Shawarma, Shawaya, and Khubuz came to Kerala crossing the Arabian seas several years ago. They were served in wayside eateries and fast-food outlets, initially started by the Gulf-returned cafeteria employees.
These dishes, however, did not make their way to the Malayali kitchen even in the Malabar region, where most of the households have at least one member employed in the Middle East.
Of late, a few Arabian dishes such as Mandi, Kabsah, and Majboos, which figure on the main course menu of Arabian countries have become popular in Malabar. These rice-meat combination dishes are not only cooked in the kitchens of the region, but are also served as “prestige” dishes on occasions such as weddings.
Some places like Koduvally, with a huge expatriate population, also have exclusive Mandi and Kabsah eateries. “I know many who come from the city just to eat these dishes,” says P. Abid, a native of Koduvally.
Author and sociologist Hafiz Mohammed says this is only a continuation of the culinary influence Arabia has cast on Kerala for the past 30 years. “The close socio-cultural association between the two countries has paved the way for these dishes’ smooth entry into our society,” says Dr. Mohammed. Ready-to-cook kits of these dishes, including Majboos, the regional variant of Kabsah, are available in shops and supermarkets here now. Dealers of these kits also provide cooking instructions in regional languages on their cover. “I prepare them at home quite often,” says A.K. Ali, who returned from Saudi Arabia a few years ago and is settled at Kalanthode in Kozhikode.
The dishes are much in demand for weddings and parties in the region. Local chefs, with some experience in eateries in the Gulf, have started advertising their skills here, says Mr. Ali.
Dr. Mohammed sees ‘status symbol’ in play here. “Many affluent families in Malabar serve these Arabian dishes during wedding parties for this reason,” he says.
The trend is here to stay for some time at least. “My father, who was in the Gulf for several years, prepared Kabsah at home a couple of years ago during his vacation. All of us liked it. Now I too can prepare the dish,” says Sayed Junaid, from Ayencheri near Vadakara in Kozhikode.