Journey of spices

Journey of spices

There is more to Kerala than appam and stew. Best known as ‘God’s Own Country’, this South Indian state also boasts of a rich culinary heritage that goes back to those times when it was a prominent spice trade centre.

It’s the geographical distribution of people that drives their food habits. The Christians predominately live in the southern tip and Muslims in the northern, whereas Hindus occupy the heart of the city — and their food habits differ like chalk and cheese.

In a bid to introduce food lovers to the flavours of Calicut or Malabar cuisine, Fire at the Park hotel hosted ‘Moplah Food Festival’ which concluded on December 13.

“The word Moplah comes from Mappila which literally means son-in-law. The idea to organise this festival was to promote cuisines that might not be so popular in cities, but have an array of timeless classics and reveal a lot about that region,” The Park’s
executive chef Abhishek Basu tells Metrolife.

And to bring authenticity to the table, the hotel had joined hands with Calicut’s prominent cooking personality, chef Begum Abida Rasheed who is at the forefront of preserving traditional Malabari cuisine.

Before Metrolife could dive into the sea of robust food, a pink-coloured drink made of a herb ‘karingali vellam’ was offered. Its distinctive flavour is a bit difficult to acquire but since it came with the benefit of “speedy digestion”, we thought it would be wise to let it accompany us throughout the session.

First came four starters in small portions on a rectangular white plate. We weren’t sure what to have first, and after a quick thought chose Kozhi Porichathu (chicken pieces deep fried in coconut oil) since chicken is a familiar territory.

The firebrand, red-looking piece was juicy, with a crispy outer skin, but it was a bit hot and started the tasting session on a feisty note. Next we had was Meen Porichathu (sear fish shallow fried).

The small pieces neatly placed on top of a small glass in banana leaf looked harmless. But so piquant they were that we decided to subside the heat by eating Kaduka Nirachathu (mussels stuffed with a mixture of rice flour and coconut) which was light and puffy.

The interesting combination did act as a buffer till we finished those spicy little things. The last on our list was Erachipathiri (puri stuffed with onion and mutton) for its
ordinary-looking countenance. But as the saying goes that looks can be deceptive, this humble look-alike of a kachori was flavoursome and different.

For the main course, we first had Chemeen Mulaku Curry (prawns in gravy)
which was served with puttu. The thick gravy of onion and tomato had a tangy flavour because of tamarind. It was rich and balanced but the flavours doubled when ate it the traditional way: by using hands.

By this time our stomach was almost full since the starters were fried. So we sipped the rose-tinted digestive drink to create room for food that was yet to come.

Mutton Ishtu (mutton cooked in coconut milk) with pathiri (rice flour roti) and Kerala porotta was next on the menu. The pathiri was made in ghee, was extremely soft, could easily be eaten without any gravy. But the hero of the platter was succulent mutton that had soaked all flavours from coconut milk and the creamy white gravy could easily be had as a delicious soup.

By this time, our stomach had almost given up and we again finished a glass of the warm digestive drink, hoping it would do some miracle and create room for the next dish we had been eyeing on ever since we saw the menu — Thalassery Mutton dum Biryani.

Unlike the biryanis we have ever had, this one was different. In this the mutton and rice aren’t mixed together. They are served independently hence saving one from the drudgery of picking mutton pieces from biryani. It was served with ‘date chutney’

and papad and it would be repetitive to mention how perfectly the mutton was cooked. But the kaima rice(typical Kerala rice) had a generous layer of ghee on it and such was the flavour that the rich could easily be eaten with the sweet ‘date chutney’ alone.

For desserts we had Chakara Choru (whole wheat cooked in milk and coconut jiggery), Elaneer payasam, halwa and Alisa. The last one is important to mention because whole wheat is cooked with small mutton chunks, basically making it a non-vegetarian dessert.

The taste isn’t difficult to acquire as the perfect balance of ghee and sugar make it sweet, but the thought of chewing on mutton as a dessert could be defeating.

We didn’t love it, but there wasn’t any reason to hate it as well. But the discovery of a mutton dessert from Malabar’s cuisine was enough to seal the day with excitement.

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