Kerala’s food scene is a vibrant tapestry of flavors, where traditional Malabari dishes meet the exotic tastes of Arabic cuisine. This blend not only signifies cultural exchanges but also caters to the evolving tastes of the younger generation.
The Malabari Influence
Malabar cuisine, deeply rooted in the northern parts of Kerala, has been a melting pot of local and foreign influences. The history of this cuisine dates back to the 7th century when Arab traders brought spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and pepper to the region. These spices were not only a catalyst for trade but also significantly influenced local dishes. The Portuguese and the British later added their culinary touches, introducing ingredients like vinegar, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and green peas.
Malabar cuisine is known for its rich, diverse, and coastal flavors. The hallmark of this cuisine is the use of traditional cooking methods, like clay ovens (manchatti), and natural souring agents like kudampuli. The cuisine boasts a variety of dishes, including the famous Thalassery Biryani, known for its unique use of Kaima or Jeerakasala rice, and other popular dishes like beef fry, seafood preparations, and sweet dishes like unniyappam.
Malabar Delights: A Blend of Tradition and History
Malabar cuisine is a treasure trove of diverse dishes, each telling its own story of cultural intermingling. Here are some iconic dishes:
Thalassery Biryani: A testament to the Mughlai-Arab influence in North Kerala, this dish stands out for its use of Jeerakasala rice, a unique ingredient that imparts a distinct aroma and flavor.
Beef Fry (Erachi): A beloved Malabari dish, known for its tender beef cooked in a spicy blend of onions and regional spices, often paired with parotta or rice.
Malabar Prawn Curry: Rich in coastal flavors, this curry is a delightful mix of prawns, traditional spices, and the tanginess of kudampuli.
Unnakkaya: A sweet treat made from bananas, coconut, and jaggery, encapsulating the essence of Malabar’s sweet culinary traditions.
These dishes, deeply rooted in Malabar’s history, represent a fusion of local ingredients and foreign culinary practices, making them a unique part of Kerala’s gastronomic landscape.
The Arabic Influence
In the last decade, Kerala has seen a surge in Arabic culinary influence. This change coincides with the influx of the expatriate population from GCC countries. As a result, dishes like shawarma, Shawai, kuboos, and kabsa became more prevalent, reshaping the local food scene. This new wave of Arabic cuisine brought in new cooking techniques, particularly in roasting and frying, and made luxury Arab food more accessible and affordable.
Interestingly, there has been a growing preference for these Arabic dishes over traditional Malabari cuisine in many areas. However, some critics point out that the Arabic dishes available in Kerala are often adapted to suit regional tastes, which might not be authentic to their original recipes. The adaptation of these dishes to local tastes has made them a staple in Kerala’s urban food scene.
The Arabic Delights
Shawarma: This Middle Eastern delight has found a new home in Kerala, with its juicy meat wrapped in kuboos (flatbread), often modified with local ingredients like cabbage.
Shawai: A lesser-known but equally savory dish, featuring slow-cooked meat, often served with fragrant rice or bread.
Kabsa: A hearty meal combining meat and rice, flavored with a unique blend of spices, resonating with the taste buds of Kerala’s gourmets.
These dishes, though not entirely authentic to their origins, have been embraced by Kerala’s food enthusiasts, symbolizing a new era in the state’s culinary journey.
Hot Cakes: A Culinary Hub
Amidst this culinary evolution, Hot Cakes emerged as a symbol of this fusion, offering a range of both traditional Malabari treats and popular Arabic dishes. It’s a place where the old meets the new, satisfying the cravings of a diverse clientele.
Kerala’s food scene is an ever-evolving canvas, painted with the flavors of its rich history and the tastes of the modern world. From the traditional Malabari dishes that speak of centuries-old trade and cultural exchanges to the recent popularity of Arabic cuisine among the youth, Kerala’s culinary story is a fascinating journey of taste and tradition.