Iftar from God’s own country

Here are some delectable treats that grace tables during Iftar in Kerala.

Published - July 02, 2015 08:08 pm IST

Ramadan season showcases Kerala's culinary diversity. Photo: Special Arrangement

Ramadan season showcases Kerala's culinary diversity. Photo: Special Arrangement

Ramadan evenings are infused with the irresistible aroma of ghee, coconut and everything delicious. Each region in Kerala has its typical fare.

When it comes to short-eats or snacks, the Malabar cuisine (mainly Thalassery and Kozhikode), because of the West Asian influences (especially Arab), is more flamboyant and aflush with the flavours of the big Kerala banana ( nendrapazham). The pazham nirachathu, an Iftar staple, is a simple snack made of banana, grated coconut, cardamom and dried fruits. Resplendent in the golden brown glow afforded by ghee, the snack is popular all over the State. A slit is made along the length of the banana and a mixture of coconut, sugar, cardamom powder and dried fruits is stuffed inside. It is then roasted in ghee or dipped in batter and fried.

Unnakkai is another marvel with banana. The spindle-shaped short-eat is made by steaming nendrapazham, filling it with the delicious mixture of grated coconut, cardamom powder and sugar, and deep frying it. Writer, home cook and foodie Aysha Mahmood from Kozhikode says many of these recipes have been handed down for generations. Her Ramadan memories, however, revolve around the thari kanji, a flavourful gruel made of semolina and coconut milk. “The smell of ghee and cashew when you temper it…is unparalleled,” she says.

Kozhi pichuporichathu , an Iftar staple, is a typically Kochi dish, which is essentially shredded chicken. “It is an acquired taste; simple sans masala. There is just oil, tumeric, salt and chilli powder. These are, today, confined to houses,” says Hisham Kabir of Ideal Caterers, Kochi. Erachi chor, pidi and phirni are other specials.

Pidi is a preparation of rice dumplings dunked in gravy. In Kochi, it has a variation – muthiya , made by Cutchi Muslims. “ Muthiya is bigger than the pidi, but it is very similar. Like kozhi pidi, we have the meat variety and the vegetarian variety which includes peechinga (ridge-gourd) and drumstick. No other community has a similar preparation,” says Zainab Arif, a homemaker.

However, when it comes to Iftar fare in the State, it is North Malabar that rules. The bread pola is a hot favourite. It is a healthy snack that is easy to rustle up, says Fymin Naif, an entrepreneur and a foodie from Kozhikode. Made of bread, eggs, milk and a simple masala, it is filling as well as oil-free, she says. Crisp, triangle-shaped samosas with chicken or vegetarian filling are part of the usual fare. Samoosa, as it is lovingly called, has a sweet version, called ‘Irani samoosa’. Pazhampori (banana fritters), irachi pathiri, chatti pathiri, meen pathiri, neriya pathiri and kannu vecha pathiri are the other regulars. The pathiri is a roti usually made of powdered rice.

“All these dishes are not had on the same day…that’s just propaganda on social media,” says Saheer of Masafi, an eatery in Kochi that specialises in Thalassery cuisine. Earlier, the nombu thura snacks were limited to cutlets, samosas, bhajji (pakodas) and thari kanji , he says. In the era of the joint family, Iftar spreads in homes were simple. Chicken and meat would be served only on Fridays. And the kaai curry made up for the sparse chicken. “It is a thin curry made with the Kerala banana and a little chicken,” says Aysha. She says, of late, the elaborate nombu thura feast has made space for more fruits and juices as people are becoming more health conscious. Cultural intermingling has only enriched the foodscape of the State. The Phirnee , a sweet concoction popular in North India, made its appearance in Kerala, thanks to the Cutchi Muslims who brought it here. “We introduced China grass here. We make falooda (milk sherbat) with grated China grass, khus-khus, milk, sugar and dry fruits tossed together,” says Zainab.

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