Lathika George, the author of The Suriani Kitchen… says that cooking and memories go hand in hand
Her book is a gastronomic adventure through the “smoky country hearths” of Kerala, specifically the culinary rich kitchens of the Syrian Christians.
The Suriani Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections from the Syrian Christians of Kerala written by Lathika George, a “Suriani” (as Syrian Christians are known), is a delectable collection of 150 time-tested old favourites; recipes that have been handed down for generations; recipes that symbolise the heritage of a people whose culinary roots have been influenced by placid backwaters, lolling paddy fields, the bountiful sea and the hilly rubber country of central Kerala.
But Lathika's cookbook is so much more than an ordinary cookbook. It is, in fact, a memoir; a memoir of a rich cultural tradition. Interspersed among scrumptious traditional recipes ranging from meen pollichatu, to vepilakatti, to mooriyearchi roast to achappam, are platters full of recollections: tales of journeys made and meals eaten, kitchen tricks, historical notes, folk tales and most of all vivid anecdotes of life in a hearty Syrian Christian clan.
“Although we lived in Mumbai, my mother, Thangamma, made sure that my siblings and I maintained a bond with Kerala. And apart from regular visits, the best way to do that in her book was through the food of our forefathers,” says Lathika in a phone interview with Metro Plus.
“Food and memories are interconnected. Most of us have everlasting memories that are evoked by the foods that we prepare or eat, don't we? I wanted to make the cookbook more personal. Hence, the stories. Besides most cookbooks in the West are done this way,” adds the Kodaikanal-based author, a landscape designer who specialises in hill station gardens. She got the idea for the book from her daughter, Rajni George, who works in the publishing industry in New York.
The book was first published by Hippocrene in the United States as The Kerala Kitchen. “Each recipe has a story behind it, sourced as they have been from my own trusty recipe book and also from friends and family,” says Lathika. “My favourites are the fish recipes, which bring back fond memories of summer vacations in Allepey (Alappuzha) and Kuttanad,” she adds.
Indeed, Lathika's cookbook is a treasure trove of fascinating information on the culture of the Syrian Christains. We hear accounts of catching the ferry from Alappuzha to her paternal grandmother's house in Kanjirapally and having hot neyyappams (jaggery cakes) and coffee on the way; of the ‘best' toddy shop in Kerala (on NH 47) with its special aama erachi (turtle-meat sauté) and curried mashed tapioca; of an old aunt and uncle who live with their mentally-challenged son in the midst of a plantation estate in Injathotti; of being pampered with rituals baths and being fed mutton broth in the 40 days following childbirth; odes to the coconut and so on. “There was so much more that I wanted to put in…,” sighs Lathika.
The cookbook also stands out for the fascinating illustrations by Lathika's sister Latha George Pottenkulam. Each recipe in the book is accompanied by handy notes that sound helpful for those trying out the recipes for the first time.
“I got interested in cooking only after I did a one-year home science course. Now my husband, George, and my kids call me the best cook in the world!” says the author as she signs off to go make fish curry for a neighbours' daughter who is home on vacation.
The Suriani Kitchen… published by Westland, is available at all leading book stores and costs Rs. 450.