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Current Issue
July, 2019
Volume 45, Number 2
  
20 November 2017
Greg Kandra




A chef displays ingredients and Keralite specialties prepared by chefs at Naipunnya Institute of Management and Information Technology. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

In the United States, families are preparing for Thanksgiving this Thursday. But for another kind of feasting, check out this story from India:

If you enjoy food, you should come to Kerala!” said Father Sebastian Kalapurackal, a Syro-Malabar Catholic priest and director of Naipunya Institute of Management and Information Technology, which boasts one of the state’s top hotel management programs. Each year, the program graduates some 100 students, many of whom land jobs with five-star hotels, major cruise lines and airline companies.

Keralites unquestionably take great pride in their local cuisine — and for good reason. Its diversity and sophistication have earned the state worldwide fame.

What is more, it is unique. A narrow strip of coastland bounded to the east by the Western Ghats (mountains) and to the west by the Arabian Sea, Kerala has been largely disconnected from the rest of India for much of its history. Isolated from the prevailing trends of Indian cooking, Keralites developed a distinct culinary tradition unlike any other on the subcontinent.

The secret to Keralite cuisine is its special blend of produce and other indigenous ingredients: rice from the paddies; pepper, cardamom, coriander, turmeric and asafetida from the forests and fields; and fish caught off the coast or in one of the many freshwater rivers. However, what gives many Keralite dishes their signature flavor is coconut. Translated from the local language of Malayalam as “land (alam) of the coconut (kera),” Kerala produces a vast quantity of the fruit, which grows just about everywhere and is one of the state’s principal exports.

The essence and complexity of Keralite cuisine, however, should not be reduced to the sum of its ingredients. Religion and region have also played significant roles in the development of Kerala’s diverse menu of tasty entrees and treats. Christians, Hindus and Muslims approach food differently. And in Kerala, each faith community possesses its own variant culinary tradition.

“Ninety percent of what Muslims eat is meat, Hindus are 100 percent vegetarian and Christians eat everything, including pork,” said T.C. Noushad, a Muslim restaurateur who owns Royal Food Court, a chain of five establishments across Ernakulam.

“I serve everything and anything, just give me 15 minutes,” he added.

According to Father Kalapurackal, to Christians, taste matters most.

“That’s the problem with our people. They worry too much about their taste buds and not enough about their health. We should learn from the Hindus and eat less meat.”

Read more about what’s cooking in Kerala in the November 2008 edition of ONE.

And if you’re curious, try out some recipes, too.



Tags: India Cultural Identity Cuisine