Straight from the Malabar Coast

Savour the flavourful food of Kerala’s Mappila community at an ongoing food festival

June 14, 2019 09:42 pm | Updated 09:42 pm IST

Kerala’s Mappila Muslim community has a rich cultural history owing to strong influence on international trade relations (before colonisation), especially with Arabia. Mappila cuisine has traces of Syrian Christian and Namboodri (vegetarian) cuisines from Kerala with a strong Arab influence.

The verdant Malabar region that serves as their home, has helped defined the community’s flavourful cuisine. Some of the districts that come under ‘Mappila belt’ include Kozhikode, Kasargod, Kannur, Wayanad, Thrissur, Palakkad and Malappuram.

The Leela’s ongoing food festival has incorporated several rustic heirloom recipes in their Moplah (anglicised from Mappila) Food Festival. The menu has been curated by chef Purushotham Naidu, from The Leela Palace Bengaluru. “Malabar’s astonishing diversity in cuisine and its openness to absorb foreign influences and merge it with native dishes has played a key role in shaping Moplah cuisine,” explains Naidu. The diverse influences include nuts and saffron, which were not used in traditional Kerala preparations. Fennel, whole spices, ghee, coconut oil, saffron, pistachio, almonds, raisins and dates are now an integral part of this cuisine. Several dishes which were originally spicy have toned down over the years because of the Arab influence.

The use of ghee and coconut together is a common practice, and is responsible for lending a unique flavour. The Moplah version of biryani is inspired by Mandi, a dish of Arabic origin made with rice, spices and chicken or lamb, cooked in an oven in the ground tiled with clay bricks, with charcoal placed on top to make sure steam doesn’t escape. This lends the dish a smoky flavour. Another example of the Middle Eastern influence is alissa, a wholesome wheat and meat porridge inspired by harees (also called hareesa), a famous Middle Eastern dish, which has a different texture, but the taste and the ingredients are the same. The kibbeh (or kubba, ‘ball’ in Arabic) — a dish of bulgur, onions, spices and ground meat — is popular in Kochi and is known as eraichi unda in Mappila parlance.

A typical Mappila breakfast includes egg curry or masala, puttu (steamed rice flour) which is eaten with a fish curry, meat or egg, kanji (red rice porridge), and different types of pathiris (wafer thin rice flour bread) which are occasionally layered with ground meat and fish. “Ari Pathal, also called Nei Pathiri is another rice flour bread, which is deep fried. This is eaten with meat curries. On special occasions, the Malabar parotta is also served,” says Naidu.

Rice is a staple lunch option, accompanied with curries made with seasonal veggies, chicken, seafood or lamb. Varharacha kozhi curry, meen molaku (spicy and sour king fish curry), eraichi varattiyathu, and seafood curries are some of the common ones. Dinner is a lighter meal and includes dishes like pathiris and kanji. “For special occasions and weddings, biryani and neichoru or ghee rice, are staples along with kurma and kozhi porichathu (deep fried chicken),” shares Naidu.

Egg is predominant in Mappila desserts, popular options include mutta mala, an egg-yolk garland served with pinnanthappam, which is a steamed egg white pudding. Rice-based desserts such as kalthappam (steamed sweet rice cakes) and ada (steamed rice flour pie filled with coconut and jaggery) are also common. An integral part of the cuisine is unnkayi, which are deep fried nendra banana cotton buds-shaped fritters.

Moplah Food Festival, is ongoing until June 19; 7 p.m. to midnight, at Jamavar, The Leela Mumbai, Andheri East; 66911350

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