One cannot think well, love well and sleep well if one has not dined well, and this is my life mantra. Being an avid foodie and having the chance to travel, has given me the opportunity to experience the plethora of cuisines India has to offer, but the cuisine that makes me come back for more is that of my homeland, Kerala. A pure gustatory delight satiates the soul, leaving a person content but wanting more and this truly defines the Malabar cuisine. Caressed by the Arabian Sea and guarded by the Western Ghats the Malabar region northern Kerala has a rich culinary history, drawing influence from Arab, Chinese and European cuisine seeping in and blending with the local traditions, giving Malabar food its unique characteristics.
A Mouthful of Malabar: North Kerala's Moplah cuisine
Kerala's Malabar region is known for ethnic Moplah (or Mappila - the local term for Muslims in the state) dishes. The traditional Moplah cuisine has its own distinct taste, being rich in flavor and ingredients it is a popular pick especially during the month of Ramzan. Being the perfect amalgamation of indigenous and foreign flavors, the dishes of the Malabar are created with all natural ingredients procured locally with techniques and concepts borrowed from foreign traders.
Most dishes of the Malabar cuisine, including Thalassery biryani, involve frying in ghee; there are sweet and spicy variants and they are predominantly non-vegetarian. Some typical examples include Ari pathiri, Chatti pathiri, Coin porottas, Kallummakaya fry, Arikkadukka and Biryanis with chicken, mutton, prawn, fish, egg as well as Sweeteners such as Aleesa Kadalapparippu ada and the list just goes on.
Having been to Kerala many times, I seem to have discovered the fact that the best food isn’t in the fancy five star hotels or the fine dine restaurants, but it is in on the street, in roadside shops known as ‘thatt kada’ where the locals eat. It’s here that you can get the authentic taste of Malabar food.
The famous delicacies:
The southern counterpart of our favorite rice based dish, it is blended with spices and chicken and is the only Biryani recipe in Kerala hence, also known as Kerala Biryani. What distinguishes the Thalassery Biryani from other types of Biryani is the use of Khaima/Jeerakasala rice for its preparation. It is an exotic dish of mughal origin involving the use of no basmati rice. Mostly a non-vegetarian dish, it is prepared with fish, chicken and mutton.
Meaning necklace of eggs is another dish to check out. This dish is a pudding made of steamed egg white. The egg yolks are made in such a way that they look like strands of lace. This is required for garnishing. The entire appearance looks like a garland, hence the name.
Unnakai (also called Unnakaya, Kai Ada, Unnakka, and Kai Porichathu) is a spindle shaped sweet dessert made chiefly of plantain.
The main ingredient of this dish is steamed and mashed plantain, which is a staple in Kerala, India. The relatively dry puree becomes the dough, which is rolled and flattened into patties. These patties are stuffed with sweetened beaten egg, scrapped flesh of coconut, nuts, raisins and cardamom, a spice which is rolled into the shape of a spindle with oiled palm. The stuffed dough is then deep fried in coconut oil, and is either consumed as a snack or topped with sago-based white sauce so that it can be served as a dessert.
Chatti Pathiri is similar to Lasagna where layers of spiced (masala) beef or chicken mixture are placed between layers of egg dipped pancakes and baked in oven. It is especially served in Malabar Muslim weddings and reception parties.
Although it may seem that the best of this unique cuisine is borrowed, arikadukka is a testament to the ingenuity and culinary prowess of the Mappila matriarchs - mussels are first stuffed with a fragrant rice and coconut paste, and then marinated in a fiery batter made of red chilies and finally, fried to perfection. Although a long drawn out process, what results is worth it – the perfect balance of soft and crispy, spicy and sweet in every mouthful.