25 Min


Almost every old culture has embraced a tradition of a sweet milky pudding and India not only has several, but every state has their own.  One of the oldest ones, payasam, made with rice, vermicelli, tapioca, and countless other iterations is said to have originated from the southern state of Kerala, thousands of years ago. Even today, payasam is served at the end of a sadya, an elaborate celebratory meal, first as a divine offering then as a culmination of the meal. My mother, Kamala, who came to South India as a refugee post partition in 1947 from Karachi in present day Pakistan, developed a deep fondness for many of their delicacies, payasam being one of them. 

What I love about payasam is that it is light, milky, not too sweet, or creamy, unlike the richer thicker rice puddings of the north. The addition of edible camphor gives it a distinctive aroma but feel free to substitute it with cinnamon or orange essence. The final flourish of ghee roasted freshly cracked cardamom pods, cashews and pistachios add a luxurious touch. The pudding can be served warm, room temperature or cold. 

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Cook Time

25 Minutes



Step 1
In a large stockpot over high heat, bring the milk and sugar to a boil. Simmer for just 4 to 5 minutes.
Step 2
Next add the vermicelli and continue simmering the mixture for another 3 to 4 minutes or until the vermicelli appears cooked. Turn the heat off when done and while cooling, stir frequently so a scum does not form on the top. Alternately, put a plastic wrap over the entire surface of the pudding until it is cool to the touch.
Step 3
To make the topping, in a small frying pan over high heat, warm the ghee. Add the cardamom pods and cashews. Cook in the ghee for just a minute or so then take the pan off the heat. Stir in the pistachios and spoon the mixture over the pudding just before serving.

4 cups whole milk

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups (roughly 100 grams) toasted vermicelli

1/4 teaspoon crushed edible camphor


2 tablespoons ghee

10 to 12 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

1/2 cup cashews, toasted

1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

Notes & Variations

  • Edible camphor and toasted vermicelli, also called seviyan, are available in most Indian grocery stores.
  • For a vegan iteration, use coconut milk and fry the nuts and cardamom in coconut oil.
  • Half a cup of golden raisins can be added at the same time as the vermicelli. If doing so, reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup.
25 Min


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