Saturday, April 08, 2006

A culinary twist (The Hindu's Metro Plus)

Note: I had written this for The Hindu's Metro Plus supplement. You can find the original review article on The Hindu's site here: The Hindu Metro Plus - Moplah food at the Jamavar, Leela Palace

Header, leader, and insert on South Travancore Christians courtesy the edit team.

A culinary twist

Regional cuisine is big and it's the right time to check out the Moplah food festival at the Jamavar in The Leela Palace

CONFLUENCE Moplah cuisine has Arab as well as Kerala influences

Moplah is the anglicised version of Mappila, the Kerala Muslim community of north Malabar. (It's another matter that the Christians of south Travancore are also called Mappilas!) The Malabar Mapplias are believed to be descendants of Arab seafaring traders and the local fisherfolk. Many of their customs and attire have Arab influence even as they have retained their Malayali roots. Moplah culture and cuisine have evolved over the centuries and are now well integrated into the Malabar traditions.

Exotic fare

Jamavar, the Indian restaurant at The Leela Palace, is hosting a special Moplah food promotion until April 14, and this offers a fine opportunity to try their exotic food in a pleasant outdoor setting.

Jamavar hosts two north Indian and two south Indian festivals each year to celebrate regional cuisines. The spread is carefully chosen after research by its team, which spend time with regional chefs to understand the subtleties of how preparations vary from one household to another.

We started with alise, a chicken soup of Arab origin. It had an interesting thick texture due to its wheat base, and was garnished with golden shredded fried onions. Alise is a special preparation traditionally offered to the groom before his nikah ceremony. A vegetarian kanji (cumin-flavoured crushed rice stew) is also available. We then sampled the erachi porichathu (fried lamb), kozhi chuttathu (roasted chicken) and the chemeen (prawn) cutlet. The lamb was a bit dry, but the chicken and prawns were excellent.

The style of preparation of Moplah food is similar to the rest of Kerala cuisine, with a few subtle differences being the use of ghee versus coconut oil and addition of dry fruits. The use of locally available ingredients predominates, just as it does in most other regional cuisines.

Main course

The main course items we tried were the chemeen manga chaaru (prawns and raw mango curry), lobster mulakittathu (chilli hot lobster curry), Moplah mutton curry (tender lamb cooked in onion, tomato and garam masala), and chicken khorma (chicken gravy). Of the lot, the mutton curry with its succulent meat and the chicken gravy stood out. We also tried the rich chicken rice biryani, which was very good. (In fact, you can't find fault with any biryani made by a Kerala Muslim!) The gravy items are typically had with either pooris or pathiri (wafer thin tava baked rice pancakes). Variations like the podi pathiri and nei pathiri are available.

Although the Moplahs are not particularly known for vegetarianism, Chef Venkatesh Bhat has included several veggie options in the menu. A few we sampled were the thakkali vattichathu (stewed tomatoes garlic mustard gravy), kaippakka varutharacha curry (bittergourd in coconut gravy) and the chakkara kadu manga (sweet and sour mangoes). The bittergourd gravy is recommended.

In addition to the Moplah promotion menu, visitors can also choose from the regular à la carte items.

Those familiar with Moplah food or Kerala cuisine in general may be surprised by three missing items: mutta mala (egg garland), beef and choru. By policy, Jamavar does not serve beef and pork.

For dinner reservations, call 30571342.

Ambience: Excellent
Service: Average
Moplah food from north Malabar
Wallet factor:
Rs 1,100 upwards


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