World Cuisines In Kerala Cultural Studies Essay

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Kerala was and is known all over the world for its rich spices. Hence from ancient times many people from the West and East came to Kerala in search of the rich and rare spices. This impact with the rest of the world had its effects on the culture, food and religion of the people of Kerala.

Gradually the pure vegetarians became non-vegetarians. But they adopted their cooking of meat and fish to suit their convenience, palate and the availability of the ingredients around them. Thus they slowly evolved an indigenous cooking of their own which is a combination of distinctive cuisines and a harmonious fusion of many cultures and religions (Mathew, 2008).

Owing to many reasons, much has changed in the culinary scenario of Kerala in the past four decades. The research looks to understand these changes and to obtain a clear picture of the dining trends and various aspects of the foods prepared in the households of Kerala today.

1.2 Aim of the Research

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The aim of the research is to analyse the changes in Kerala in the past four decades from a culinary perspective in terms of food, food preparation, eating and dining preferences of the natives. Change is inevitable and has many causes and effects. Over the last forty years, the economy of India has boomed. This is very evident in the state of Kerala. The migration of the natives to other states of India and other countries in search of better jobs and incomes has reflected upon the growth in the economy of the state as well. This led to major changes in lifestyle and also saw significant improvements in the items and provisions available on the market. All this has left the people of Kerala with better living conditions and a greater disposable income. This has also resulted in social exposure and cultural exchange to a great extent. Both partners in a married family doing jobs to support the family members is now common across the world, and it is no different in Kerala. This means that the availability of time to prepare meals at home is lesser. As a result of this people tend to use packaged ingredients to prepare food. Some even buy readymade dishes to have at home and many prefer to dine out since they cannot find enough time at home to cook meals. The research will examine all such changes in Kerala.

1.3 Motivation of the Research

Gastronomy has become a major field of interest and study in the world today. People across the world are not only interested in their own cuisine and culture, but also that of other regions across the world. Being a student of Gastronomy, the researcher is keen to study the major changes in Kerala regarding the kind of food prepared in households and the changes in dining trends. The researcher would like to understand the religious and cultural taboos present in Kerala with regards to the type of food consumed and find out whether such ideologies are still being followed.

1.4 Objectives

The researcher will be concentrating on understanding certain changes that took place in Kerala pertaining to the culinary world. To begin with, the researcher would examine the changes that have taken place in the way foods are prepared in households, i.e. how the preparation of ingredients have changed, how the utensils used to prepare food have changed and whether the dishes prepared in households are similar to what they were before. The researcher will also study the change in the dining trends in Kerala with a focus on the current dining trends in the major cities of Kerala including Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Kozhikode.

1.5 The Reach and Inadequacy of the Research

This research in many of its aspects tends to obtain only a generalised view of the current culinary scenario of the state of Kerala. The study of the current dining trends is restricted to three major cities of Kerala. The research does not cover the cuisines of the minor communities present in the state. The time given for primary research is inadequate as there are many attributes to be covered in this study. The resources available for secondary research on this topic are few.

1.6 Research Structure

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The study has been divided into four chapters to provide a systematic representation of the research. The first chapter covers the aim and objectives of the research apart from an outline of the various cuisines of Kerala, festive foods and the major utensils used to prepare food in household kitchens across Kerala. Chapter two examines the research methodology where the qualitative method of research is a collection of data which is generated in verbal form. Observational surveys, depth interviews, open ended questionnaires, expert discourses and discussions are studied. The design of the research and methods of data collection and data analysis are discussed. In chapter three, the data obtained from primary research are analysed and interpreted to better understand the outcomes of the research. Chapter four summarises the findings, details the thoughts and opinions of the researcher and determines the scope for future research. At the end of the research, the researcher provides a bibliographical collage of notable works cited and referred to in the process of carrying out this study.

1.7 Kerala - A Melting Pot of Cuisines

Kerala cuisine as experienced today is an amalgamation of three different traditions - Muslim, Christian and Hindu. Though all of them are made up of sub-denominational and regional practices and tastes, the Hindu tradition also has caste differentiations and overtones.

1.7.1 Moplah Cuisine

The Malabar region of northern Kerala is the birthplace of the distinctive cuisine of the Moplahs, the Muslims of Kerala. The term Moplah derives itself from Mapillai, which means 'bridegroom' or from Mahapillai which means 'a person held in high esteem'. These Muslims are descendants of Arab traders who married local Kerala women, later expanding their ranks by conversion (Achaya, 2007). Majority of the Moplah population are settled in the northern districts of Kerala including Malapuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Kannur and Kasargod. The Moplah cuisine is noted for its liberal use of a wide variety of spices.

1.7.1.1 Dietary Laws

Meats eaten by the Muslims are halal. They also abstain from consuming pork and alcohol as they are forbidden in Islam.

1.7.1.2 Specialities of the Cuisine

This cuisine includes many kinds of biryanis and pilafs, not simply combining rice with meat and chicken, but also with many kinds of fish - a natural development of a coastal state. Instead of using the long grained basmati that is the standard for biryanis and pilafs in northern India, Moplahs use 'kaima' rice, a local short-grained variety. The Moplah biryani is made by cooking the rice, and meat or fish separately, arranging them in alternating layers, and baking with live coals from above and below. The mutton is cooked tender, and the rice is flaky. It is skilfully spiced with the right proportions of condiments. One difference between the Moplahs and the other Muslims of India is that the Moplahs do not make kebabs. Instead they have meats in a dry form or in rich gravies.

Among their specialities is roast chicken made on the stovetop, instead of in a conventional oven. The chicken is stuffed with spices and a hard-boiled egg and slowly fried over a very low heat in a deep pot. Also, wheat and meat are combined in various ways. Wheat is coarsely ground for a porridge called aleesa, or it is left whole and combined with minced meat, for a dish called kiskiya.

There are some exquisite dishes that are solely the product of Moplah imagination. One of the best known and most delicious dishes among the Moplahs is neichoru, which is rice fried in ghee with onions, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom.

During the fasting month of Ramadan, the evening's dinner often consists of pathiri, and meat and chicken dishes. Pathiri is a bread made from rice flour. Some are thin like a chapati, some thick, and some are deep fried. After preparation it is sometimes soaked in coconut milk to keep it soft and to improve the flavour. The word pathiri comes from the Arabic word fateerah, which means "pastry". Variants of pathiri include neypathiri which is prepared with ghee, poricha pathiri which is fried, irachi pathiri which is stuffed with meat and meen pathiri which is stuffed with fish.

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One of the most famous Moplah dishes is a dessert called mutta-maala, the literal meaning of which is 'A garland of eggs'. Egg yolks are cooked in syrup until they form long strands. They are then removed from the syrup and spread out on a plate. An accompanying dessert, a snow-like pudding called Pinnanthappam, is then made by beating the egg whites until fluffy, blending them with the leftover syrup, and then cooking the mixture in a steamer. The soft, white confection is cut into diamonds and served with the yellow egg strands. The Kozhikode halwa is another famous dessert of the Moplahs.

The Malabar Muslims have a distinguished culinary culture that flaunts tastes and flavours bearing strong influences of Arab, Mughal and local Kerala cuisine.

1.7.2 Syrian Christian Cuisine

Christianity is believed to have reached Kerala in 52 A.D., much before it reached many European countries. Syrian Arab Christians fleeing persecution at the hands of the Muslims took refuge under the king of Kerala. They left a heavy influence on the cuisine of Kerala, which might explain why Keralian food is so different from its neighbouring Tamilian cuisine. It also explains the prevalence of non-vegetarian food in Keralian dishes. Kerala Syrian Christian Cuisine is basically the name given to the unique culinary style of the Syrian Christians, who live mainly in areas like Kottayam and Pala in Kerala.

1.7.2.1 Dietary Laws

The most interesting feature of the Christian eating style is that the Christians do not have any dietary restrictions. All kinds of meats and alcohol can be consumed by them. All other non-Christian communities in India have certain restrictions on what they can eat or drink.

1.7.2.2 Specialities of the Cuisine

The Syrian Christians have created a whole slew of recipes for meat including beef, pork, duck and chicken. Their best known dish is a Stew which combines pieces of meat with potatoes and a few other vegetables like carrots, beans and green peas in a lightly seasoned broth containing coconut milk. The stew is usually served with Appams, which are rice flour pancakes with white and thick but spongy centres, and golden, thin and crisp lacy edges. It can be a starter at an elaborate formal meal, or it can even be eaten at breakfast. According to late Ms. Thangam Philip, the Appam is a variation of the Dutch pancake with coconut milk, while Acchappam is a derivation of Dutch cookies (Kannampilly, 2003). Idiappam is another breakfast dish of cooked rice noodles, eaten with sweetened coconut milk or a meat or chicken curry. There are many types of Appams in Kerala. While the basic ingredient for any Appam is rice flour, the other ingredients, size and shapes vary.

Among other Syrian Christian dishes there are several mouth-watering preparations. Chicken is cooked either in a spicy sauce made with both red and green chillies, star anise, and crushed cashew, or with grated and fried coconut. Duck is gently simmered with coconut milk. Beef Ularthiyathu has chunks of beef which are combined with large pieces of coconut and fried together with spices. This served with Kerala Parotta is also one of the most common meals at any thattukada. Thattukadas are the Kerala version of fast food joints. Other well known preparations include beef cutlets with Sallas (a salad made of sliced onions, green chillies and vinegar), Meen Peera - a dry dish of fish with grated coconut, Meen Mulakittathu - a fish preparation cooked in spicy red chilly gravy, and 'duck roast'. Kappa Vevichathu is a mashed tapioca dish made by boiling pieces of tapioca combined with ground coconut and a variety of spices. It is tempered with mustard, curry leaves, brown onions and red chillies. It is accompanied by Meen Mulakittathu. Other popular fish preparations include Meen Moilee and Meen Mappas, both of which are cooked in coconut milk. The Syrian Christians also brought with them their love for wild game including duck, and rabbit. The incorporation of these meats with the spices and cooking techniques that existed in India already created some very masterful dishes, including the stuffed, roasted duck that is eaten as part of a traditional Christmas feast. These people have made Kerala as well known for its variety of meat dishes as for its seafood dishes.

1.7.2.3 Savoury Dishes

The main snack items include Acchappam, Neiappam, Unniyappam, Vattayappam and Avalose. Acchappam is a deep-fried rose-cookie made of rice, the name coming from the frame required to make it. It is a common snack item. Neiappam is a deep-fried, chewy dark doughnut made from toddy-fermented rice and jaggery. Unniyappam is made using rice flour, bananas, and jaggery in a special type of vessel called 'unniappa chatty'. Its shape is somewhere between a small ball and a muffin. Vattayappam is a sweet, thick pancake made with rice flour, coconut milk, semolina and sugar. Resins and cashew nuts are also added for flavour. Avalose is a dish that uses a rice-coconut combination. The rice is fried in this. It can be eaten with jaggery, coconut and bananas. It can also be mixed with jaggery syrup and rolled into a ball, the size of a lemon, and is called Avalose unda.

Wine is an important part of Kerala Syrian Christian cuisine. Another attractive trait of this cuisine is the liberal use of coconut oil, coconut milk, curry leaves and mustard seeds.

1.7.3 Hindu Cuisine

The Hindus were the original natives of Kerala. Their cuisine primarily consisted of vegetarian dishes earlier, although some castes included certain non-vegetarian items in their cuisine. Majority of the Hindu population are settled in the southern and central districts of Kerala including Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Idukki, Ernakulam, Thrissur and Palakad. The Hindus of Kerala constitute primarily of three castes, including Ezhavas, Nairs and Nampoothiris.

1.7.3.1 Dietary Laws

Consumption of beef and alcohol is strictly prohibited among all Hindus of Kerala and doing so often resulted in violence or excommunication during the pre-independence era. The Nampoothiris are strict vegetarians and avoid the use of garlic and onion.

1.7.3.2 Specialities of the Cuisine

The Ezhavas form the largest Hindu community in Kerala. Appam and stew are the common breakfast items. The stew varies from fish in coconut milk with bits of mango, mutton in coconut milk, or merely sweetened coconut milk. A bread speciality is nai-patthal, in the shape of a starfish. Pachadi, a curd based dish made of finely chopped and boiled vegetables with coconut, green or red chillies and tempered in oil with mustard seeds, ginger and curry leaves is a famous dish of the Ezhavas. Desserts include various types of Pradhaman, which is prepared by boiling a certain main ingredient like green gram, banana, jackfruit or cooked rice flakes in coconut milk and flavouring with palm jaggery, cardamom and ginger powder and tempering with fried cashew nuts, raisins and coconut chips.

The Nairs form the second largest Hindu community in Kerala. Traditionally, majority of Nairs were non-vegetarians as consumption of fish was permitted, while some sub-castes were strict vegetarians. Chicken and mutton dishes are also prepared in many Nair homes nowadays, but they were prohibited earlier. Breakfast items include 'Puttu', which is a steamed rice cake. Rice powder is moistened and layered with fresh shredded coconut and steamed in a special utensil called a puttu kutti. It is accompanied by either kadala (chickpea) curry, bananas, sugar, papadam, egg curry or boiled green lentils.

Certain vegetable varieties though eaten by all Keralites, have special Nair associations. Popular dishes include Sambhar, Aviyal, Kaalan and Olan.

Aviyal is a mix of a variety of vegetables including beans, carrot, yam, drumstick, etc. which are cooked with curd, ground coconut, shallots and turmeric powder and seasoned with coconut oil. Kaalan is prepared using plantain, curd and coconut. Olan is a dish of white pumpkin and dried beans cooked in coconut milk and coconut oil. Ada Prathaman and Paal-Payasam are common dessert items.

The domestic cooking of meat and chicken by the Nairs is spiced and uses a great deal of coconut and coconut milk which tempers the dish to mildness.

The Nampoothiris are Brahmins. Thoran is a chief dish of Nampoothiris. It is a dry dish made by stir frying vegetables with coconut and some spices. There are a variety of thorans, including cabbage thoran, carrot and beans thoran, ivy gourd thoran, etc. Thorans can be made with almost every vegetable.

1.8 Onam Sadya

Onam is the most important festival of Kerala and is celebrated by all Keralites. It occurs during Chigam, the first month of the Malayalam calendar, which is between August and September. It marks the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali. At the core of the festival is the Onam Sadya or Onasadya, a feast of almost 13 to 15 dishes. This can go up to 30 dishes at sadyas served in hotels and temples. Some of the main dishes include Sambar, Erisseri, Parippu, Thoran, Olan, Kaalan, Pachadi, Injipulli, Aviyal, Plantain Chips, Sharkara Varatti, pickle and Pappadam. Desserts include Paalada Pradhaman and Parippu Pradhaman. The sadya is always served on a banana leaf and is a completely vegetarian meal.

1.9 Earth, Stone and Metal - The Cooking Utensils of Kerala

The best known Malayali cooking utensil is the uruli made of bell metal. It is circular, squat and wide-mouthed and comes in many sizes. The other metallic utensils are the charakku, a large round cauldron with handles on either side of the rim, and the vaarpu, a large pan made of bronze. All these utensils are used to make payasam, sambar and curries, except kalan, pachadi, chutneys and pickles as they are sour. These dishes are made in a kalchatti, a utensil carved out of soft stone, with a mouth wider than its base. Generally a kalchatti is tall with the height being more than the circumference.

The uruli, charakku and kalchatti get hot gradually and retain heat for some time, hence they are used for cooking everything except rice.

The cooking of rice is done in a chembu, a low, wide-mouthed utensil made of copper - a metal that heats quickly.

Various long-handled metal spatulas of different types are used for stirring payasam and different types of gravy items. Generally wooden ladles are used for the vegetables so as not to bruise them and to transfer rice from the chembu into the serving baskets.

Fish is cooked in a flat-bottomed, open-mouthed terracotta vessel called the meenchatti (meaning cooking utensil for fish). The Kerala style of preparing fish generally calls for slow cooking. This leads to two problems. The curry could easily brown and stick to the base of the vessel and stirring it could lead to the disintegration of the fish. Holding the rim of the vessel with both hands and swirling the curry around prevents these mishaps. The structure and design of the meenchatti allows for all these. It retains heat inside for a long time, thus aiding in slow cooking, and remains just warm enough on the outside, to permit the gentle swirling.

The kadhai is used for all stir-fried dishes and for deep frying. In Malayalam, the kadhai is called cheenachatti.

The appachatti is used for making Appam, the sevanazhi or idiappam press for Idiappam, and the puttukutti for puttu.