Mediterranean cuisine is out to conquer – Over to Kapama

It hasn't been long since the delectable flavours of Arabian cuisine cast their spell on the foodies of Kerala. The Arabian grilled chicken, Alfaham, the Yemeni rice dish, 'kuzhi mandi briyani,' and the Arabic bread kubbos are all instances of middle-eastern invasion on Malayali taste buds. Enter Kapama – the latest addition to the exotic Mediterranean cuisine that has found favour in the state over the past few years. Owing to its close resemblance to our all-time favourite, biriyani, Kapama is sometimes fondly referred to as Turkish biriyani.

Kapama, what ho!

Those patient enough to dig the culinary roots of the dish will find that Kapama is more Balkan than Mediterranean. A traditional Bulgarian dish, it is prepared with at least three types of meat, which can be red meat, pork, chicken or veal. Alternatively, a vegetarian version is prepared using sauerkraut –finely cut lacto-fermented cabbage. Though there are countless recipes that borrow from Greek and Persian cuisines, Kapama is generally prepared as part of a big feast rather than as everyday meal.

Rice mixed with Arabic masala and slow cooked in a clay pot forms the first layer of Kapama. Red meat, pork or chicken is cut into pieces and spread over the rice. Another layer of seasoning and then shredded vegetables – typically sauerkraut – is added on top of the meat. After adding a layer of rice, more meat pieces are arranged on top. This layering continues until the cooking vessel fills up.

Although sausages are added on top of the final layer in traditional recipes, it is replaced in the Kerala version with baked potatoes and tomato. The lid of the vessel is then sealed tightly with dough as done with Hyderabadi dum biriyani. It is then baked on low temperature in the oven for at least four hours. When it is done, the dish is transferred on to sizzler platters and taken straight to the dinner table. Kapama loyalists vouch that the aroma wafting through the air will be enough to get your mouth watering.

Where to head for Kapama

Fans of Middle Eastern cuisine can get a taste of this exotic dish, at Bab Arabia, the Turkish and Arabic restaurant at Panampilly Nagar, Kochi. If you notice people crowding over any of the tables attempting to click pictures and selfies on their mobile phones, make no mistake – a hot and sizzling plate of Kapama has just made a dashing entry to the scene. To get you as close to the authentic Kapama experience as possible, the restaurant’s Arab staff clad in their traditional robes do the honours by breaking open the sealed pot. By then, you would’ve waited too long for a taste of the dish and the aroma would be too tempting to resist. In any case, if you aren’t quick enough to grab your share, the Kapama is going to be polished off in no time.

Bab Arabia serves Kapama in four flavours – beef, chicken, mutton and a mixed version which is in fact closer to the original recipe. By opting for quarter, half or full plate, you can regulate the portion size according to requirement. The quantity served is more than the usual Biriyani and it would be wise to save some space for trying out the many mysterious-sounding dishes on the menu.

While waiting for the Kapama to arrive, guests can regale themselves with accounts of traditional Arab cuisine that is printed and laid out on each table to serve as table mats. The Arab staff are also more than ready to entertain you with culinary anecdotes. Not to worry, most of them can understand and can even manage a smattering of Malayalam. Coupled with Arab music floating in the air and aesthetically done up interiors that resemble a Mediterranean royal setting, Al Bab makes the experience worthy of unhurried savouring.

Lots more to try

Kapama is hardly the end of the surprises awaiting the true foodie at Al Bab. Kabak, a dish prepared by stuffing beef cooked in Arabic masala into an unlikely crust – baked pumpkin – is a must-try. Another version of Kabak is prepared using carved out pineapple. The catch is that Kabak, slow-cooked for over four hours, is only made to order. So you have to place your order in advance to bite into one when you are at the restaurant.

Another star item on the menu is pide, a Turkish flatbread baked with various toppings. It looks more like a Turkish version of the Italian pizza and beats the latter in yumminess quotient.

The most likely thought swimming about in your head while relishing the delicacies will be that you absolutely need to return to this restaurant. With each exotic item on the menu throwing up a delightful surprise, you will want to try out more than you can stomach in one visit. Well, you aren't alone in thinking that, as the number of customers making a beeline to Al Bab will prove.

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