Friday, March 16, 2012
GOD'S OWN CUISINE
Malabar cuisine is truly spectacular. Whether Kerala is God's own country or not, its cuisine is truly God's own. I love Malabar cuisine and I get cranky if I don't get my fair share of it every now and then. I plan a trip across the state border at least once a year, to indulge in the delicacies of the neighboring state. Malabar cuisine may not be for everyone. First of all, it requires a certain tolerance to coconut oil. Coconut oil is abundantly used in all the dishes. Coconut oil is to Malayalis what mustard oil is to Bengalis. The seafood and other non-vegetarian dishes stand out from the rest of what the state has to offer and are my favourites.
A visit to Ernakulam/Kochi is incomplete for me without a stop for lunch at the Grand Hotel on M G Road. Its a grand old institution that has been serving scrumptious food to the locals and tourists alike since the mid 1960s. The restaurant at the Grand received a face-lift in mid 2011 and has opened its doors once again to its loyal customers. The restaurant offers North-Indian, Continental, Oriental and Malabar fare but in the last 12 years of my visits to the Grand, I do not remember ordering a single dish outside the Malabar cuisine. Ok, maybe once I ordered caramel custard for my son.
I am also very fond of restaurants in Fort Kochi that cater mostly to the foreign palate. Most restaurant menus in Fort Kochi will feature grilled seafood and a fusion of malabar and continental cuisine. On my recent trip to Fort Kochi I had the opportunity to have dinner at the Old Harbour Hotel which is just across the street from the Chinese fishing nets. We ordered a grilled prawn appetiser served with beetroot chutney & pineapple chutney, Indian-style sauteed crab served with rice and a dish of Prawn Ullarthiyathu wrapped with a fillet of red snapper and steamed. The seafood was fresh and flavourful and menu was definitely designed to cater to the tourists from the far and beyond.
I am personally very fond of the restaurant at the Malabar House on Parade Road which is a small boutique hotel. There is also a Tapas and wine bar in the hotel premises. I did not get the chance to dine at the Malabar House during my recent trip but I clearly remember relishing the grilled seafood platter and the Pork Vindaloo Ravioli from my previous trips.
The other restaurant that I stopped at for dinner in Fort Kochi on the following night was the History Restaurant at the Brunton Boatyard Hotel. The Brunton Boatyard again is not far from the Chinese fishing nets and is situated right by the waterfront. The History restaurant is a tribute to the settlers of Fort Kochi who have called this island home over the centuries. The Chef, Mr.Ajeeth has drawn inspiration from the Brahmins, Syrian Christians, Jews and Portuguese among other settlers who settled to Fort Kochi decades ago.
The limited menu varies on a daily basis and among other dishes are three signature dishes which they claim is unique to the History Restaurant and will not be found in any other restaurants in Fort Kochi. On the night of our dinner, the signature dishes were a slow-cooked First-Class Railway Mutton Curry, Chuttuli Meen - a dish of brackish water fish stuffed with shallots and ginger, grilled and finished in the oven with potatoes and Bristow Camp Potatoes - baby potatoes sauteed with red spinach and spices. The bar menu at the History restaurant was impressive and I spotted some unusual liqueurs among some usual suspects.