If you think that south Indian food is quite different from north Indian, you are right. If you think that all south Indian food is roughly similar, then you are wrong. We landed in Kochi airport at 8 in the morning, met Shankumar, who was supposed to drive us to Munnar and back, and set out immediately. After half the journey was over, Shankumar stopped at a very clean roadside eatery for breakfast. It was exactly what we were prepared for: idlis and utthapams, sambar and coconut chutney with dosas. Along with this wonderful filter coffee. We relaxed into a holiday eating frame which was totally wrong.
Of course we knew that there was more: fish curry, appam with spicy stew, and various such things find their way easily into the menu west of the Nilgiris, and are harder to find east of the Deccan’s divide.
The one thing we had forgotten completely was Malabar’s long history of trade across the Indian ocean. Many recipes were exchanged across the centuries. Today the tremendously aromatic Malabar biriyani is a tradition which stands independent of the several other biriyani traditions of India. Along with this we discovered that game which has become rare in northern India is more easily available here: quail, partridge and pheasant were all available. What a wonderful surprise this turned out to be.
And another pleasant surprise was the local coffee: coffee grounds are boiled with molasses and cardamom to make a wonderful morning’s shot of caffeine. This is another recipe which is a reminder of Malabar’s trading history. People from Kerala were responsible for smuggling coffee out of Arabia. Once they got it home, of course, they spiked it with local ingredients. Discoveries like this make a memorable holiday.