Badam, rice and coconut payasam: Of the search for “pooder babbas” in America!

“Why are you going out with an oily face? Go wash your face, put some powder on it and a bottu and then only go out! Thebyam mohamutho koorchokoodadu”! (Don’t sit around with an oily face – for some reason this was considered quite unpardonable!)

Almost everyone in my generation, though I have a vague suspicion this applied more to girls than boys who definitely did not have to powder their faces every evening, grew up listening to this exhortation.

Some evenings, even now, if I’ve forgotten to wash my face or ‘put powder’ or brush my hair, I still peer guiltily round corners – the god of powder-putting and bottu-applying might be watching! I also thought that it was a universal phenomenon – that little kids around the world were being told to ‘put powder’ on their faces. The idea was reinforced by reading about ‘powder rooms’ – it was only late in life that I figured out that this was a Victorian euphemism for a loo! Up until then, I was under the impression that all grand houses had a room where people went exclusively to powder their noses – wow, what specialisation!

The other idea – about kids everywhere powdering their faces before going out to play of an evening, also was doomed to meet a watery grave – I hate it when childhood misconceptions die! And this how it happened… so this summer, we are traveling all over America and having loaded our suitcases with gifts for the many people we are visiting, we decide to leave out non-essentials – like toiletries – after all, Americans are really spoilt for choice in almost every product they buy!

Hubby, being a sort of single-handed supporter (I am pretty sure at least three percent of Unilever’s talcum powder revenue is attributable solely to my husband’s purchases!) of every variety and brand of talcum powder under the sun, decides to take a trip to a pharmacy. The pharmacies are huge – Americans must be a very sickly race going by the sheer number of stores, not to mention the sizes of each! We walk around, gawking at the zillions of products. Ah, there it is – the toiletries section. We search… aisle after aisle after aisle, shelf by painstaking shelf. We walk back (it’s a long walk!) to the counter and ask for help finding what we want.

“Just look in the infant section,” we are advised. Long walk back. We find the section and a teensy-weensy infant sized tin of baby powder!

We walk back to the counter. Don’t you have talcum powder?

“Sorry, sweetie, we don’t carry that stuff – nobody uses it here!” she tells us helpfully. We buy several tins of baby powder!

No talcum powder in America??!! So they go around with oily faces in the evening? Bang, or rather phussss… goes another childhood illusion!

I am quite happy – I can step safely out of the tub in the morning without having to watch out for the talcum powder slurry on the floor that is the hallmark of hubby’s ablutions!

With his genes, it was inevitable that one of the first things that my older daughter Arch learnt to say was “pooda babba” (for powder dabba – powder tin)!! It is still called that at home!

Powder is all about fragrance, right? Like this…


BADAM, RICE AND COCONUT PAAYASAM/Almond, rice and coconut kheer/pudding


  • Almonds – 1/4 cup
  • Rice – 1/4 cup
  • Grated fresh coconut – 1/4 cup
  • Cardamoms – 2, with skin


Grind all these together to a grainy puree. Set aside.




  • Milk – 2 litres
  • Sugar – 1.75 cups
  • Saffron – a pinch
  • Edible camphor/paccha karpooram – 1 tiny sliver


Mix the rice and almond mixture into the milk and whisk well. Set it on the flame and bring it to the boil on medium heat, stirring constantly. Lower the heat, add the sugar, mixing continuously as you pour it in.

Cook for a further 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently. The milk will thicken and become creamy.

Add the saffron and the camphor and mix well.


Cool completely and refrigerate. Serve chilled. It is fragrant, sweet and altogether fit for the gods!

No powder please – milk or talcum!