#handsoffporotta… Why Malayalis are up in palms towards a GST ruling on their favorite parotta

 

For a Malayali, ‘porotta’ by any other name would taste as delicious! Pronounced ‘parotta’ or ‘porotta’ or ‘borotta’ or even ‘berotta’, this ubiquitous flatbread made from maida sells like hot cakes in Kerala, lockdown or not, especially as an unbeatable combo with beef for many. For the cholesterol-phobic, it’s also quite popular with chicken or egg curry or even simply with “gravy” for those looking to scrimp a bit but still refusing to part with this staple of street food in the State. The humble porotta, which is also made using wheat, also has many ardent lovers in Tamil Nadu as well.

#handsoffporotta has been a hot trender on social media ever since a recent GST ruling by the Karnataka bench of Authority for Advance Rulings that categorised the roti and porotta in different GST slabs, with frozen or packaged porottas inviting an 18% tax as compared to the existing 5% for the former. The ruling is over the argument that frozen porottas are not technically ready-to-eat items as they need to be heated before consumption and comes under a different GST category. Expectedly, the ruling unleashed a storm of fury from porotta lovers, especially those from Kerala, who took up cudgels against what many call as “discrimination” and “food fascism”.

“Both porotta& roti made frm wheat/maida,Only difference is their way ofcooking. Still, as per new GST rule, porotta should be subjected to 18%GST while 5% slab for roti.Why? Roti is north Indian and porotta is South Indian. That’s food fascism..” wrote a user on Twitter. “This is not just a porotta for us, it’s an emotion,” wrote another with a picture of the flaky flatbread. In no time since the ruling, trolls and memes flooded social media, highlighting the discrepancy.

Arjun B Nair, a self-confessed gourmand from Thiruvanathapuram, explains how porotta is a favourite of his. “Right from school days, porotta and beef is something I eat quite regularly and I can never have enough of the combo. You don’t need to go to any fine dining restaurant to get one. In fact, some of the tastiest porottas are ones I have had from thattukadas (wayside eateries),” he says. An IT professional, Arjun says he often purchases packaged porottas for “a quick breakfast” whenever he is pressed for time. “It’s quite a saviour for bachelors like me and I feel the new argument for higher GST is silly,” he adds.

A porotta maker at a food stall in Kochi, Kerala

A porotta maker at a food stall in Kochi, Kerala
 
| Photo Credit:
K K Mustafah

Another porotta lover, Preethi Kurian from Thrissur, feels that irrespective of geographical associations and the difference in method of cooking, traditional food items that may also carry a cultural significance for those concerned must be kept out of legal and political doublespeak. “Frozen or packaged chappathis are also very common, even in Kerala, but nobody seems to have a problem with that. I wonder why we need to kindle such a food war!” she says.

Some in Kerala have taken the creative route to express their “tribute” to porotta, which can be typically had for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Like the musical group Vocal Trio, comprising playback singers Zia ul Haq, Sachin Raj and Sudheesh Kumar, that brought out a comic song, ‘I Miss U Da — Porotta Song’. “The idea was to focus on one food item that Malayalis perhaps missed the most during the lockdown. Of course, porotta was still available since takeaways were open, but I felt when they reached home, may have become quite lifeless as the ideal way of eating a porotta is when it’s still hot,” says Sachin with a chuckle.

The singer adds that many of his friends from West Asia and other regions in fact called him after watching the song video to convey that they “truly missed” eating porottas as much of exports of packaged porottas from Kerala had been stalled by the lockdown.

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