Saturday, 23 November 2013

Malabar Chicken

-Brian Mendonça

Today the smell of spices being roasted at home took me back to Nallukettu restaurant in Pandalam, Kerala. Queenie was making Malabar chicken from a recipe book I had picked up at Kayankulam bus stand. I was deposited there by the Kerala Sampark Kranti from Margao which got in at 4.20 p.m. after a journey of about 14 hours.

The journey had been invigorating even though we boarded well past midnight. We didn’t get any of the famed unniyapams or parimpori on this train but we did get heaps of them on our way back by the Netravati Express.

Kerala is a gourmet’s haven. The ritualistic vegetarian onasadya served at Onam – the Kerala New Year -- belies its rich variety of non-veg dishes. At Pandalam I discovered that Malayalis would launch into parotha-bhaji at the slightest pretext. The combination served as breakfast, lunch or dinner! However, I was careful to exercises my choices. For breakfast I had dosa-sambhar, for dinner, mutton varatiyathu – a dry dish of fried mutton with roasted red chillies and curry leaves – along with the customary parathas. The dish was so heavy to digest that I requested a fruit salad which the restaurant cheerfully served up with wedges of pineapple, Kerala bananas, plums and oranges. The special of the day was rabbit -- which I steered clear of, thinking of Shonshyache Kan / Rabbit’s Ears which is a collection of 51 poems in Konkani by Goan poet C.F.D’Costa.

The Malabar coast is known for its spices. Rushdie had already written about that in his novel The Moor’s Last Sigh – 'Pepper it was that brought Vasco-da-Gama's tall ships across the ocean, from Lisbon's Tower of Belem to the Malabar coast.'

Here to entice me was Kerala Dishes and Onam Specials compiled by Manu Joseph (Cherthala: Sharon Books) which I purchased for Rs. 10.  This itself was a marvel in marketing-- to painstakingly put together a 66-page book and make it so affordable. It also spoke about the great love of the author to document the recipes of a community for future generations.

Culinary experience is the new area of inquiry for academicians. I noticed an entire session devoted to food in film, at the National seminar on film studies at NSS college, Pandalam. ‘Gastronomic Films,’ ‘Food Culture and its Semiotic Significations in Ozhimuri,’ and ‘What’s Cooking? Decoding the Table in Malayalam Movies,’ were some of the papers presented at the seminar.

 Eating itself is an act of realizing and preserving India’s rich biodiversity as Sunita Narain and Vibha Varshney have convincingly argued -- In Kerala they differentiate between the salt-resistant Kuttanad variety of rice in the low-lying lands of Kerala, which can be grown in seawater, as well as the medicinal Navara variety in the land-locked Palakkad district which received its Geographical Indication Certificate in 2007.*

Lunch of bullet rice at Kerala House, at Connaught Place, New Delhi used to be a treat. The love affair continues with Queenie’s Malabar Chicken.

*First Food: A Taste of India’s Biodiversity. Centre for Science and Environment. New Delhi 2013. 

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, Goa on Sunday 17 November 2013. Pix source: www.k4kannur(dot)

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