India is a country of astounding culinary diversity. A famous Hindi proverb says that every two miles the water changes, and every four miles the speech. The same holds true for food. There are numerous regional cuisines with a long and storied heritage that are almost unknown. The latest food festival at Aish by The Park Hyderabad shines a light on one such cuisine. Mappila or Moplah is a Mulsim community in Kerala that traces its roots back to the Arab traders of the 7th century. Spread over the Malabar coast, the Moplahs have their own distinctive tradition including a rich culinary tradition that developed over centuries due to the assimilation of various cultures. The Moplah Food Festival is being curated by Begum Abida Rasheed – a home Chef who has been hosting pop-ups around the country for a decade to showcase this rare cuisine. The Park hosted a Moplah Food Festival last year and chose to invite her for an encore performance due to the positive reception.
I was invited to a bloggers table where Begum Abida Rasheed walked us through Moplah cuisine. Begum Rasheed, who has been nicknamed Moplah Genie, explained that the Moplah cuisine lives on through the Muslim households of the Malabar coast where it is passed down through generations. It has few cookbooks and is not available commercially.
I began my dinner with Pacha Manga, a simple coolant prepared from green mangoes and crushed ice, infused with coconut oil and green chilly. Much like other Indian cuisines, Moplah cuisine doesn’t have appetizers or starters. Hence, Begum Rasheed offered tea-time snacks as appetizers. The vegetarian options were familiar tasting. The Vada was similar to Punugulu and was served with a coconut and red chilly chutney. The Nulli Itathu was an Onion Pakoda not too dissimilar to the Peyanji of Bengali cuisine. Non-vegetarian starters on offer were Kozhi Porichattu and Meen Porichattu. I loved the Kozhi Porichattu, Chicken Fried in Coconut Oil, which is a popular street food in Kerala.
Rice is a central element of Moplah cuisine and was offered to us in multiple avatars. I began with Puttu – a cylindrical, steamed rice and coconut cake, which was served with Kadala Curry (chickpea curry) and Chemmeen Mulaku Curry (Prawns Red Curry). The curry is poured on top of the puttu and then mashed up. The Puttu was soft and airy and soaked up the flavours of the gravy. The tangy and spicy red curry was absolutely fabulous with the slightly sweetish coconut flavoured Puttu. Next up, was Pathiri – a roti (flatbread) made out of rice flour. I poured Mutton Ishtew on top of the Pathiri. The Ishtew is similar to Kerala stew, but it is more runny and the coconut milk flavour is much more nuanced. Once again, this combination was simple, hearty, and delicious. The final form of rice that I tried was the Mutton Biryani (there was also Ghee Rice on the buffet that I skipped). This Biryani is prepared with Kaima rice, which is popularly known as Gobindobhog rice in Bengal. The mutton is marinated in yoghurt and cooked for hours, which makes it amazingly tender. Kerala Biryani is a completely different beast from the Hyderabadi Biryani. It’s light on your stomach, but a delight for your palette. It would be a travesty to talk about Malabar cuisine and ignore the Malabar Parotta – a flatbread with a brilliant flaky and crispy layers. I paired this with Kozhi Nirachathu, a Malabar style gravy of chicken stuffed with egg and masala. There were several vegetarian gravies on the buffet, but after four rounds of main courses, I didn’t have the appetite to try them.
The main courses had been a revelation. From the Puttu and Parotta to the Biryani, I loved every bit of it. But, the Moplah Genie had a couple of more surprises for me. First up was Mutta Mala, a dessert that I assumed was made of Rawa and dressed to look like a sunny side up. Oh how wrong I was! As soon as it landed the table, I could smell the egg. It turned out Mutta Mala is a dessert prepared entirely from eggs. The base is prepared by steaming sweetened egg white, while the garnish on top is prepared by plunging egg yoke into boiling sugar syrup. Eggs in dessert might not appeal to everyone, but I really enjoyed it. The final dessert was Chakkara Choru, a rice and jaggery payasam.
The Moplah Food Festival is on until the 20th at Aish, The Park Hyderabad. For lunch, it’s being offered as a pre-portioned thali, while for dinner it’s an all you can eat buffet. They are priced at Rs. 999 AI and Rs. 1495 AI respectively. The menu will be changed every day. The Moplah Food Festival offers a cuisine that’s seldom foud outside of Muslim households along the Malabar coast.