“Do you have squid today?” I asked the waiter.
“No, we don’t have squid.”
“Damn! I was craving for some squid! Anyways, do you have prawns?”
“Yes. Prawns curry, prawns roast, chilli prawns.”
“Hmm.. ok. Then get me two velleappams and one prawns roast.”
I was at a mallu restaurant with a friend, to satisfy my mallu food craving. My friend, a non-mallu, decided to play safe and ordered a chicken biryani.
I was pigging out on the prawns roast with single-minded focus, when a couple came and occupied the adjacent table. Non-mallus, going by the hindi they were speaking. And also going by the amount of fuss they were creating over everything that was there on the menu. Why come to a Kerala food joint if you don’t like the cuisine, I thought to myself. They were dismissing anything and everything that the waiter was suggesting. For one, they didn’t have a clue about half the things on the menu, and were making the bewildered waiter describe what went into all those dishes. And on top of that, it didn’t look like they were seafood or beef-eating people, which, hello, is the whole point of going to a mallu place.
I lost interest in them somewhere in between and got back to my second plate of prawns roast. (Do not judge me, I haven’t been home in 6 months!)
“I’m sorry sir, we don’t have mushroom masala.” I overheard the waiter telling the couple. They still hadn’t ordered.
Err..Mushrooms?? In a Kerala restaurant??!! Umm..ok. Whatever suits them.
Wait wait. The best is yet to come. The guy goes through the menu and asks “How about chicken biryani?”
“Ya! We’ll have that.” The girl is finally interested.
“But wait. Usme tho poora coconut coconut hoga.” (There’ll be coconut coconut in it, whatever that means)
“Oh! Nahi nahi, mujhe coconut nahi pasand.” (No no, I don’t like coconut.)
I was speechless. This was the height of ignorance about mallu food!!! Coconut in chicken biryani, for god’s sake??!!
So here’s a little food guide for all you non-Mallu’s. It’s time you got rid of certain misconceptions about our cuisine, and also were aware of certain things.
1)Yes, we come from the land of coconuts. Yes, we love coconuts. Yes, sometimes we love them enough to make babies with them. But that does NOT mean that we put coconut in each and every thing! And definitely not in Biryani!
2)I really don’t think you should order edible fungi in a Mallu restaurant. The fungi might be edible, but the dish might not be.
3)Yes yes, we luuurve banana chips. But that does not maketh a meal.
4)We do love our coconuts and our banana chips, but we do eat other stuff too, you know. If one more person goes “Ohhh!! Kerala Kutti! Coconut oil and banana chips!” with the all-knowing glee in their eye, I swear I shall not hesitate to break said coconut on their head.
5)We use coconut oil on our hair, and we use the same coconut oil for cooking. If you have a problem, eat bread and jam while you’re vacationing in Kerala. There’s no coconut oil in that.
6)And while we’re on that, if you’re planning to visit Kerala, be willing to taste our cuisine. Don’t expect to find the food of your land here. We Keralites are accommodative and gracious hosts, but if we hear you complaining about our food, you might just find an empty pot of toddy upturned on your silly snooty head.
7)We loooove cows. Go figure.
8)If you’re planning to start a hotel in Kerala, and you dish out Continental and Chinese fare, you may or may not strike gold. But start a porotta-beef thattukada (wayside eatery that serves yummy food), you’ll be a millionaire overnight.
9)If you want to eat the best food in Kerala, eat from a thattukada*. If you pass it off thinking it’s unhygienic, then you really don’t know what you missed.
10)If you can’t take spicy food, either go on a liquid diet or come prepared to spend ample time in the loo. We are not known as the Land of Spices for nothing.
11)We eat bananas, we fry bananas, we make sweets out of them, we make curry out of them, we eat out of a banana leaf, and when the need arises, we may even use the banana peel to take revenge on somebody. You’ll just have to learn to accept it.
12)When we see fish, we lose all self- control. You’ll have to accept that as well.
13)Mallu children might grow up reciting the different names of fish that we get here rather than A B C D. Yes, we are proud of our coast and the bounty it brings.
14)Mallus are very adaptable to other cuisines. We will try anything once. If we don’t like it, we will still eat it. And then go crib about it to our ‘country’men over a pot of toddy and some fish fry.
15)We eat rice. A lot of it.
16)A bowl of kanji (rice gruel) with coconut chutney and a papad equals one satisfied Malayali.
17)‘Avial’ is not just a rock-band. It’s a delectable dish that every Keralite is proud of.
18)If you visit a Mallu house and are served Jackfruit chips, and half an hour later at lunch, find jackfruit in your curry as well, along with jackfruit sabji, do not be alarmed. The jackfruit kheer is on the way.
19)Same is the case with tapioca. We believe in maximum utilization of our resources, as you may have figured out by now.
20)We worship the sea-goddess. In every sense.
21)No matter how busy the mornings are in a household, we still take time out to prepare and eat puttu-kadala or appam-egg curry or idiyappam-stew for breakfast. We believe in starting the day royally.
So, there you go. I'm not sure if this has helped in making you any wiser about Kerala cuisine, but it sure has made me crave for some good home-made mallu food. Dammit!!