The iconic dishes that enriched Malayalam literature

The iconic dishes that enriched Malayalam literature
Biryani. Photo: Shutterstock Images

It was to her brother Lalith that Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy had pitched the idea to start a hotel that serves delicious food items that are vividly explained in novels and stories. From SK Pottekkatt and Madhavikutty to VKN, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer and Sara Joseph, the doyens of Malayalam literature had merged their incredible writing prowess with their love for food.

The Kuthira biryani in SK Pottekkatt’s ‘Oru Deshathinte Katha’, the mouth-watering evening snacks that Madhavikutty drools over in her ‘Balyakala Smaranakal’, myriad kinds of dosa in VKN’s ‘Payyan Kathakal’, the soft pathiris of Punathil Kunjabdulla that melt in your mouth and the kokkanchira velleppam in Sara Joseph’s iconic ‘Aalahayude Penmakkal’ are some of the unforgettable items that have gained a special place in Malayali’s hearts.

SK Pottekkatt

Kumaran’s Bharat Matha tea shop is where the Kuthira biryani is sold in ‘Oru Deshathinte Katha’. The writer has described it as soft and aromatic puttu made with traditional ‘punnel’ rice. It is enjoyed with flavoursome masala curry and crunchy papad. Meanwhile, thalayanayora is a delicious snack fried in fresh coconut oil. The sweetness of ripe bananas, rice flour and spices make it is a special item. Those who have fallen in love with ‘Oru Deshathinte Katha’ would know that Aaram Number is the speciality of Athiranipadam. The diamond-shaped dough is deep-fried in oil and soaked in sugar syrup to make Aaram Number.

Madhivikutty’s narrative style is so unique that the reader feels as if their own mothers have unwrapped a packet of tasty snacks. The vattakanni murukku and neyyappam in ‘Balyakala Smaranakal’ have ignited the culinary imagination of the Malayali reader. Meanwhile, the yam curry, ash gourd sambar, the special lemon pickle made by elder aunt using tangy lemons and the fritters made using pumpkin skin, raw papaya and long beans soaked in saltwater are some of the unique dishes that are cooked at Naalapattu house.

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer was staying in Chennai when he cooked the legendary Birinkancho. The writer recalls how he had made this unique item in the introduction to ‘Vishishta Pachakam’, a cook-book penned by Ummi Abdullah. Basheer entrusted a woman to keep an eye on his biryani as he went out to take a break. However, the biryani was ruined when he returned. He struggled to fix the biryani that was now an overcooked mess. But, Basheer wasn’t ready to throw away his dish and served it to his friends as a new dish called ‘Birikancho’.

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer

VKN was vivid when he described hundreds of dosa varieties in his ‘Payyan Kathakal’. He wrote that thousands of dosa passed in front of Payyan as if on a conveyor belt. The belt stopped when there weren’t any more dosas left. When the belt moved again, various kinds of side dishes were on it. Tasty coconut chutney with some roasted yellow dal and dried chillies and the shallots chutney made in the oil that was used to fry papad could definitely fill the reader’s mouth with water. No one could stop laughing when VKN wrote that women used motors to pump spiced buttermilk into a heap of piping hot rice.

Kokkanchera vellappam in Sara Joseph’s ‘Aalahayude Penmakkal’ is cooked in the village of Kokkanchera but are sold at the nearby villages too. Kunjila would arrange the vellappams neatly in the baskets and sprinkle creamy coconut milk that is sweetened with sugar over them. The crispy edges of the vellappam would get soaked in the sweet coconut milk and would smell divine. Meanwhile, the coarse bits of coconut would add the perfect crunch to the soft vellappams.

Pathiri and puthyapila
In his book titled ‘Kaipunyam’, Punathil Kunjabdula says that pathiri that is beaten when it is almost done tastes the best. Fish curry cooked in thick coconut gravy and spicy shallots chutney pair well with these delicious pathiri. Meanwhile, if you are a curry lover you could enjoy the pathiri with jackfruit seeds, drumstick leaves and coconut gravy. Punathil loved to eat it with delicious shrimp and drumstick curry too. He called these curries the ‘puthiyapila’ or the new groom of the tasty pathiri. Besides, he also introduced the Malayali readers to a hand full of delicious food items in his novel ‘Marunnu’.

M Mukundan wrote in ‘Delhi Gadhakal’ that the capital city is also a haven of tasty and unique food. Meanwhile, Kunjunni maash couldn’t stop talking about the myriad varieties of puttu. He had written about a special puttu which is served by adding a dollop of butter on top.

In her ‘God of Small Things’ Arundhati Roy presents Kerala as a wonderland of delicious food and spectacular culinary art. From the ‘red’ fish curry made with ‘black’ tamarind bulbs to banana jam and tomato sandwich, she had travelled to her childhood to bring back a list of splendid dishes.  

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