Good evening USA from Cochin, Kerala (7:30 am). As students straggle down to breakfast, I will take this opportunity to talk about my absolute favorite pass time, food. To say I am simply a foodie is a conservative term; rather I have a love affair with food that never loses its allure. From our first day in India, we have experienced new tastes, textures, spices, and breads. Some of which we loved, some of which we could leave behind for the more daring.
Cuisine in South India is influenced by three major factors; historical, seasonal, and regional. Our main Tamil meals were presented in the form of a thali; a vegetarian meal including the six most important and traditional tastes; sweet, sour, salty, bitter, peppery, and astringent. The classic dish is presented on a banana leaf (thought to have medicinal properties) with cups of lentil and vegetable gravies to eat with rice (yes, with your fingers). Always included in a thali are cups of sambhar (a rich lentil broth), curd (yogurt for digestion), a sweet, and rice. Other staples in Tamil diet include dosa (a thin crepe), idli (steamed rice flour in a round pillow formation), a multitude of chutneys, and fruit. After a few days we found our cravings for pizza and wings slowly diminish and are replaced with visions of thali and lentil gravies.
As we traveled to a new state are pallets were presented with a new myriad of flavors and spices. As Lucia wrote in her pre-course paper, Kerala is known for being rich in spices. A previous post alludes to our visit in a spice garden; where we saw our imported spices and foods in the raw form. Abbey was intrigued by the process of garden to table. Nicole was also thrilled to experience the garden, giving her insight to the meals at home and abroad. Immediately after arriving in Kerala we noticed our light lentil wafers (pappadams) infused with pepper and spice, our rice grow twice the size (which students loved as it is easy to carry to their mouths with their fingers), and a coconut base to much of the dishes.
Kerala also presents the allure of fresh fish. Our first taste was on the house boat when we were served a small fish whole, smothered in spices, accompanied by a lemon. As we arrived in Cochin, the fish market grew. We were able to watch Chinese fishing nets (information shared with us by Miles) pull up fish, shell fish, crabs, lobsters, and even sting rays. The catch is brought to a shore line stand, sold, then cooked at a near by mini-kitchen. Jay and friends enjoyed this cuisine just the other night. Fish often make their way into many of the great local restaurants. Just last night I had a mango fish curry rich with onions and full curry leaves. Lucia’s spicy tuna burger was a popular hit and our professors delighted in the pescatarian choices.
Garrett and I have decided to one day settle down in Cochin and own our own café. He is in charge of baking and coffees, I will design lunch and cocktails.
Next we will enjoy the homemade cuisine of our beloved guide, Sunil’s, village. This will be a meal cooked with the love of his friends and family and will surely leave us stuffed. Our professors warned us that we may be encouraged to eat more than our fill and the block our plate with our hand to communicate that we don’t want any more food and are not just being polite.
In short, the cuisine of South India has been an adventure in itself. Students are sure to share with you their favorites and drag you to a local Indian restaurant to share the unique flavor.
Until next time,
Sarah Turner Wells
Fluffy rice and full fish on our house boats.
Nicole with fried Gobi (cauliflower)
Alanna with mango fish curry