Exploring the food map of Kumbalangi

Exploring the food map of Kumbalangi

It is said that the people of Kumbalangi once survived on boiled bamboo shoots. It was dire poverty back then. Stephen, a local we met there, has this story of swimming across the lake to buy a pound of rice. But by the time he reached home, the rice was already stolen by a thief. Even to this day, Stephen gets emotional when he thinks of those days. As if to hide those tears he turned towards the middle of the lake “That area is full of sludge. If you dive next to it, you will be able to catch some crabs. The area also has prawns,” Stephen continued, his voice faltering. “During our childhood, the only instances when we could fill our tummies was during festivals. Pachoru and pani were manna for us back then.” He turned his face towards the lake. Stephen’s eyes again glistened as his mind went back in time, when they would dream of Pokkali field’s fish curry and rice. Stephen is a reminder of Kumbalangi’s history of scarcity and a witness to how it has evolved into a flourishing little tourist village. We were fortunate to meet him during this journey in search of the tastes and flavours of Kumbalangi. If not for Stephen, they would have missed Kumbalangi’s close association with Irachipidi and Pachoru.

Pachoru and pani (neeru)

We first called Kumbalangi Village Tourism Secretary Shaji Kurupashery and enquired where we could find irachipidi and pachoru. “You will get it at the Canteen near the Kumbalangi bridge. But that shop opens only in the evening. Come home, will tell Lincy to fix everything at home.” That’s great. It’s always nice to experience the taste of Kumbalangi in the hands of someone who grew up there.

Just before lunch, we reached in front of San Johns Church. As we walked into the opposite house of the church, we were encompassed by the smell of freshly roasted masalas. Shaji and Lincy, the woman of the house, are in the middle of chopping meat. Shaji started explaining his family recipes – “Kumbalangi island’s has a perimeter of around 5.6 kilometres and there are around 45,000 people. We love fish and meat. Ever since the Kumbalangi model tourism development started, even the Kumbalangi cuisine has become popular." True that! It was after Kumbalangi got its address as a tourism village that its tastes became the talk of the town, thanks to the tourists.

“My childhood was difficult. This lake was everyone’s prime source of income. But thanks to tourism development, Kumbalangi’s economy flourished. When Homestays mushroomed, Kumbalangi’s grand old recipes resurfaced and had many takers. Duck roasted in banana leaf, prawn roasted in banana leaf, puttu steamed in coconut shells, intestine curry, pidi etc,” explained Shaji even as Lincy prepared the marination for the intestine curry:

A kilogram of buffalo intestine is finely cut and thrown into a pressure cooker along with green chillies and sliced ginger, cooked for half an hour and kept aside. They make a paste of shredded coconut, garlic, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric powder and coriander powder. You add this marination to the cooked meat. Add some oil to a heated pan, sauté some shallots and dry red chillies and pour over the simmering meat curry. There is a special aroma when the leftover oil of the coconut roast blends in the meat curry. When you ladle some curry over the soft puttu steamed in coconut shells, the taste is tantalizing.

“It was my mother who taught me cooking. I can cook for over 30 people single-handedly,” says Lincy confidently. As if to prove that point, she threw some chopped beef, ginger, chillies and salt into a cooker. Meanwhile, she sautéed some sliced onions, shallots, bird eye chillies, turmeric powder, garam masala, pepper, cloves, cardamom and ginger on a pan. She poured this into the simmering meat curry and boiled it for 5 minutes and kept it aside.

This beef curry pairs well with pidi. Add some lukewarm water into sifted rice flour, along with shredded coconut and salt and shape it into balls or cylinders and steam it. That’s pidi and people in Kumbalangi call it irachipidi. Another traditional item of Kumbalangi is a steamed cake made of cooked rice and coconut milk called pachoru. It is usually eaten with jaggery syrup. There is a special beauty in the sight of pachoru cut into squares drizzled with jaggery syrup. Some say it betters the sight of marble cake.

Duck roasted in banana leaves

Our next stop was to have lobsters in banana leaves and duck roast. The cooking is done in front of Puzhayoram resort on the banks of Pooppanakkunnil lake. Serjil and his wife Fancy, who run the place, placed a stove on the table. They carefully de-shelled a lobster and applied marination over three lobsters.

“Apply pepper, turmeric, coriander, cloves and keep it in the oven for three minutes. Make sure to keep it away from the masala. Once you take the lobster from the oven, cut a small piece of lobster and the masala and blitz it in a mixer. After applying this marination over the lobster, refrigerate it for some time. Take it out, wait for some time, add some oil into the pan and roast the lobster covered in banana leaf.

Exploring the food map of Kumbalangi

Serjil’s banana leaf lobster fry is a variation of Kumbalangi’s lobster fry. The taste depends on the marination, cooking time and roasting of the lobster. When Serjil left his job at the ship and started this resort, he had promised delicious Kumbalangi cuisine for the visitors. Lobster topped that list. Another speciality is duck roasted in banana leaf.

“Slice a duck into two, spread it thoroughly in a marination of olive oil, pepper, curry leaves, cloves, and coriander powder. Once you have spread the marination evenly on all sides, pressure cook it. When it is partially cooked, store the duck in a freezer. Now simmer some thick coconut milk adding, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, chilli powder, turmeric powder and coriander powder. Remove the duck from the freezer and apply this marination. Once you have softened the meat with coconut milk, wrap it with a banana leaf and pan fry it.” Potato fry pairs best with this duck roast. It is said that you need to taste the food of the land to understand its essence. That’s true about Kumbalangi.  

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