Flavours of Kerala

Warm and comforting The red rice kanji with payiru, pickle and appalam  

The popularity of Kerala food is evident from the line of people patiently waiting for a table at the recently opened Ente Keralam. The interiors are muted and the display shows off the typical sights of the states. Apart from the open spaces, I spotted a couple of alcove seats tucked away from direct view.

The restaurant, I’m told, frequently focuses on community centric cuisines from Kerala. The current focus is on Syrian Christian food (this will be on till the end of the month) and the chefs are under the expert guidance of Aleyamma Paily, who has travelled from Kottayam to showcase recipes handed down from her great-grandparents’ kitchens.

The menu was in the form of a newsletter. Along with the detailed descriptions of the dishes, it also contained interesting trivia about the Syrian Christian community. It was a splendid way to keep the diner occupied while waiting for the meal. We settled on the kakka erachi fry and, of course, the much loved karimeen. The manager, Abin, assured us that the seafood arrived fresh from Kumarakom daily and that the kappa (tapioca), the kodampulli and the red rice from Kottayam. The other ingredients all come from different parts of Kerala.

The kakka erachi fry consisted of tiny clams sautéed with onion and black pepper. Though a bit too spicy, it was very tasty. A good dousing of lemon was all it needed to help ourselves to seconds… and thirds! The karimeen was crisp and piping hot, garnished with curry leaves and red crunchy bits. It looked pretty but I personally didn’t need the garnish because by itself the karimeen had a lot of texture. When the layers peeled off perfectly to reveal the soft white flesh underneath, we paid heed to anything else, except to take apart the tiny bones and eat the choicest bits.

Having tried the mutton ishtew and steamed idiappam on a previous visit, I recommended the same to my companion who loved it as much as I had. The creamy ishtew was both mild and intensely flavourful highlighting the spices that the region is famous for.

Another dish that caught my eye was the Kanjiyum Cheru Payarum. Often an acquired taste, a dish like this highlights the cuisine’s simplicity and wide range of taste profiles. I was further intrigued because of the mention of jackfruit leaves being used as a serving bowl.

What arrived at the table was a large bowl of red rice kanji with a smaller bowl of lentils, a plate of appalam with mango pickle and two cones fashioned out of the jack fruit leaves. The waiter asked, “Are you going to use your plate or have it from the leaf?” I was definitely going to use the leaves. The bland kanji and chewy rice grains contrasted deliciously with the lightly spiced payiru, topped by the pickle and salty appalam. It was warm and reassuring.

This was definitely the right way to highlight the cuisine of any community. Paily had gone beyond elaborate dishes and included the more simpler ones as well. The ada pradhamam made with rice flakes in reduced milk and jaggery is a decadent end to a meal and it definitely has my vote, though in small quantities.

Apart from the meal, I appreciated the knowledge displayed by the staff. These skills are thanks to Chef Pratap’s training. Pratap has been a part of Ente Keralam since its inception. He not only runs his staff through the menu but also briefs them about the ingredients used in each dish. The cooking is done in cast iron kadais, as the chefs believe that the authenticity of taste demands that they use traditional cookware. Now that the Syrian Christian food festival ticked all the right boxes, next on my list is the kappa and naranga vellam.

Syrian Christian Food Festival

Until April 30. For lunch and dinner on prior reservation

Ente Keralam, 16, Abdul Rahim Road, Coimbatore

Call 6505545

Meal for two: Rs.1500

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 7:18:49 PM |

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