When we were kids, we went  home to Udupi from Bombay every year to spend the summer holidays with our uncles, aunts and cousins who all came to grandma’s house for vacations. For a change, we had lots of place to run around and when we played hide and seek, Ajjamma‘s (i.e grandma in Tulu) gadang (store room in Tulu) was one of the places to hide. We normally avoided this place as it was full of weird spiders and other insects and we always wondered what else alive or dead lived there among all the old stuff of generations past.

The Nook/Semai adde press with the ram in the top position -fully open

Among all the dusty stuff that was stored there, one thing always fascinated me. It was a contraption that stood on three legs and had a handle which could be turned to lower or raise a wooden dowel/ram which was attached to it. My favourite pastime which was soon picked by some of the other kids, in spite of all the threats and scoldings of the adults was to raise the piston using the handle and let it go -watching it come down clattering as the weight reached the bottom.

I have an aunt and an uncle -my mother’s siblings, who love storing old stuff and would never throw any thing away. Although they were the butt of everyone’s jokes for being such pack rats, I must admit that after 30 to 35 years when I got interested in finding out how the old folks lived, if it weren’t for these people, I would have had no data to go by. My uncle passed away when I was in school, but my aunt Mrs P, who forcibly inherited some of the “junk” that was about to be sold off to a scrap dealer for peanuts, was only too glad to lend it to me to photograph and use. What made it even more precious is that my grandfather (who passed away when I was pretty young) had this press custom made ofr himself at some workshop. It was not some ready made item that he picked up from a shop unless that was the norm during that period.

The Press fully screwed down

The recipe for making the Nook adde or semai da adde ( adde is also spelt addae) is published in a separate post. I have seen wooden and brass hand operated extruders with handles which are pressed with both hands. It is not very easy to press a steam cooked parboiled rice cake into noodles in spite of using this screw press specially ordered by my grandfather. My mother recollects that usually the menfolk of the house would turn the handle while the women placed the cakes and collected the noodles.

Tradition says that this dish was also prepared when a guest overstayed his welcome -to give him a hint that it was time to leave. In those days when distances were long, wild animals prowled about at night and transportation limited to bullock carts or walking, guests who came visiting or to the sante (Pronounced sun-tay) or weekly market to either sell or buy goods literally stayed on at known houses along the route and hospitality was very important. Nooku in the Tulu language means to push -as in push out, just as the noodles are pushed out (extruded) from the mold. I don’t remember eating much of this, probably because my mother’s family was quite large and I realized by experience how difficult it was to prepare just two batches of noodles -let alone for a family of 8-10 people. The people however were strong and hardy then, so I suppose they took it in their stride like everything else.


Close up of the brass container which held the piping hot steamed rice cake

The outer side of the brass container once had two brass lugs on opposite sides brazed onto it which locked the container onto the base to prevent it from turning during operation of the press. You can see the black mark where one of the brass lugs was once fitted. However, it works just as well even without the lugs, as in spite of it turning, the rice cake is unable to escape being compressed by the wooden piston. It would in the long run cause both the brass container and the plate where it seats to wear out sooner due to friction.

This post wouldn’t be complete without this picture taken in another aunt’s loft. This wasDSC_0732 purchased ready made by them when they were newly married and were stationed at Madikeri (Coorg). It uses a thick brass disk instead of a wooden ram. The brass container however was not in place and was missing as it had been in disuse for quite a while. It looks like the Udupi – Mangalore region has lost another of its traditional recipes or has outsourced it to bulk producers who use powered machines to produce it and churn out cheap, substandard labour free imitations of the real thing.

Click here to see how the Nook adde/ Semai adde was made!

 CREDITS: |Prabhavati Kunder | Manorama Soans | Sudama Mathias | Eileen Mathias |

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