Book review: 101 Kerala Delicacies

G. Padma Vijay; Rupa & Co., India; 1998

This has been my go-to book for decades. I reviewed it for the Times of India and that is how it came into my life. I think I have tried every dish in it and over the years, through experimentation, have honed each one of them to suit my palate.

That is the beauty of this book. The recipes are simple and easy to follow. They form the basic building blocks from which you can craft a country cottage or a castle according to your taste.

The book is divided into 12 chapters, including Pickles & Chutneys, Vegetarian Dishes, Prawn Dishes, Fish Dishes, Egg & Chicken Dishes, Mutton Dishes, Pork Dishes, Snacks, and Desserts & Sweets. Some of my favourite recipes include Chemmeen Achar (Prawn Pickle), Muringakai Theeyal made of the superfood moringa, Koorka Curry made of Chinese potaoes, Kozhierchi Varthada (Chicken Roast) and the Muslim dish Pathri (Rice Roti).

The book does not claim to encompass the entire cuisine of Kerala, but it has some of the main dishes from every part of the meal.

One disadvantage, however, is that the translation of the names of the dishes from Malayalam to English might still leave many readers scratching their heads. For example, in the recipe given above, Vazhakka and Payar have been translated, but though raw banana is clear, how many will know what chauli is? It would have been infinitely easier to describe it as black eyed peas. Also chauli refers to the fresh vegetable in some parts of India.

Similarly, koorka is familiar to those who speak Malayalam, but not to many others. Translating it as koorka in English is not really helpful. The vegetable that is from Africa and grows very well in Kerala is known as Chinese potato or Plectranthus rotundifolius, to give it its botanical name. There is a glossary at the beginning of the book, but it would have been more useful to have the English translations next to the Malayalam names.

One of my favourite recipes in the book is for Kozhierchi Porichadu (Fried Chicken). The well-thumbed page attests to how often I have used it. After all, this book belongs to a phase in my life when Facebook was not even a twinkle in the eye and even the World Wide Web was in its nascent stages.

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