What Is Sri Lankan Watalappan?

Watalappan, which is a piquant tropical confection, is effortlessly worthy of being the bonne bouche of your meal. You might recognize it as a tropical adaptation of a crème caramel or a Brazilian flan, and yes, that’s fair. Watalappan is indeed a steamed pudding made up of Kithul jaggery and coconut cream with a gentle touch of several spices, giving it an iconic aromatic caramelly sweetness.

Is it originally Sri Lankan?

When it comes to the Kithul jaggery version, yes. It’s Sri Lankan. But it seems to be derived from a Malay (From Malaysia and Indonesia) product called Srikaya when considering the distinct similarities seen between them. Srikaya is a custardy spread (also known as coconut jam) made up of the same ingredients, where only the Kithul Jaggery is replaced by palm sugar. The frequent visits of Malay traders during the Dutch ruling period in Sri Lanka must have influenced the mingling of Malay food culture with the native cuisine.

The name Watalappan has an interesting origin. It seems to be derived from the Tamil words vattil (cup) and appam (cake), which combines to form the word vattilappam (cupcake), and gradually into Watalappan. Watalappan is a very common and heartily devoured dessert around the island, yet its saporific presence on the Ramadan feast of the Muslim community is remarkable, and even adds a cultural value to the dish, instead of being just a delicious dessert.

How is it made?

Kithul jaggery is dissolved in rich coconut cream obtained from fresh coconut milk, and mixed with the eggs, along with a slight sprinkle of premium Ceylon spices, including Nutmeg, Cardamom, and Cloves. Adding some chopped Cashew nuts would bring this luscious dessert to perfection. Then the mixture is steamed until it reaches the expected consistency. The significance of adding the spices is not merely to emphasize the flavor, but also to stimulate the antioxidant activity within the body, which would cut off unhealthy fatty acids from coconut cream.

The Supremacy of Kithul Jaggery

Kithul tree (also known as Fishtail Palm) is exclusively grown in Sri Lanka and some East Asian countries, including Malaysia and Myanmar. The sap secreted from the Kithul flowers is the base for making Kithul jaggery. The process of collecting Kithul sap is an extremely risky and exhausting, as Kithul trees grow up to 40 feet in height.

The collected sap is boiled to form a thick nectarous liquid called Kithul syrup or Kithul peni (in Sinhala). This Kithul syrup is further simmered down to a thicker liquid, and let to air dry until it hardens into a caramel brown colored crystalline form, which is sweet and smokey Kithul jaggery. It is used as a natural sweetener for many desserts, including Watalappan, and is a perfect choice to pair with a freshly brewed warm cup of Ceylon tea.

One might substitute Kithul jaggery with another type of jaggery or sugar, but nothing can replicate that distinct smokey sweetness in Watalappan other than Kithul jaggery, which is supreme indeed.

So don’t miss our Watalappan, which is a perfect palate cleanser after your main Sri Lankan food meals.