If you need variety in food when you are traveling, then Kerala seems to be the place for you. Perhaps it is the relative prosperity, or perhaps it is the history of trading across the Indian Ocean, that brings so many small eats to Kerala. The little coffee shop that you can see in the featured photo springs from the legendary smuggling feat of Baba Budan. The story that I know is that 500 years ago this pilgrim to Mecca brought back to his home seven beans from Mocha hidden inside his clothes. This is the origin of the Arabica coffee for the cultivation of which the British laid waste to the Nilgiris 300 years later: converting one of the world’s most bio-diverse rainforests into plantations. This roadside shop, with its lovely kitchen, is just one of the modern links in a deep history which began with the cultivation of coffee in Ethiopia more than a thousand years ago.
The humble idli and vada, which, to most of Northern India, is the epitome of Southern Indian food, also seems to have a storied origin. Wikipedia predictably traces the idli back to Hindu kingdoms from 1100 years ago, but admits that most of the modern ingredients of idli are missing from these ancient recipes. The addition of rice, the day-long fermentation, and the steaming are processes inseparable from today’s idli. I found an old book review in The Hindu which claims that the idli, in its modern form, is a hybrid of steamed rice balls brought by early Arab traders to the Malabar coast, and the old tradition quoted by Wikipedia. It is possible that, as K.T. Achaya proposes, the far-eastern trade also brought in the technique of fermentation of food, which got added to this amalgam. The neat little breakfast served on a banana leaf has such a wonderfully mixed parentage!