sacks are unloaded from the vehicle and handed over to the shopkeeper of a palkova (milk sweet) shop in the lane. He unpacks the sack, takes out hillocks of white kova packed in plastic bags, arranges them neatly at the entrance and by 8 am, he opens the shop for sales. Hole-in-the-wall palkova shops line this narrow lane which is popularly known as paal sandhai for years.
We observe handwritten name boards, dim tungsten tube lights, dingy interiors and gleaming packets of white kova stacked in the entrance as we walk towards the shops. “The palkova shops have been famous in this area for over 40 years. Initially it was inside the bus terminus nearby and later was shifted to this road,” says Dhayalan who has been running his own shop since 1975.
At any given point of time, more than a dozen customers wait to buy the silky, creamy and crumbly sweet from the shops in the lane. “The road is known for shops that sell dairy products. Hence the name paal sandhai. Apart from the kova, we have everything from panneer, ghee to butter,” he says whilst packing a kilo of the milk sweet for a customer.
The lane was once dotted with more than 20 such kova stalls but now, there are only around eight or nine. “Most old-timers left the business since they didn’t have anyone to take over it. But earlier, this whole stretch used to be packed with kova stalls and people from across the country used to buy the milk sweet from here. Those were the days,” he reminisces. The shops still draws customers from across the country. Nimith, a salesman from the adjacent shop adds, “We have customers from Delhi and Kolkata who buy from here. They either come down to buy it or we deliver it to them.”
As we walk towards the next shop, a young salesman, Peter greets us and points to the gooey sweet. He says, “We sell it at the bazaar/wholesale rate — `180 a kilo. The same sweet in big sweet stalls is sold at `400 a kilo. We supply to food/sweet stalls and also for marriage functions in the city.”
During muhurtham days, the salesmen open the shops by 7 am. “The marriage caterers and people from the bride or groom’s family come early in the morning on muhurtham days to buy kilos of kova. So, we open the shops earlier than usual. It becomes competitive and chaotic on such days,” he explains.
The kova is sourced from places like Srivilliputhur, Krishnagiri, Kaveripattinam and Cheyyur. “According to the demand, we order fresh stock every day. It is delivered early in the morning by the supplier. So, there’s no ‘old-stock’ business here,” shares Peter.
A few meters away is one of the most popular sweet shops in the lane, Angala Parameshwari stall. The salesman diligently scoops 250 grams of kova out of the plastic cover, places it on a piece of paper, wraps and hands it over to 62-year-old Babu, a regular customer. “I have been buying kova from this shop for over 30 years. Earlier the cost of 250 grams used to be `15, and now it’s `45. Times have changed but, our love for the paal sweet hasn’t,” he smiles and walks away, a spring in his step, with his post-lunch dessert.
Shops along the Frazer Bridge Road sell both plain and sweetened kova. The plain kova is used to in the making of gulab jamun, milk sweets and biryani. On average, 250 grams of palkova costs `45.
How to make Palkova at home
Milk: 1 litre Sugar: 1/4 cup Ghee: 2tbs Cardamom powder:
In a wide thick-bottomed pan, boil the milk until it reduces to half.
Keep the flame in low-medium and stir at regular intervals.
As the milk starts to thicken, scrape the sides and mix well.
Once it reaches a gooey consistency, add the sugar, cardamom and ghee. Mix well and
When the kova batter becomes semi-solid, transfer it to a bowl and allow it to cool down.
The thickened kova can either be packed in butter paper or served hot/cold.