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Malabar masala

The Magic of the Maplahs food festival, which is on at Southern Spice, Taj Coromandel, till August 10, brings to Chennai-ites some unusual delicacies.


LISTENING TO chef K.V. Kabeer and tasting his Calicut mutton biriyani, one can visualise the bustle of Kozhikode Angadi (market), the carved entrances to the Manamchira maidan and gasp at the wooden splendour of the Miskarapalli (mosque) at Kuttichira. It is as though suddenly the fictional world of Uroob, Punathil Kunjabdullah and Basheer who made the heartbeats of the Malabar Muslims familiar to the rest of Kerala, has become palpable. It is indeed surrealistic considering that the spread is at Southern Spice, Taj Coromandel (ph: 28272827), where `Magic of the Maplahs' food festival is on.

It isn't easy to draw out Kabeer. A wedding caterer, he is also a biriyani specialist at the Taj Residency, Kozhikode. After the initial small talk, he hurries back to the kitchen and the nice chemeen (prawn) onion roast and the kappa vada with its floury coating tasting raw doesn't exactly break the ice.

With the meen pollichathu, fish wrapped in banana leaf, things begin to change. The fish is totally different from its Central Travancore version but equally or more tasty. The kadala (channa) curry, irachi (lamb) varatiyathu and kaya upperi (unripe banana poriyal), all have this unfamiliar twist to its masala.

Soon Kabeer gets talking about his favourite topics — Kuttichira, his native place near Kozhikode, and biriyani — and tells us how he learnt under a Moopan, a head cook.

A riot of flavours, ghee, jeera rice and delicately spiced mutton tease the tastebuds. The rice, the garam masala and the method of cooking give it that uniqueness.

Kabeer dismisses Basmati rice with a nonchalance that will raise the hackles of a North Indian chef. The meat and the masala are cooked raw with the rice so that not even a bit of the flavour is lost in the cooking. Nei choru and Podi pathiri are outstanding. The desserts, mutta mala and godambu prathaman are delicious. But the first one is for those who like eggs. Mutta mala is nothing but squiggly strips of sweet egg yolk scattered atop baked egg white cake. Broken wheat payasam is scrumptious.

The fest is on till August 10.

MARIEN MATHEW

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