From Europe to Kollam – a festival of Christmas flavours

(L) Chef Suresh Pillai.

As a kid who grew up in Kollam, I have always waited for Christmas more than Onam. That is the day when we could eat fish and meat to our heart’s content.

Mutton was a luxury item then. I had tasted mutton only on the Christmas days until I was in class seven. Chicken too wasn’t cooked regularly at home. However, we occasionally had beef.

On the Christmas morning, after my friends have returned from the church, we would enjoy breakfast at one of their homes. It was a special one that was cooked only on the Christmas day. I always went to the nearby Christian family to enjoy a unique sweet breakfast dish cooked with banana, coconut milk and rice flour.

For me, December 25 used to be a special day when I get to savour drool-worthy dishes and take part in the church festivities too.

Later, when I started my career as a chef, this season became one of the busiest. It is the time when lots of foreigners visit our place. People go out a lot for shopping and enjoy the vibrant mood of the season. The hotels and restaurants too would be unusually busy. Every hotel celebrates the Christmas Eve serving wide varieties of delicious delicacies.

Keralites cannot think of anything else other than the sumptuous sadya for Onam. Similarly, a rich biryani is a must to celebrate the joy of Ramzan. Meanwhile, on the Christmas day, a grand feast of countless dishes made using beef, chicken, turkey, duck and mutton is cooked. Cooking so many dishes at the same time could be quite challenging and strenuous for the chefs. However, it indeed is so much fun whipping them out perfectly.

The Christmas in Europe is way different from what I had seen in India. Christmas is one of the most important festivals for the Europeans. Wherever they are, they would make sure to fly home to celebrate it with their families and friends. The traditional roast is the highlight of their Christmas feasts. It could be pork or beef; sometimes it is a heavy leg of a mutton. The roasted meat is eaten with lots of salads and breads.

I used to visit the homes of my British friends to celebrate Christmas. Those are really colourful memories. The streets and cities would be illuminated with lights in myriad hues. London city would be in a celebratory mood in the evenings. I have celebrated Christmas in Germany too. As a chef, the Christmas season has given me some of the most joyous moments. I have observed that Christmas is the time when clear variations could be observed in the culinary patterns of different cultures. You could enjoy lots of varieties of food in a day. Similarly, there is a wide selection of breakfast items too. In Kerala, a typical Christmas breakfast begins with appam and fish moilee. However, for some, appam has to be enjoyed with rich beef stew. Vattayappam and chicken curry too is a popular choice.

I tried roast for the first time when I was invited by a British family to celebrate Christmas with them. It must be noted that the joy of the celebration is the same everywhere. Europeans make sure to cook beef dishes no matter what their financial status is. Moreover, they are eager to invite their friends and relatives to share the happiness of the day.

I have amazing memories of the Thanksgiving Day too. Interestingly, the Thanksgiving in England and Europe is quite different from the American way. Boxing Day is celebrated on the day after Christmas Day, that is December 26. This is the day when gifts are exchanged in boxes. You would give a gift box to anyone who walks into your home that day. I too have received such gifts on the Boxing Day. A poultry item is a must in the menu on that day. Duck and turkey are mostly cooked to mark the Boxing Day. Whole roasted poultry is enjoyed together by families along with wine and some rich plum cake. If rice and multiple curries are the highlights of our Christmas feast, then the Europeans enjoy roast meat and breads.


Here is the pretty simple recipe of Kollam special Banana-rice flour dish.


Ethakka kothappichathu

2 big bananas (ripe)
10 jackfruit bulbs (not too ripe)
3 crushed cardamom pods
200 gm sugar
1 coconut (first and second extracts of coconut milk)
20 gm rice flour
10 ml ghee (optional)

Remove the seeds from the jackfruit bulbs
Place thinly sliced pieces of bananas in them
In a pan, sauté banana pieces, jackfruit bulbs, sugar and crushed cardamom
Add the second extract of coconut milk when the sugar melts and mixes well with the rest of the ingredients
Add the first extract of coconut milk when the bananas are nicely cooked in the second extract of coconut milk
Add some rice flour mixed in water
Cook until the gravy thickens
Sprinkle some ghee if required
This sweet curry tastes best with appam, puttu and idiyappam.

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