We sallied forth from the charming seaside town of Kochi to the hill station town of Munnar yesterday. It was a 4-hour drive, with the last part involving a steep ascent of the highlands, carpeted with tea plantations.
Temperatures cooled noticeably, by as much as 10 deg C/50 deg F, as we moved from sub-tropical to temperate. Munnar stood at an elevation of 1,532 metres (5,026 feet) - it’s a veritable mile-high town!
We opted to have Keralan Syrian-Christian food for dinner this evening.
Syrian-Christians are a distinct community in Kerala since the 1st-century AD. Their cuisine has been co-opted into Kerala’s rich culinary heritage. Hard to find outside of India, or even outside Kerala, we thought we’d take advantage of our current Keralan sojourn to taste some of these dishes which we’d read about. Dinner this evening was at Ivory Restaurant of the Elephant Passage Resort.
Meen Pollichathu - another Syrian-Christian mainstay which has been absorbed into Keralan food pantheon. This dish has spice-marinated and banana leaf-wrapped king fish, which is griddle-cooked till smokey-fragrant. The banana leaf parcel helped the fish maintain its moistness, as well as impart an intoxicatingly delicious aroma.
Vegetable Moilee - creamy, gently-spiced vegetable dish - cauliflower, carrots, French beans - with turmeric and coconut milk accents.
This is actually a vegetarian version of the classic Goan dish, Fish Moilee. Legend has it that the dish was named after a woman chef known only as “Molly”, who toned down the chili content of her dish to accommodate her Portuguese customers.
Keralan Parotta - the Keralan version of the Indian paratha bread: multi-layered, crisp and fluffy, is the closest cousin, texture-wise and taste-wise, to the Singapore roti prata or Malaysian roti canai here on the Indian sub-continent. The denser, more toothsome Tamilian paratha doesn’t even come close.
A friend’s mom is Syrian Christian, and many years ago had us over for a “cooking lesson” where she made a whole bunch of traditional dishes while we watched and took notes. Okay, I watched and took notes — my friend said she didn’t need to learn because mom just cooks whatever she wants whenever she wants . I later told her (distraught) mother than I copied her recipes into the book with my own family recipes, so when the dolt is ready, I’ve got them safe for her .)
Meen moilee is pretty solidly from Kerala, not Goa.
Interesting perspective. When we traveled, my parents were always of the opinion that smaller / less polished places often yielded better / more authentic — if rustic — versions of a specific type of food vs. what gets streamlined in big cities.
Munnar, despite being a very popular town teeming with domestic tourists, seemed rather rough at the edges compared to the polish and confidence of Mumbai. It even lacked the sophistication of cosmopolitan Kochi.
Interestingly, even though it’s a Keralan town, the people here are all Tamils instead of Malayalee. We asked our guide, and he said it’s because Munnar is only an hour away from the border with Tamil Nadu. He himself is Malayalee, and he said most Malayalees live in another town just minutes away.
The post-colonial proliferation of “Keralan” is interesting to me (in India we say “Keralite”), but on the topic of borders, while they tend to be arbitrary anywhere, it can certainly seem more stark in India given the distinct languages and cultures.
If a hill station wasn’t more rustic than the financial capital, no one would go
Each morning, Ivory Restaurant becomes breakfast central at the Elephant Passage Mountain Resort. It has the standard hotel buffet breakfast offerings: two types of cereals, bread/toast section, an egg station, various salads, chicken sausages, cakes/muffins/donuts, juices, etc.
I love the views from the glasshouse-like eatery, and one of the al fresco tables outside is even better to enjoy the fresh cool mountain air.
But, of course, our attention these past two mornings were always riveted towards the local breakfast options. These were some which we had:
Puttu & kadala curry - puttu are these cylindrical steamed rice cakes with grated coconut: one must not be miss these whilst eating out in Kerala. They go amazingly well with kadala curry (known as “kala chana” up north in Mumbai).
Kallappam - thick, spongey pancakes made from fermented rice and coconut batter. Personally, I always preferred palappam to kallappam, but the latter seemed more readily available here.
The version here was light and went very well with the curried green peas.