Home cooking - Malabar style

by - August 20, 2014



Every city comes with its quirks and eccentricities and my own home town of Kannur - the land of looms and lores - is no different. We tend to be more popular for our political misadventures but when all is said and done, there is one thing that you have to love about us - our home cooking.

Traditionally, Malabar cuisine refers to the style of cooking peculiar to the Northern part of Kerala. That long coastline that envelopes the regions of Kannur, Thalaserry and Kozhikode provided us with two wonderful gifts - an abundance of seafood and a glorious history of experimenting with flavours, recipes and spices obtained by all those foreigners who traded across our spice route for centuries. Thus there tends to be distinctive Arab, Chinese and even Portuguese influences to some of the styles of cooking and spice mixes used, giving rise to a diverse range of well-seasoned and delectable dishes that appeal to most foodies who drop by.

seafood Malabar Kannur chicken crab fish dish
Some of the best dishes that Malabar cuisine has to offer


The above dishes were all made at my house at some point of time during the last few months and feature some of the more common dishes that you are likely to encounter when you stay over at a friend's house here in the Malabar region.


Row 1:

Malabar Kannur food
Vellappam with coconut milk
Malabar Food Kerala
Puttu and kadala curry
  • Puttu and kadala curry: A traditional Keralite breakfast if ever there was any, this rice flour based dish ticks most of the boxes - it is easy to make, healthy, extremely filling and works well with many side dishes. You could serve it with bananas, sugar, chickpeas curry, green gram curry, chicken/ prawn/ meat/ fish gravies - it would still be awesome. At home, we also make a version with the prawns infused into the puttu itself (chemeen puttu, as we call it).
  • Traditional thin plain dosas: served with a variety of chutneys or semi-dry bhajji. 
  • Vellappam with coconut milk: Hoppers, appam, palappam, kalappam (if toddy is integrated in the cooking process) - call them whatever you want but they remain yummy by any name. Like puttu, they are versatile and allow for both sweet and savory sides.

Row 2:


Malabar Food Kerala
Clockwise from top: rajma curry,
spicy fried fish eggs, veluri fry and curry

  • Thalaserry biryani: Good authentic thalaserry biryani... this is as good as Malabar cuisine gets. A major contender for best Indian biryani in all polls, the strong Mughlai influence mixes with the Arab influences over decades of export trade of spices: the resulting dish is rich and flavourful and definitely one you have to try out.
  • Ladies finger in coconut milk curry: I don't know if its my mom's secret recipe or a Malabar thingy, to be frank. The infusion of pepper into a slowly cooked coconut gravy makes for a finger licking recipe. I mean it...a finger-lickin' ladies finger dish!
  • Veluri fry and spicy fried fish eggs:  Size does not matter, indeed! Veluri ( anchovies ) are small, clean and usually edible in a single gulp. Spicy fried fish eggs is a delicacy and an acquired taste for some. I personally love it.
  • Those mangoes are just in there to add some element of fruit to the collage! But yes, they are home grown so they fit the criteria and you are always likely to be served some homegrown fruit when you visit their houses. We used to give away chickoos, jackfruits, pepper, ladies finger, bananas etc like crazy, I recall.
One of 4 varieties of bananas presently growing at home. 


Row 3:


Malabar Food Kerala
Malabar crab curry

Malabar Food Kerala
Nongal / Ladyfish fry
Malabar Food Kerala
Naadan Kozhi curry


  • Malabar Crab curry: With that rich sea coast that we have been talking about, it is only natural that crab will feature in the list. Again, richly spiced, they are a delight for the seafood lover. (We get both the sea/blue and river/red varieties of crab here - at home, we are all fans of the former. Yes, we are racist that way, discriminating on the basis of colour.)
  • Naadan kozhi curry: Relax. That just means 'local chicken curry' in Malayalam. Does not change the fact that is awesome though. Coconut, a mix of turmeric, chilly powder, meat masalas and curry leaves make for a wonderful spicy dish that goes well with most main foods - be it rice, rotis or appams.
  • Fried fish: In Kerala, as you go from North to South, you will come across some wonderful variations of cooking fish. For me, the traditional fried-to-golden-brown fish is still heaven. My own favorite is the nongal ( ladyfish / kane ) but popular choice in a recent poll held at a foodies Facebook group in my city places mathi ( sardine fry ) as the local favourite - it won by a landslide defeating other big guys like the kingfish, pomfret and pearlspot by some distance.

Row 4:


Malabar Food Kerala banana sweet coconut
Unnakai

  • Prawn cutlets: Again, I've been to a lot of states and cities but I have to say I enjoy our variety of cutlets the best. In general, 'Malabaris' enjoy their food and meat a lot so their bread crumb layered bites are a delight of flavors with the right amount of potato mixed in with generous servings of chicken. mutton or prawn.
  • Prawn roast: My own personal favourite remains the golden prawn fry that is ubiquitous to our region.
  • Unnakai: Fried bananas stuffed with a coconut-ghee-sugar-cardamom combination. Why count calories when you can just bite into heaven?
     
Other popular dishes you should try out when in the Malabar area include:

Malabar Food Kerala
Kozhi porichathu


Malabar Food Kerala
Mayyathappam I had at a dear friend's house.
Absolutely heaven!


  • Kallumakkaya fry - Mussels fry. (side dish)
  • Arikadukka - Mussels stuffed with rice, shallots and spices and steamed often with shell (teatime snack) 
  • Mutta maala - Two ingredients - Eggs & sugar. Heaven. (sweet dish)
  • Beef ularthiyadhu - Spicy beef dry fry (starters?/side dish)
  • Chatti pathiri - Layered crepes? Mallu lasagna? You decide for yourself! Either way, it can be once more sweet or savory depending on the filling you choose.
  • Kozhi / Kaada porichathu - chicken or quail fry. Again it is the spices involved that add to the yummy taste.
  • Mayyathappam - I'm not gonna give you the translation of that name (you will understand when you ask the nearest Mallu you can find.) It is somewhat similar to a coconut-sugar-cardamom filled pancake. Note the similarity to the filling of unnakai in Row 4? 
Across various social media, people have chimed in with dishes they feel need to be added in the list so that those passing by do not miss out on them. These include:
  • Erachi pathiri - deep fried bread/roti with meat filling. Yummy stuff.
  • Appam and (veg/chicken/mutton/fish) stew.
  • Banana fritters - easy to make and you really can't just stop at one.
  • Nei chor and kozhi porichathu (ghee rice and the above mentioned chicken dry fry) - we even have ghee rice with the above mentioned stews... so much mixing and matching for you all to try out once you get here.

I personally feel Malabar cuisine excels because
a) we are not afraid to experiment with the cuisines of all the cultures that have passed by our land.
b) we don't count our calories while we eat. Thus rice, maida, coconut and a whole bunch of fried items are used daily in houses all over with primary preference being given to taste always.  
    
A traditional Moroccan semolina cake - Basbousa - that we made at home. Even
with so many options at our disposal, we still look to add new stuff to our repertoire.

But that's just me and my biased ways.
So here's the thing... I would love to see more of the cuisine commonly associated with the region you are from. Do add YOUR OWN PERSONAL links below or if you have not written one yet, please let this post inspire you to write one for your region too. A mix of best dishes from all over... I think it would make for a truly glorious collection, don't you?  

Authors note - 

  • All the food above (except for the Mayyathappam) has been prepared at home by my mother. Now you know the secret of my Obelix-esque six pack four pack 2pac family-pack tummy.
  • While I realise the pictures are not DSLR awesome, I kind of like the quality delivered by my Sony Z1 camera.    
  • A lot of fish, chickens, crabs, prawns, bananas and rice grains were harmed during the making of this blog post. Please honour their valuable sacrifice and donate to the "Feed Fatty (me) more Free Food" fund. Any donations you give me will be gratuitously used in the "FFmmFF" initiative, a truly noble cause that enables me to eat heartily while you pay selflessly.

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36 comments

  1. Roshan's Mom - Please adopt me and let me stay in your home with you

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    Replies
    1. you can steal my laptop, my wallet and the house furniture... but no sharing of my food :p :D

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  2. Less options for a veggie :)

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    1. I guess I kind of focused on the non-veggie section :D
      Somewhere the kid in me still refuses to eat his veggies :)

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  3. Ooohh...lovely, Roshan. When can I come and visit? You could do a series with the recipes now!

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  4. I am vegetarian so I am making my selection from the above... These are really nice! :) and photos are too good too! :)

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  5. The pictures look amazing! Unfortunately I am a vegetarian and a lot of them are off limits for me :D

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    1. A lot of veggies in here for Malabar cuisine :) thats unexpected!

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  6. Awee.... I full so full just looking at them!

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    1. hehe... thats how our cuisine works :) You always leave the table full... even in a virtual life :)

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  7. I can only really drool over the veg recipes :) My husband is from palakkad, so I get to try my hand at a variety of Kerala dishes.

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    1. You have to try out some of the sweets made here... they're simplistic and yet so divine.

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  8. You are not allowed to make us drool and not share the recipes! Or better still, invite us over for lunch.

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    1. Okay, having watched her cook, I know the fine intricacies of these dishes so get your writing pads out.
      Secret formula: add lots of stuff into pots and pans. add some powdery stuff and some more stuff. heat. some oil here and there. unheat/turn off heat. Serve.
      Okay, maybe I ain't got it all down perfectly but its close enough!!

      P.S Preferably cut some of those things up before putting them in pots and pans.

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  9. ROSHAN DOESNT SHARE FOOD !!!! :D
    By the way, THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH. :D
    Such yummilicious pics !!! OMG I am hungry !!!

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    Replies
    1. You know me so well :) yes, ladies and gentleman, listen to her - ROSHAN DOESN'T SHARE FOOD!! :D

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  10. All that food looks YUM! :D Who needs a DSLR when these pics can make you equally hungry!! :D :D

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    1. Its while trying to take pics with the mobile camera and getting d lighting right and still facing the issue of grainy quality that I truly appreciated the value of those huge camera accessories finally :)

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  11. Ohhh man, the pics! I am hungry again.. :)

    For me, it will always be the tradition biriyani (I still love it, despite having access to more "modern" varieties) and the Malabari Parotta with nadan kozhi curry :) :)

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    1. true... even after trying most of the other biryani styles, I feel ours is the yummiest (prepare for a food war on this topic :D )

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  12. Please ask your mother to open a food blog. I want to learn how to cook these delicacies.

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    1. She's reading all these comments... has thousands of recipes perfected over decades.. learning to blog, take pics et al is the main issue.

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  13. Mayathappam sounds like what we call Thecha pathiri. It was my dads favorite.

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    1. I've heard a few names for it... this is the one that struck me as the most unique :)

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  14. Oh God! you lucky you...I need to eat all of that ...

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    1. :) I have a strict "no stealing from my plate" policy :p

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  15. Roshan I cant thank you enough for sharing this ! I am moving to Kerala and this post is going to be so helpful whenever I want to go out. I always make sure I try the delicacies of wherever I am at.

    I personally don't eat meat or chicken but I loveeee sea food..and I am really looking forward to try those fish eggs, they sound so interesting :D :D

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    1. I certainly hope you are going to be in the Northern half of Kerala or atleast a good seaside area then - you will get ample choice of crabs (sea vs rivers), prawns of all sizes, mussels, fish of all varieties, of course...
      Fish eggs are actually quite yummy.. ask for them to be well fried (as in the pic) :)
      Enjoy!

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  16. This is food porn! Lucky you :) Damn, I'm drooling even after having a heavy dinner!

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  17. woww so many different food items. I have tasted only a few. They all look delicious.

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    1. you should try out more when you come to the Malabar region... they are delicious. Trust me..

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  18. A lip smacking post indeed! Hats off to your mom :)

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So what do you think ?