Missing Kerala, and especially home food, I walk into Balaji Aruljyothi on Trichy Road for breakfast. I was about to order the routine nei roast and filter coffee when the waiter springs a pleasant surprise — “Do you want puttu and kadala curry?”
Ah, puttu! The mere mention of this breakfast special is enough to make any Malayali anywhere in the world feel right at home. I happily dug into the layered, sweet puttu, rich with grated coconut and the spicy kadala curry.
A culinary tour of Coimbatore reminds me of my home town Calicut. There are packets of nendran chips to be had; one sees them stacked on shelves. Restaurants such as K.K Residency and Top in Town make great fish curry and fish fry; K.K. Residency serves up meen pollichathu and karimeen fry. And, of course, there are the ubiquitous parotta and chicken curry joints every where.
Though these dishes were made to satisfy the Malayali palate, many locals have become devout fans. V. Jayakumar, general manager, Balaji Aruljyothi, says they included puttu in the menu three years ago. “Our target customers were Malayalis. Now, many locals opt for it.” K.K. Tajudeen, manager, K.K.Residency says that though all their curries are made in the traditional Kerala style, many locals love their Meen pollichathu — pearlspot marinated in masala and wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked.
With Coimbatore having a huge Malayali population, many dishes have absorbed local flavours and variations. For instance, Balaji Aruljyothi offers six varieties of puttu, something unheard of in Kerala. Besides the one made with white rice, they offer puttu made of ragi, cholam, samba (red rice), dhaaniyam (pulses) and kambu.
As for banana chips, they come in flavours such as pepper, masala, pudhina and methi. These are the best sellers in Banaanaa Slice, says K.Sundaramoorthy, its owner. Murali. S of A1 chips, says they sell 16 varieties of chips — the favourites are onion and Malabar masala.
Slowly, the city has made many such imports from neighbouring Kerala its own. Coimbatore now exports nendhran chips to other cities and even abroad. Banaanaa Slice exports sharkara varatti to Dubai, Canada and Australia during the festive season; A1 Chips sends it to Dubai and France. “Businessmen bring their clients here and tell them the chips are a speciality of Coimbatore,” says Sundaramoorthy.
Fusion flavours have seeped into homes too. Says consultant chef and Kongu food researcher Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni: “The presence of a large number of Malayali Christians and Muslims has had a great effect on local cuisine too, especially in the meat-based dishes.”
Caterer Asha Bhaskar, who hails from Cochin, recalls how the recipe for vellappam has changed over the years. “In my home town, we use alcohol to ferment the batter. Here, urad dal is used. In fact, some houses even use potato as a fermenting agent. It’s amazing how food undergoes changes when it traverses cultures.”