Its always a good idea to cultivate marriageable Mallu friends, or at least friends willing to be married to Mallus. The last time this yielded dividends was at Anjali’s wedding – Chennai, but a wonderful, payasam-loaded affair – and it took half a decade to find another candidate.
And so I landed in Thrissur, home to temple, elephants, tons of big fat jewelers and the ridiculously named Lulu Garden Hotel (35 rooms and a helipad) working off my work obligations before jumping into the revelry. I checked in late, only a dull ‘working’ lunch in my belly, but with sleep deprivation and little appetite for adventure decided to eat in (hotel kitchens are usually dull, I thought, but rarely fatal). Two hours later, I was weeping and sniffling like a baby. The food was, much to my surprise, excellent. It was also blazingly, killingly, blazingly (have I already said that?) spicy - even the raita given to cool things off had pieces of chilly. The mutton olathiyathu sang with flavour, the prawn biriyani danced with aromas and the karimeen was worth every bit of its pollichathu - it was, in other words, a thoroughly satisfactory meal for all the fire and brimstone you waded through.
The shaadi was all about mundus and veg food. While my friends tried to figure out how to climb steps with their fancy dresses, I investigated the food options. The cornerstone, of course, was avial – but there was a whole array of rapidly served veggies that I no longer remember the names of. Pumpkin was involved, as was raw mango, pineaple. banana stem and a procession of other unknown vegetables in liquid, paste and dry forms. Rasam, sambar, rice, achaar, all danced about on the banana leaf glammed up with coconut and loads of spices. The two payasams that followed somehow forced their way down overstuffed gullets.
Kerala is one of the great cuisines of the world. Distinctive, delicious and with unending variety; its going to take a lot more than two weddings to get to any level of familiarity here. Unfortunately, its not a food well represented in Mumbai (though there are exceptions to this rule). There’s a huddle of them in the fort area, and a smaller cluster in Mahim. Maybe my next food route will be about those joints.