Nazarani Tharavad, Pala
It is in the geography of drenched greens and coconut palms where the persistent peal of the thundering rains wakes up every dormant seed and jerks it into a tangled mass of leafscape. We are in the Nazarani Tharavad in Pala, a rubber town in central Travancore.
The St.Thomas Church, Pala
The Nazaranis(Syrian Christians) have been around a long time in Kerala. Popular theory suggests Christianity was well established here, at least three centuries before it wore the official robes of a religion in Europe.
The rulers of ancient Malabar gave the Christian community the grant of privileges perhaps for their social and economical eminence and the traces of those privileges have survived to this very day. Some of the privileges granted to them were curious, like the light by day (Yes, the light by day had to be granted and was an exclusive privilege!), the use of the umbrella, the spreading cloth to walk upon, doubling up the end of the banana leaf which serve as a plate etc...
At the Nazarani Tharavad we sit down to lunch and the narrow end of the banana leaf is folded, in keeping with the traditional custom. This is supposed to be symbolical of the privilege of eating from a double plate. The Kerala sadhya on the banana leaf can be likened to an orchestra. The complex process of preparation of each dish can run into hours but what is placed on the leaf, in almost sacred reverence is just a small dollop, just enough to caress the palate, the right note to create beautiful music from the fusion of different flavours.
Dinner Setting at the Nazarani Tharavad
The Nazarani sadhya is a little different from the regular Kerala Hindu sadhya because of the addition of non vegetarian elements to the meal. Kerala has always had an integrative tradition and communities share and adopt ideas from each other and this is true to the cuisine of the region as well.
Fried fish with onion salad, followed by kallappam (rice pancakes) and mutton stew, duck roast, and then the full fledged vegetarian medley along with meen vevichathu (red fish curry) and erachi ularthiyathu (fried meat) accompanied by rice, dal curry, sambar, rasam and buttermilk is our hostess Thressi Kottukapally’s offering of the complete Nazarani sadhya. The inchi curry (ginger curry) with its pungent sweetness, the sweet neyyappam, fried banana coated with jaggery, the sweet- sour kalen, aviyal balances the hot red fish curry and the flaming pungency of the fried meat. The pungent, the sweet and the sour play out their moments on the taste buds. A wee kiss of the ginger curry prepares me for the banana, curds and the palm toddy syrup at the end of the meal. Again a touch of the ginger curry on my palate helps me to enjoy the climax of the meal- the lentil and jaggery payasam.
It is difficult today to draw the boundary of the cuisine of each of the communities as they are now all part of the Kerala repertoire. The Syrian Christian contribution to the Kerala cuisine has been manifold and the most noted are the hoppers, duck roast, meen vevichathu (red fish curry) and the isthew (stew). The rice flour cakes, hoppers and pancakes use the natural fermenting ingredient- toddy to leaven the batter.
These rice flour cakes are versatile enough to be eaten with the ishtews and the roasts, while the soft sweet vattayappam can be eaten as a snack. The mottayappam or the country pancake filled with coconut gratings and sugar is irresistible.
The INRI appam, an unleavened rice flour cake flavoured with shallots, cumin seed and garlic dipped in pesaha pal (jaggery syrup) is eaten to commemorate the Last Supper. During this solemn occasion the appam and pal (denoting the body and blood of Christ) is shared by the members of the family. Interestingly this custom is perhaps most prevalent in Pala today. The red hot fish curry, which can set the taste buds on fire, goes well with tapioca, a staple of Kerala. The kokum used to give the tartness is of the large yellow fleshy variety, and the dried kokum is a pertinent ingredient for the meen vevichathu.
The duck roast, a ceremonial dish, is a Syrian favourite and graces the festive meals of Christmas and Easter। Thressi Kottukapally who has penned the “Kerala Syrian Christian Favourites”, a recipe book guides me through the process of the duck roast- the duck cooks in the ingredients and then the pieces are perfectly fried. There is nothing quite like this duck roast, I should say nothing quite like Thressi’s duck roast.
Recipe for Thressi’s Duck Roast
Dressed Duck : 1kg, 100 gms
Ginger : 20 gms
Garlic : 30 gms
Onions : 300 gms
Pepper powder : 2 Tablespoons
Turmeric powder : ½ Teaspoon
Vinegar : 1 Tablespoon
Salt : 2 ¼ teaspon
For Garnishing :
Potatoes : 300 gms (cut into long broad strips)
Onions : 250 gms (sliced fine lengthwise)
Method of preparation:
*Fry the sliced onions till golden brown.
*Fry the potatoes till golden in colour.
*Keep aside the fried onions and potatoes.
*Clean the duck and cut into big pieces.
*Grind the ginger, garlic and onions to a fine paste in a grinder.
*Mix pepper and turmeric to the ground paste.
*Add the duck pieces along with vinegar, salt and cook till duck is done.
*Remove from fire.
*Remove the duck pieces and fry lightly and keep aside.
*In the same oil add the gravy and cook till the gravy thickens.
*Add the fried duck pieces and cook for a few minutes.
Remove and serve hot, garnished with fried onions and potatoes.
Nazarani Tharavad Tariff: Euro 150 Double/ Full Board
Cookery classes: Additional Rs 1000/- per day. For further information
Contact 04822- 212438, email: email@example.com
(First published by Spice, India Today)