For someone like me, who had never been to South India before, travelling there was like exploring a different country. People look different, they speak different language, they dress differently, they have different culture, the food is different, billboards have different faces, climate is different and had it not been to the general piles of garbage, broken roads, chaos and the usual crowd it is impossible to make out that you are still in India.
When you are at a different place like this then food is a major issue. For some it can be a problem, but for foodies like me it actually proves to be an experience. Although for a Delhiite, south Indian food is not new; but nonetheless having it in the land of its origin was an experience.
Despite of my many attempts I didn’t get much chance to explore the southern delicacies in fort Kochi. Except 3 Dosas and sambhar, I didn’t eat anything else there. When I say 3 Dosas, don’t be surprised, these were entirely different from the one which we have in Delhi. They were smaller, thicker and without masala, more like plain uttapam and at Rs. 4 each, they were pretty cheap. The best part about food I noted there at these local joints, it is tasty and cheap, you can fill your stomach with tasty food in just 10 – 20 bucks.
This was my first brush with the local food in a local setting. A small piece of advice before going out on such an outing, always carry a spoon with you, because if like me you can’t manage food without one, chances are you will be left hungry. In these local food joints you will not find spoon. Can’t say if it is genuinely unavailable or for fun they will not give it to you, but whatever the reason might be, you will not get a spoon there. Luckily I received this advice before leaving, so managing the food was not an issue [everywhere I went I had a spoon with me; mere paas chamach hai].
After sleeping in my hotel room through the restaurant hours, around midnight I felt hungry and the room service had few options available with them. Out of the few names I heard one which I understood was ‘appam’. I had no clue what appam was and on enquiring all I get to know, and I quote, “appam, yes. How many you want?” To be on safer side I said 1. And I heard, what with appam? Just appam, was my reply. After 20 minutes, the room service guy came with one appam and a bill of Rs. 10 [including taxes]. Appam was again a kind of dosa [like the one I have had in the evening] but it was thinner and crispier, so another call to room service for 3 more appams and vegetable curry along with it. The vegetable curry was delicious and reminded me of Thai Red Curry. If you have had Thai food, then you will know what I mean; it had many vegetables, was made in coconut oil and coconut water perhaps as well, and it was yum in eating.
Another new thing I tried was called Malabari Prantha at another local eating joint at Athirapally [famous waterfall, Niagra of India], with chicken curry. The chicken curry was almost horrible, and malabari parantha was thin, crisp and little on sweeter side, so I didn’t like it either. Although chicken curry I had at Swaroop’s house was different and the falvour was good. The night before wedding there was dinner at the house, rice, curd and chicken curry was the menu. For the vegetarians the option was only rice and curd, but everyone there had chicken. There in south it is believed if you kill some animal to eat it, then it is not a sin. It is a sin to just kill them and not eat them. Anyways the gravy of chicken curry was thick and the rice had a nice subtle flavour and smell of herbs; which I again found to be quite cool.
Anyways, I was excited about the wedding and the food to be served there; as this was a traditional Hindu wedding of South [I won’t go into wedding details right now; have another post for that] so the food had to be traditional too. Unlike North India, there we were made to sit properly, with a banana leaf in front with various dishes in little quantities. I don’t remember the name of all of them, but there were banana chips, different type of chutneys, some different vegetables, papad, rice in between with sambhar and rassam.
Sujit was sitting next to me and I am sure he didn’t get to eat much because he was busy answering my constant questions about the food. The food was about spices, and not the usual spices we have here, but more about flavor and aroma which you can feel in every bite you take. Even the water served was having some herbs in it, something which don’t take away the original flavor and taste of water [yes water is supposed to be tasteless but isn’t water one of the tastiest things you have ever had] but just add a pinch and subtle colour to it.
This time here I was without spoon. Yes I was carrying one with me, but here I didn’t bring it, not because I forgot, but this experience can never be complete if you eat food there with a spoon. It may sound strange but eating with my hands, and I mean literally, actually added to the whole experience. Undoubtedly it was difficult, but once you start, you start to have the feel and it is all about it; unless you feel the food you don’t really eat it, you just stuff it.
One thing which I learned from this trip about South Indian food, it actually has more flavours then the North Indian one. But when it comes to the butter, ghee and all the fattening ingredients, nothing beats what we have in North. Where else will you get butter naan, daal makhani and aloo ke paranthe with butter on top?