Thought For Food Books

The Kerala corner

The divine food of God’s own country

A little South Delhi corner is a favourite haunt of mine. It’s a tiny Kerala in the heart of INA, a bustling market. You walk in there to find Malayalam newspapers and magazines on sale, Kerala jewellery units and even matrimonial services. But those are not the areas that draw me—I walk straight up to one of the small Kerala eateries there.

The restaurants are usually run by Syrian Christians and on the menu is a host of lip-smacking, finger-licking Kerala dishes, and quite a few others community is known for.

Blissful ignorance

To think, there was a time when few of us in Delhi knew anything about southern cuisine beyond the idlis, vadas and the dosas that we loved, and which were easily available across the city. Then we learnt that that the four southern states had their own cuisines. And then, over the years, we came across sub-regional cuisines—Udupi, Chettinad, Mudaliar, Hyderabadi, Bunt and so on.

And as we ate, we learnt some more. We started distinguishing between, say, Kerala food and Tamil non-vegetarian fare.

And then, within Kerala, we had our taste of the Hindu Nair food, the Muslim Moplah fare—and Syrian Christian cuisine.

I must raise a toast to the books that came to our aid. Though I have many Syrian Christian friends, I find they’d rather eat their food than talk about it. So I started reading, and found a wealth of information in the Kerala Christian cookbooks that came my way.

Textbook taste

Lathika George in The Suriani Kitchen writes of spice merchants and travellers from across the world—Greeks, Syrians, Jews and Chinese traders—who came to Kerala and lived there before the advent of St. Thomas and Christianity.

“Large dishes of soft red rice, platters of spicy fried beef, roast duck and smaller dishes of fiery red fish curry and vegetables, jugs of butter milk, and small bowls of pickles were served… On the sideboard were plates of cubed mango, sliced pineapple and fresh banana,” she writes.

I think one of the first books I read on the subject was Kerala Cookery by Mrs K. M. Matthew. She was, of course, among the first to introduce Syrian Christian food to the country. I had another book called The Essential Kerala Cookbook, which somebody borrowed and did not return.

Then, last year, I was presented with an interesting book from Kerala Tourism called Cuisine Kerala.

It has a section on Syrian Christian food, and whenever I read about the meen mole — plump fish cooked with tomatoes, green chillies, ginger and garlic — or erachi ularthiyathu — cubed beef cooked with all kinds of spices and with little pieces of coconut — I plan to visit my favourite corner of INA. For me, that’s God own country.

The writer, who grew up on ghee-doused urad dal and roti, now likes reading and writing about food as much as he enjoys cooking and eating. Well, almost.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 4:59:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/the-kerala-corner/article19523974.ece

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