India is a land of many states, many languages and an amazing variety of cuisines. You can mostly make out the state that a person hails from on listening to his speech.
Palakkad – earlier known as Palghat – is a small town in South India – in Kerala state – more specifically on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. But it has an identity of its own! It is (was?) mostly inhabited by ‘Tam-Brahms’ – more specifically Iyer Brahmins from Tamil Nadu. But as the town has been in Kerala, these Iyers mingled with the Malayalam-speaking people of Kerala and eventually evolved a separate dialect. They migrated mainly from the Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu. From Palghat they migrated to other parts of Kerala like Trissur, Ernakulam, and Trivandrum and came to be known in general as Kerala Iyers or Kerala Brahmins.
Over the years we have built up our own individual culture and established and an identity of our own. Palghat cuisine is basically vegetarian. It makes extensive use of dals, and coconut. The cooking method is usually steam cooking with minimal use of oil and hence quite healthy.
A regular lunch at a Kerala brahmin’s house would consist of steamed white rice, a Kootan (a gravy curry), a curry like poduthuval, mezhukuverati, or kootu, Rasam, papadam, and curds with pickles.
Rice is the staple food of South Indians. Would have a three-course meal – now one-course has been slashed – what with our fascination to eat less to maintain our figure and health! The first course is rice mixed with ‘koottaan’ (‘kozhambu’ in Tamil) with a ‘thoran’ / ‘poduthuval’ / ‘mezhukkuvaratti’ (‘poriyal’ in Tamil) / ‘koottu’ / ‘thogial’ as side dish. The second course is rice with ‘rasam’ (sort of sour lentil soup) along with the same ‘thoran’ and ‘pappadam’ or ‘karuvadam’ (fryums). The final course is rice with curd/buttermilk with a pickle. A good combo of lentils, vegetables, coconut, curd…. supplying a variety of nutrients. And very little spice and oil. Some ‘koottaan’ will have a good amount of coconut but no lentils, some a good ratio of lentils and negligible coconut and yet others with neither of them. Most of the ‘thoran’ and ‘koottu’ have coconut but the ‘mezhukkuvaratti’ has zero coconut but then oil content is more. The ‘cholesterol-conscious’ ones and the ‘weight-watchers’ are bidding goodbye to coconut even in the ‘thoran’ but foodies like me definitely miss the taste!One more thing – for a meal either the ‘koottaan’ or side dish will be sour. You have standard combos which are unbeatable! I guess a lot of science has gone into these recipe-combinations.
I had to write all the name of dishes when I relished the Brahmin dishes at Kerala Food festival at Glass House , Hilton Garden Inn , Sector 50 , Gurgaon . The whole festival was curated by Chef Ashok Epan of Hilton Group at Trivandrum .
Now I understood how food changes the course of geography and migration leads to new Topography which in turn leads to evolution of new cuisine … Palakkad Cuisine is one such good example …