Monday, January 16, 2017

Biriyani was not made in a day

Contemporary food practices and food culture are nothing but embodied history. The food of a place and the norms around it are not mere constructions of cookery, but the cultural memory of its people. It carries and reflects the influence of history on the evolution of contemporary culture. So is the story of Malabar food. It has evolved through the historic cosmopolitan exposure that the coasts of Malabar had. So much do we hear about the glory of Calicut Biriyani, Naichorou (Ghee Rice), Pathiri and so on (in combination known as the Mappila food of Calicut). The social adoption and acceptance of the mappila food is very much rooted in the history of this place.  

It’s well known that the Malabar food is influenced by Arab trade and the connections of Malabar with the Middle East. However, the evolution of the Mappila food as we experience it today, is not limited to the imposition of an external cultural entity. It has more to do with the food habitus of a community which looks outward resolutely towards the Indian Ocean for more connections and opportunities. The community being talked about here is the Mappila (Muslim) community of Calicut.  

Every food story in Calicut is a celebration of the heyday of Arab trade which started in the early centuries, rose to great prominence by the beginning of the fourteenth century and remained to be on highs up to the 1970s. The hospitality of Calicut evolves from the embodied food memory of festive feasts organized by the wealthy local traders to entertain Arab businessmen. Salkaram (A feast), which is a Malabar peculiarity are reminiscent of parties hosted in turns by bazaar traders (Market-referring to Valiangadi in Calicut) in their godowns for Arab merchants. This practice was very common till the seventies. 
Nice Pathiri

People with business interest including Samoothiri-the King made sure that the traders from the Middle East felt at home in Calicut.  They were offered their food, religious necessities and even families. Many of them married from Calicut and the ‘Koya’ community is of this lineage.  Thus Calicut owned up the Arab food. So came Biriyani, Ghee Rice, Samosas (This Samosa is different from the Bengali Samosa)

Post 70s, Arab traders stopped coming to Calicut as the Middle East started becoming the resource hub of the global oil trade. But then Calicut started going to the gulf. Through the already  established trade connections , a lot of people from Malabar crossed the Indian Ocean in search of jobs. Food stuff and food memories still keep coming into Malabar through them.
A very good example to a recent entry into Arab food register of Calicut is the Kuzhi Mandhi.  (Mandhi is literally Biriyani in Arabic and Kuzhi refers to a pit in Malayalam). This dish should be noted as another mile stone in the history of Arab-Malabar connection. As Gulf countries are increasingly implementing nationalization policy (NITAQAT), many keralaites lost their jobs and had to come back to their natives. Next what we saw is, eateries both small and big mushrooming alongside the highways, selling Kuzhi Mandhi as their signature dish. Those people who lost their jobs turned their food memory into either an employment or a business. 

As long as we have people looking outward across the Indian Ocean for opportunities and as long they are let free to do that, the culinary culture will keep evolving and will keep growing richer.  
Arabian Hotel

There are at least four, if not more, Arabian signature restaurants in Calicut which not just serve Arabian dishes, but serve the way it is to be served; the right ambience, the right utensils and even the right seating. The whole ambience is set to be Arabian here. 
Al Baik Calicut

Al Baik is a very established name in Calicut. The Light House, which has come up recently has a wonderful setting and has recreated a deserted feel. Cochin Majlis has brought in the Majlis concept, which offers wonderful meeting space. 
Cochin Majlis Calicut

The following photographs were taken from Cochin Majlis. (These dishes are not Arabian).
To what appealed to my taste buds, a little advice from this foodie to Cochin Majlis would be to wok really harder on the taste, service, and housekeeping. The bathrooms were really in a bad shape. May be, the bearers need a bit more of motivation to climb those steps up and down through those four floors.

Tandoori Chicken Tandoori Roti

Tandoori Chicken