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Sannas (Goan food)

November 23, 2009

Some Goan curries just don’t taste right with anything other than sannas – these little rice and coconut steamed things. I have never attempted them before but was surpised how easy they were to make. In Goa they are made with toddy (the sap of the coconut tree (I think), which is also the basis for the very special Goa vinegar). Toddy is tapped early in the morning, before sunrise as it ferments very easily. I remember being made to drink some of it on early mornings when we were on our twice annual holiday in Goa. Any that was left over was used in the cooking or set down for vinegar. I am sure I would like the taste of it a lot more now that I am an adult.

Thinking about what I could use to replace the toddy effect in the sanna batter, I decided to give some of my sourdough starter a try. Afterall it is natural yeasts, slightly sour and has the rising effect that bakers yeast (which is what people who don’t have access to toddy use) would deliver. (Ok I admit that the real reason I thought of sourdough is that I was in the midst of a sourdough obsession.)

The process and ingredients were pretty simple. The day before you want to make these, soak three cups of basmati rice in water for a few hours and then using a little coconut milk for liquid grind the rice to a fairly smooth paste (you don’t want it totally smooth). Don’t add too much liquid while grinding the rice, you want the batter quite thick – like a cake batter. When the rice has almost reached the required level of fineness, add in one grated fresh coconut and grind for a few more minutes. Most people use a lot less fresh coconut, but I figured that since I had the coconut (bought and grated just for this) I would be extravagant with it. And I like them to have a fairly strong coconut taste. Add a teaspoon or two of salt, a tablespoon of sugar and half a cup of sourdough starter (or a tablespoon of yeast). Mix well and leave it to stand overnight so that it ferments slightly and rises. The batter will get light and airy when it has risen enough. Put a tablespoon or two into little bowls that you have oiled well, and steam for about 10 minutes. You end up with a slightly sweet (from the coconut) with a hint of sourness, fluffy little cake that goes perfectly well with a really hot, spicy Goan curry.

42 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2009 2:14 PM

    That is absolutely fantastic! I love all the clever things you’re doing with the sourdough starter. Just brilliant…

    For those of us who don’t have access to fresh coconut or coconut graters or wonderful people to grate them for us, can we use dessicated? Or sub coconut milk?

    Thanks for the inspiration,


  2. November 23, 2009 6:16 PM

    Hi, its such a coincide that you wrote about Sannas. i had it for the first time last night. We had gone to the Bandra Gym for the Celebrate Bandra Food Festival. It helped cut the taste of a rather salty Sorpatel

  3. November 24, 2009 9:28 PM

    How cool! I have no idea where I would find half of those ingredients in my little town in England- but that’s why it’s fun to read your blog! I can live vicariously through your adventures!

  4. November 25, 2009 11:03 AM

    Looks delicious πŸ™‚ I so need to explore Goan food more! There is one Goan restaurant that i’ve been to and it was really good πŸ™‚

  5. Allan Sequeira permalink
    April 6, 2010 12:21 PM

    I had read in a goan cookbook that a good substitute for TODDY when it is not available is coconut waterfrom a fresh coconut with sugar added to it and kept in a warm place to ferment. Good for making SANNAs.
    Can someone confirm or clarify this . I thought I saw it in one of Joyce Fernandes’ cook booksas a NOTE.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      April 6, 2010 12:51 PM

      Hi Alan,
      That is an interesting idea – I had not heard of it before. To be quite honest I think it would be too sweet and unlikely to ferment (more likely to just go off before any fermentation happens). You could add some instant yeast to the coconut water to force some fermentation and to get the rising agent for the sannas. The last time I made sannas I used some sourdough starter (which is essentially natural yeasts in water and flour) to replicate the slight sourness and rising action of toddy. It worked really well for me. I think the coconut water and yeast would be good too.

      • Allan Sequeira permalink
        April 30, 2010 4:11 PM

        Thanks for your reply. I found the Note in Joyce Fernandes’cook book and tried it out and it works fine. The sugar when added to fresh coconut water and kept in a warm place causes the water to ferment and on the second dayit forms a film on the water and smells and tastes like toddy. I made sannas with two parts white rice and one part parboiled rice and the sannas came out just fine.

      • spiceandmore permalink*
        May 6, 2010 1:00 PM

        That is great to hear – thanks for letting me know Allan. I will have to give it a try the next time I make sannas.

    • Izabel permalink
      April 7, 2012 4:41 PM

      Dear Allan, could u pls provide the exact measurement used for coconut water & sugar used to make toddy and how long should I rest it to ferment. Many thanks for yr advise.


    • Pia permalink
      August 18, 2012 10:57 PM

      Add a cube of bread to the green coconut water(should be left in the shell) and allow to fermemnt in a cool,dark place for 2 days.

      • permalink
        August 19, 2012 7:22 AM

        can somebody living local to me in north london, team up to make sannas with me please?

  6. Rolland permalink
    December 28, 2010 9:06 AM

    for Sanna how many cups of dessicated coconut equals one fresh coconut. also how many cups is half a bottle of toddy

  7. Nash Lobo permalink
    March 11, 2011 1:05 PM


    I live in Toronto and heard that some Srilankan stores in the US, I think Calif. sell Coconut Toddy which is packed in cans.

    Anybody having any idea about availability in N. America specially Canada, please advise.


    • spiceandmore permalink*
      March 17, 2011 9:13 AM

      Wow I have never come across that. Do let me know if you find it. I will hunt around for some in Sydney. I wonder how it would go in a can. Would the heat treatment from the canning process totally undermine the ‘live culture’ effects of toddy so you would get the flavour but not the yeast like behaviour?

      • Nash Lobo permalink
        March 17, 2011 10:27 AM


        I doubt there is any heating involved in the canning process as I have myself been in the industry for many years. I am told that somebody used this canned toddy in California and it worked very well.

        I have told some Srilankan colleagues of mine to look for the stuff and get it for me. Some have promised to even get it for me from Srilanka. Will keep you posted

      • spiceandmore permalink*
        March 18, 2011 11:49 AM

        Interesting. I would love to hear how you go with it. I must make sannas again soon…been too long since I last had some!

  8. July 30, 2011 4:23 AM

    my father use to tell me about this , when he was child my grandmother use to make this for breakfast.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      May 20, 2012 11:19 PM

      That is a nice memory. (I wish I had somebody make it for me for breakfast! :))

  9. Izabel permalink
    March 29, 2012 3:48 AM

    Hi very nice and informative site, I just wanted to know would anyone know the exact measurements of coconut water and sugar u add to make 500ml of toddy. Can’t wait to try the recipe.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      April 2, 2012 4:34 PM

      Sorry I would love to be able to help but I don’t know the answer to that one. The only toddy I have used is the original sap of the coconut tree that ferments naturally. I haven’t tried to make it myself.

  10. Izabel permalink
    April 11, 2012 2:49 AM

    Ok guys and gals m goin to give it a try to make my humble toddy. To one cup of fresh coconut water I added two tsp of sugar. Not sure for how long to ferment but for overnight it turned into white opaque color. I will keep for tonight also and see what comes out it tomorrow. (will keep u all updated)

  11. Izabel permalink
    April 11, 2012 2:58 PM

    Hello everyone, after having a peek in my to be toddy bowl. I read on the Internet that u have add 2tbsp of sugar for one coconut water, which I increased a few tsp of sugar to equal it 2 tbsp. so I think two nights of fermenting is enough, cause it said the longer I keep it, it will turn to viniger. It does look more white opaque now and slightly coconut water taste to a souring taste towards the end of it…. Wish me luck

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      May 20, 2012 11:18 PM

      How did it work out Izabel?

  12. permalink
    May 20, 2012 11:09 PM

    Hello, can somebody please help me? I’ve been tring to make sannas, but for some odd reason, firstly the yeast does not froth when put in warm water with sugar; secondly, after fermenting the ground rice paste with yeast, for 4 to 5 hours, instead of the mixture rising a bit, you can see water separated at the top and rice mixture settled at the bottom. on steaming ofcourse the sannas are no where near fluffy and edible. Please what am I doing wrong? I am following everything suggested above. I use Allison’s dried active yeast.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      May 20, 2012 11:18 PM

      If your yeast does not froth up when you add it to warm water and sugar then it is a sign that your yeast is ‘dead’. Either the water you are adding is too hot and killing it (should be body temperature) or it is out of date/stored incorrectly and now not working. I store my yeast in the freezer by the way as it keeps better that way. Try with some new yeast…and maybe increase the quantity of yeast you use. Another thing to experiment with is the consistency of the battter.I find when my batter is too thick it does not rise at all, and after adding a bit of water it really takes off.

      • permalink
        May 20, 2012 11:26 PM

        OMG, Thank you for such a quick reply. I will certainly get a new one today. Maybe I am using hot water – but I’ll soak some now and see in luke warm water. I have never put my yeast can into a freezer – will do so from now on. Thanks once again!

      • permalink
        May 27, 2012 5:38 PM

        Hi again
        So now my yeast is behaving the way it should. now the problem is that the sannas aren’t coming out fluffy after steaming. They are tough and kind of dry. somtimes there’s moisture on the top. I’ve made it three times over the last three days. I want to get this right for a family occasion. i have soaked more rice today to try again tonight…..any suggestion?

  13. Susan permalink
    January 24, 2013 5:17 PM

    Should we stir the batter before pouring it into ramekins?? Or just use it as it rises?

  14. January 24, 2013 6:04 PM

    I wouldn’t stir the batter for fear of compressing it and losing some of that lovely fluffiness. Just gently scoop some off the top and carefully put it into the ramekins. Use a really flat spoon so you are just lightly ‘slicing’ off the top layer each time.
    Let me know how it works!

    • January 24, 2013 10:50 PM

      Thanks – its not late at all as I’ve only today soaked some more today, so will try being, ‘light handed’ and take on board the flat spoon suggestion too.

  15. January 24, 2013 6:07 PM

    Hi Rebecca, sorry for the late reply. If you are still interested in trying this I would suggest trying a different rice. Maybe use a mix of boiled rice and basmati rice like we do for idlis? Are you handling the batter with a ‘light hand’ to retain all the rise in it?

  16. Mona Dsouza permalink
    March 1, 2013 10:51 PM

    Hi, we get ready idli batter (wet ground) sold in shops here… the idlis turn out nice and fluffy… problem is my dad prefers sannas… can i add ground coconut and sugar to the batter before fermenting??? will the taste be totally different because of the urad dal???

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  21. June 11, 2014 12:33 AM

    I discovered your blog through Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, and I’m glad I did, because it seems we have a lot in common. I tried to do a dosa batter with sourdough starter but it did not work at all. Today I have some rice soaking for appams (which seem really close to your sannas) and I’m wondering if I should ditch the sourdough starter and use straight yeast. If toddy works, would any other alcohol work, I wonder.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      June 13, 2014 5:19 PM

      Hi Aneela – welcome! Sorry I have been quick slack with blogging lately. I’d love to hear how your sourdough version worked out. I don’t think other alcohol would work instead of the toddy. The toddy itself is not really alcoholic – it starts to ferment (and would eventually turn into alcohol) so it is the fermenting action and taste that it provides.

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  25. December 12, 2015 8:54 AM

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