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A FESTIVAL for foodies

The Mappila food festival at Gateway showcases a unique community's legendary cuisine


THE MAPPILAS of Kerala are a unique lot. They have their roots firmly in the country (especially in the part that stretches from Kozhikode to Kasarkod) and yet are replete with influences from the Arabian peninsula. The richness of the Arabs, their generosity (remember the legend of the Arab who'd give away anything of his you admired?) and their zest for life, are all reflected in the customs and traditions of the Mappilas. Especially in their food.

Now, the food you find on a day-to-day basis in a Mappila home might not be very different from what you'd find in any other Kerala home; but come a salkaram — the first visit of a groom to his bride's home — or a wedding or a birth, and the Arabic influence is in full swing. The food that is dished out is rich and varied. The quantities are large and even the traditional `dumba' (a full animal stuffed with delicacies and roasted on a spit) is commonplace.

Gateway Hotel's Potluck Café brings you a taste of this food in a festival till July 20, both at an a la carte lunch and a dinner buffet. All the dishes that would be seen at a salkaram or a wedding are most likely to be present at the festival — from the nool puttu (string hoppers, or idiappams as they are commonly called) to the patris and the mutta mala — prepared in the traditional way by an authentic Mappila cook, Kabir. But I'm running away.

Since Mappila food does not follow the exact order of a Western meal, or even the sambar-rasam-curd routine of the South Indian, you usually begin with what takes your fancy. Or, in this case, Chef Thimmaiah's fancy. We began with the kozhi porichathu or fried chicken with a raw banana mezhuku puratti. The bananas were cooked just right — the cubes still nicely separate, without a raw taste, while the chicken had the traditional marinade of chilli and rice flour.

In traditional Mappila cooking, chilli and rice flour make a majority of the bases, along with a cache of spices. Black pepper is obviously predominant, followed by clove and cardamom. Even cashew is a large presence. Especially in the meen porichathu — cubes of seer fish cooked with shallots in a chilli and cashew paste with some kodampuli (garcinia) thrown in. It looks like dynamite, but has been toned down greatly with the kodampuli.

The biryanis are also cooked differently. The meat and the rice (not the long basmati, but the shorter variety) are cooked separately. They are then layered in a degchi and left to steam, ensuring that the flavours of the meat completely encompass the rice. Served with a brilliantly simple raw mango, coconut and green chilly chutney.

No Mappila worth the salt in his pathiri will serve you plain rice. It has to be at least nei choru — ghee rice with fried onions and cashews thrown in. Served, perhaps with mutton kurma that has an undertaste of cashew and is cooked till it really melts in your mouth.

It is not as if the vegetarians are left out. After all, North Malabar the land of the Zamorins. So, you have beans thoran, vendakka mulligutthathu, manga murungakkaya, kaya upperi and chenna charu. Of course, appams, puttu, nool puttu, patharis and the famous Malabar parotta.

Desserts include the fascinatingly made mutta mala — eggs, sugar, spices (especially vanilla) beaten together and poured like jalebis from a coconut shell that has been drilled.

The cherupayar payasam (made from green moong) is rich with jaggery and cashew.

Obviously not for the timorous weight watcher: you have to have some of the large-heartedness of the Arab. Come on, give it a shot; you can always work off those calories.

Call 56604545 for reservations.

* * *

Ambience: The Potluck Café is quite business-like and boasts a neat bar.

Wallet Factor: Rs. 400 for the buffet.

Service: Good.

Specialty: Don't miss the kadu manga curry in the vegetarian section and the stuffed bananas in the dessert.

KANCHAN KAUR

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