I thought I’d treat you to an assortment of foods that I’ve eaten since coming to Kerala. With riveting commentary, of course!
That’s right. We just call this “meals.” Basically, this is about as traditional Keralite faire as you’ll ever get: an assortment of curries and other random, sometimes scary, goodies [not labeled] to mix with your rice [A], all lain upon a freshly chopped off banana leaf [F]. Also included is a banana itself [B] and something that I can’t spell that sounds like “pop-a-dumb” [E] – a very tasty (as in salty), crispy item that I usually save for the end and eat separately instead of breaking into the rice as most people do. And don’t forget your pickle! [D] “Pickle” is any kind of random fruit (mango is the safest) that has gone through some kind of process – maybe be pickling if I dared to guess – that creates one overwhelming flavor in your mouth; it’s an intricate fusion of sweet, sour, and spicy that I stay away from. Also in the same not-so-tasty category is (don’t know how to transliterate this one either) “pie-a-sum,” a thick drink full of rice that is so sweet you’ll pucker.
Tender Coconut – Stage 1
You can find vendors along road selling these. They’ll simply chop off one from their little bushel, then take a hatchet and create a hole in one end, stick a straw in, and then present to you for your drinking pleasure. The vendor will tell you that the coconut water will cure anything from insomnia to both types of diabetes, but I’m not convinced. However, I do believe it when they say it’s hydrating and about the purest water in Kerala.
Tender Coconut – Stage 2
After drinking, the vendor will chop open the coconut for you to eat the meat. Now, the meat was definitely an acquired flavor for me, but I’ve learned to enjoy it. You scoop out the meat with a sliver of coconut the vendor will provide from your very own coconut. Quite the process!
If the picture I took weren’t so washed out, I’d trust you could figure out this one on your own. Pineapple grow all over Kerala it seems (there’s a farm just outside of CMS). The pineapple tastes pretty much like you’d expect, but it’s always a fun, tasty experience whether in liquid or solid form.
Oh, Christmas cake. So, I’m not a fan of cake at Christmas; I feel like it should be reserved for birthdays. Maybe this is because I’m not really a fan of cake in the first place (I usually ask for an alternative for my own birthday), but at Christmas?! It kind of tasted like a carrot/fruit cake hybrid. You do the math. I survived, but this won’t be something I incorporate into my Christmases in the future.
Kappa and Meen
This is a personal favorite! Kappa is Malayalam for tapioca, a yellow, potato-like root I’m sure you’ve heard of, and meen is fish. The fish curry is arguably the spiciest that I’ve had, but it goes great with the mashed potato like consistency of tapioca. Also included here is what we call “small fish fry, ” a whole plate of fried fish so small you eat them whole without the bones bothering you, but large enough to see their beady little eyes. These fish, with curry leaves and onions atop, can be dipped in some kappa or simply popped into your mouth. Now, if you know me well, you’re aware that whole fish being something John now enjoys placing in his mouth is what we call “growth” – or possibly regression – I’m not sure. And don’t forget your discard pile for curry leaves and the tough fiber that runs down the middle of the tapioca.
I saved the best for last! Easily one of my favorites here in Kerala, biriyani [D], whether chicken [B], beef, or vegetarian, is delicious. Very similar to fried rice, the difference, a Malayali recently told me, is that biriyani is cooked with the meat and/or vegetables. This biriyani came with a few personal favorites, a hard-boiled egg [C], “salad” [A], and a “pop-a-dumb” [E].