#kerala, food, Life, Personal, Places

Beach and Baji

We, in India, following the COVID19 pandemic, are being slowly conditioned into an ‘unlock’ plan by the government. On November 1st, which incidentally is Kerala Piravi or Kerala Day, was also the day our beaches were opened to the public after eight months of restrictions.

Sunset ‘boulevard’ Photo courtesy:Hormese Joseph

Alappuzha beach , with its picturesque stretch of coastline has a magnetic force that draws locals and passers-by in droves.

Alappuzha is a well planned city that lies between Vembanad Lake and the Arabian Sea. It was economically significant in the spice trade for a long time. A port was founded in 1762 for the export of coir-matting and coir-yarn. Alleppey coir yarn has been GI certified since 2007.

The lighthouse built on the coast of the city is the first of its kind along the Laccadive Sea coast. It was first lit in 1862 and is still a manned station! Surprisingly, Alappuzha beach hosts a beach festival and sand art festival. (Surprising cause it isn’t considered the most progressive of cities). A canal system helped bring in goods to port from the backwaters and encouraged an entourage of traders from Surat, Mumbai and Kutch, who eventually, chose to make Alleppey home.

The lighthouse at Alappuzha

The beach here is always teeming with people. For an Alleppey native, it is the go-to place that provides free entry, a meeting ground for friends, more-than-friends, souls on the path of enlightenment and general tomfoolery.

Meet-up place Photo courtesy: Hormese Joseph

In the evenings , when the light starts to dim and the sun starts to set, an artist’s palette creates a riot of colours; a whirlwind of consciousness. The gas fires from the ‘undhu vandi‘ (carts), the calls of the ice cream vendors and the king of Alappuzha beach snacks ( yes, such a snack exists) the glorious, humungously satisfying “Baji“. This coated-in-batter, deep-fried street food is at the zenith of recreational activities in this setting.

Egg baji

It is a truth universally acknowledged (or a truth that the whole of Alleppey knows), that even if burgers & fries and Arabian delicacies are mushrooming in every nook and cranny, the baji guy😎 is the ever-present ,doller-out of the best snack for introspective sunset vibes.

A cup of chai ( not coffee) is the final touch. My friend @aparnasramblings may graciously disagree (but we all know which is better 😜).

The tea is of various kinds: black tea with ‘karipetti‘, the sweet milky one and even a ‘sulaimani‘. But the baji, oh the baji ! Cauliflower, banana peppers (baji chilly), thinly sliced raw banana, eggs- we are spoilt for choices. A tomato chutney (that seems a mite confusing to replicate) is poured on top and voila! A feast for the taste buds. Sophisticated it’s not, but definitely touches all the right places of my tummy!

Banana Chilly Fritters

I’m wondering if any you are now waiting for a recipe? Not coming! This baji has to come with beach. That tea has to accompany it. The setting is the hero in this one. So, what’s your favourite snack setting?

#kerala, food

Onam in God’s own country

Onam might just be the topic that is occupying a malayalees insta feed , Facebook and various other social media handles for the better part of a fortnight starting yesterday!

During my undergraduate days, Onam celebrations first started at that reverred institution two weeks before break began. Competitions were fierce, especially the tug-of-war. Scraped hands, bloodied feet and sore throats were a given. There were also one act plays with decked up (in gold) women, flower carpets ‘pokkalams’ , and horribly predicatable Malayalam vibes – a medley of onam ‘looks’. There were singing competitions, best dressed (nope, I never came even the tiniest bit close when there were girls at college who made dressing up an art form), ‘vanchipatu’ (traditional boat songs) and fusion songs playing over the speakers during these days. The mood was festive with a capital F.

Onam is a harvest festival celebrated in the malayalam month of Chingam. According to legend, the festival is celebrated to commemorate  Mahabali( the self-sacrificing king) whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at this time.

Vallam kalli (boat races), pulikali (tiger dance), pookalams, folk songs and dance, make up part of the festivities. But, and that’s a huge BUT, dominating the competitions and wiping out all the willy-nilly revelry is the (drum roll), sadhya!

A veritable feast is served on plantain leaves and could consist of over two dozen dishes. Let me repeat that. Over two dozen! (Ha! And here you thought we were all about parota and beef (Godha movie scene). Chips, Sharkaraveratti (Fried pieces of banana coated with jaggery), pappadam, olan , kalan, injipuli, thoran, mezhukkupurati, aviyal, sambar, paripu, erisheri, pachadi, kichadi, puliseri, naranga curry, moru, pickles (uff thats an extensive line-up!). It definitely does not stop there. No way! then we go on to the payasam, a sweet dish of which atleast two or three kinds is served with boli, pappadam and plantains, eaten on the same plantain leaf. Although the list seems endless, there is a method to this madness of curries. Check out Onam recipes from Squaremeals.

An unmarred plaintain leaf is laid with its tip pointing to the left of the person seated. The chips are then laid on the left edge of the leaf and the curries are served (in moderation of course). Tingling sour curries like kalan, sweet and salty ginger curry, warm coconut aviyal are all served on the leaf. The paripu and ghee poured on the rice is my favourite part (yes, I make the server pour not drizzle on my leaf).

The payasam though is the most anticipated, delectable and perfect conclusion to the parade. Personally, I keep a small amount of pickle in a corner of the leaf. Ask me why. Cause you can eat more payasam since the spicy pickle re-balances your taste buds! I’m a genius!

Paripu payasam

Onam brings the family together; the aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbours. The sadhya tastes infinitely better in that atmosphere of love. Although a gathering of such proportions might be restricted this year, it can still be celebrated differently.

Even if it seems the worst of times, we can make it the best of times. Saluting the frontline warriors of the Covid19 pandemic and wishing everyone a happy Onam. saying thank you.


Salt: the good, the bad and the salty

Salt is a mineral composed mainly of sodium chloride (NaCl). It is present in vast quantities in seawater and according to Wikipedia, the open ocean has about 35 grams (1.2 oz) of solids per liter of sea water.

Salt is essential for us to season our food and saltiness is a fundamental and foremost part of human taste. Salt processing is as old as 6000B.C.! Whoa and I thought early humans knew nothing about seasoning!

Salt was used to seal deals in trade and was also part of burial ceremonies in Egypt. Wars have been fought over this commodity that harmonizes flavours in cooking. It is abundant, significant yet so common and nominal in price.

So why have I suddenly decided to write on salt of all things? For quite a few days I’ve been messing up the seasoning in most of my curries. My husband had to point it out cause I was missing it (the embarrassment!). Then he asked quite a pertinent question. Do you think your blood pressure is fine? Which led me on a salty chase! Sometimes the level of saltiness we taste in our food may indicate a fluctuation in blood pressure. Read up more on Salt and its effects on the body.

When my mom showed signs of high blood pressure, the doctor advised her to get rid of the salt shaker and cut back on the salt intake gradually, which would, in turn, allow the taste buds to naturally adjust. But too little sodium can also lead to hyponatremia and dizziness, muscle twitches and/or seizures. Doctors suggest the maximum intake of sodium should not exceed a teaspoon a day (around 5gms of salt)! The Mayo clinic considers that even a slight reduction of sodium in our diet may improve heart health and reduce blood pressure.

Processed foods are so stealthy in incorporating a high level of salt that you have to watch that oh-so-tempting but sneaky-package. A whooping 75% of the salt we consume is found in the food we buy. The additives alone are enough to give you a coronary. If a food label says sodium instead of salt, it can actually mislead you. Read the facts Sodium and salt.

Surprising uses for salt

But even with these seemingly horrible effects, salt remains indispensable. It is a powerful antibacterial agent. It kills (without remorse) certain types of bacteria, through the process of osmosis; that is – molecules of a solvent usually pass through a semipermeable membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one, thereby enzymes cannot function and the cell collapses in on itself. (I had to read that thrice and even then the definition keeps me going in circles). Yeah, so to make a long story short, salt is ninja to most bacteria. But underline most.

But on towards salt’s usefulness:

  • Gargling with salt water can ease swelling and help a sore throat feel better.
  • A balance of fluid and sodium(found in salt) is necessary for the health of the heart, liver, and kidneys.
  • It regulates blood fluids and prevents low blood pressure.
  • Throwing some rock salt on African snails= instant kill.
  • Salt is the raw material for the production of chlorine and caustic soda.
  • De-icing
  • In pharmaceuticals
  • Water treatment
  • Food preservation

Salt even has biblical connotations – the ancient Hebrews used salt to make a covenant with God. Huh!

“every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.”

Leviticus 2:12-13

Even the Winchester brothers from Supernatural used salt as a shield/ barrier between them and evil spirits.

There’s still a lot more facts (and fiction) about salt, but this right here is what I found interesting. So the next time someone implies you are the salt of the earth, take it with a grain of salt!!(I just had to say that😁)

Oh and guess who has a slightly peaked blood pressure reading (the husband)!

Chemistry Jokes

Drooling over Mysore Pav

Imagine having a cookie, and that cookie has besan (gram) flour instead of all-purpose, ghee instead of butter, and that the ghee is double the amount of butter recommended. That is a Mysore Pav!

I have been craving this wondrous, delectable sweet for a few days and when that call became too great to ignore, I went out and got it (you cannot say I’m indecisive). I had religiously avoided venturing out into CoronaLand but the stomach wants what it wants! At first I opted for a 200gm pack and then I asked the guy at the counter to add another 200gm and then took 3 more pieces just to be on the safe side. Loosely translated 400gms of this ambrosia and you are set for a 2× weight gain. But never let that be a deterrent! We will slay the ‘fat-dragon’ another day!

Mysur pav

Mysore pak is an Indian sweet that originated in the city of Mysore in Karnataka hence the name Mysore Pak. Paaka meaning sugar syrup. Interesting facts (or story) about the sweet : the then Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wadiyar (1884–1940), was a food connoisseur (all the good ones are) and enjoyed different cuisines cooked in his ginormous kitchens. His chef, Kakasura Madappa, was credited with the invention of the dish and Madappa’s desecedants still run a bakery following the original recipe. It’s called Guru Sweets located in Mysore.

Inside the Mysore palace

My mother’s aunt used to make batches of it at her home in Alleppey. But it was a much harder version from what we get now at Sri Krishna Sweet house. This is softer, definitely more ghee-laden and as the Lays jingle goes “no one can eat just one”! I break off half a slice, but it melts in my mouth before I can say ‘Mysore’ that I have to have another, just to be sure I really did eat it. It is indeed food fit for a king ( a king who wouldn’t fit into much if he kept at it)!

How good does this look! Check out my friend’s page Aparnasramblings

This piece of yellow sweet inevitably will bring a smile to your face. The smile is reason enough to have another piece because smilers never lose and frowners never win. Try the recipe from Rakskitchen.


Dosa batter, err banter

We had dosa for breakfast today, which got me thinking. I was never a dosa-lover when I was a kid but my son will stand and go through atleast three even before it gets from the tawa to the plate

Served with its accompaniments; sambar and coconut chutney, this traditional south Indian breakfast is as healthy as a breakfast/light snack/dinner can get (I may be biased here and I’m leaving idli for another day).

The paper roast with accompaniments

Food preferences have changed for me over the years and today I relish a ghee-laden paper roast ,(the waistline can watch its self), with sambar and any kind of chutney. If I feel the kids need an extra shot of protein with that, I just crack an egg on top and swirl it about, adding a pinch of salt and pepper. Grated cheese between the folds of a wafer-thin dosa, drizzled with ghee is soooo divine. Scientific studies have proved ghee is important for the brain to function well! (This is me not being cheeky😁)

There have been countless fails, in the intial years of cooking, trying to get the batter right: there was the unrisen one, the funny-tasting one , the watery one…the list goes on. I definitely learnt what not to do when making the batter.

My dosa crisping up! The ghee will follow!

But if you are a gastronome like me (wink), this is a dish you must try for its robustness, its completeness and the feeling of contentment only a good, healthy meal can give.