Unseen flowers

This has been a year of canceled trips for me. The latest cancellation is a long-planned trip to Kerala. Once every 12 years there is a mass blooming of the Neelakurinji flower (Strobilanthes kunthiana) in the region of Munnar. We had planned to go to see these flowers. Unfortunately this year there was a freak monsoon storm which destroyed roads and parts of Munnar town, flooded large parts of Kerala downriver, and killed many people. I understand that this is possibly the worst monsoon flood in a century.

In this bad time we did not want to cancel our trip in a hurry. Often recovery is helped by providing business. Unfortunately now, with about a week to go for our trip, we are forced to cancel. The flood damage is so heavy that the state government has requested tourists to stay away. Kerala will take time to rebuild and rehabilitate. The state needs help. Here is a link to the main portal where you can offer to help if you wish. I believe that this government portal possibly entails the minimum of administrative overheads, so almost all the donated money will reach those who need help.

Kerala’s new year just passed: Onam. We joined the community in a traditional meal, the Onam Sadhya (featured photo).

Kerala meals

If you walk in to a small restaurant in the south of India, the chances are that there will be a "meals" on offer. This is a set lunch or dinner. Some parts of it can often be unlimited. Our first set meal in Munnar was in a place recommended by our driver.

As you can see in the photo above, the meal was not small. The staple in Kerala is rice, so there are enormous quantities of it. For The Family and me half the amount offered was often twice as much as we could eat. This was accompanied by a large variety of things which took us time to identify.

I started with the three things which I could recognize immediately. There was a sambar and a extremely peppery rasam. I had to use the raita to soothe my palate after the rasam.

Then there was a wonderful avial in which we recognized yam, plantain, and, to our surprise, bitter gourd. There was also the usual pair of a dry and a wet vegetable. The dry vegetable, a version of thoran was a mixture of finely chopped beans with grated coconut. The wet vegetable had plantains and pumpkin.

Apart from the mango pickle that left with the job of identifying a dish we had never met before. It was a soupy thing with a dominant taste of coconut milk and tomatoes cooked in turmeric. We later understood that this kind of a dish is called olan. Unlike the other components of a meal, the olan is not very easily available in Mumbai.

Our dinners inevitably turned out to be some version of a meal, often with fish and meat in addition to these lentils and vegetables. It seems that the ubiquitous "meal" is a simplified version of the formal feast called the Sadhya. How this highly refined and expensive feast became a people’s lunch is probably worth a long article.