Kottayam, home to the village of Aymanam, made famous by Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize winning book God of Small Things. Kottayam was also home of the 10th President of India, the late K R Narayanan.
Kottayam – the land of lakes, letters and latex. This district encompasses the favourite tourist destination of Kumarakom, famous for the picturesque back-waters and house-boat cruises. The reference to ‘Land of letters’ is because Kottayam is home and headquarters to the old and major newspapers like the Malayala Manorama, Mangalam and Deepika. The latex in Kottayam’s sobriquet comes from the fact that the place is a major trading centre for natural rubber in India.
Kottayam is also currently where my parents are staying and our major stop for a week or two. My parent’s home is along the banks of the Meenachil river. The river has overflown during several monsoons in the past and in the current monsoons, the water level is gradually rising.
Fish (meen) is a staple dish for our lunch and dinner at home and here are some dishes we love – Meen vevichathu – the red fish curry, any fish can be cooked this way, ideal with rice or tapioca. The chilli makes the dish quite hot, but now people add more of the Kashmiri chilli powder instead of the usual red chilli powder, which gives the fiery red colour minus the heat. Cooked in the clay pots, with the kudom puli (pot tamarind) its super tasty. We always take a packet of kudom puli back with us, to replenish our stock back in Bangalore.
Meen pattichathu or meen peera – Fish cooked with grated coconut, an ideal accompaniment with rice. Sardines (Mathi) and Anchovies (Netholi) are most suitable for this preparation. We add coconut in most of the dishes and love it !!
Fish biryani made with Seer fish (Neymeen), eaten with coconut chutney, raita, pappadam and pickle.
Jackfruit (chakka) is the official fruit of the state and some prefer it sweet, some savoury. The unripe jackfruit is cooked with grated coconut, to make a tasty dish called Chakka vevichathu which can be eaten by itself or with a shallot chutney.
Another tasty dish is made from the Jackfruit seeds (Chakkakuru); its a simple stir-fry dish called Chakkakuru mezhkupuratti.
Mango – King of fruits is also abundant at home. In raw form, it is used to make chutneys or simply eaten with a sprinkle of salt and red chilli powder. When ripe, they are used to make the curry called Ripe mango Pulissery (curd based).
Another Kottayam staple is the ubiquitous Fish molee. Its a universal favourite, easy to make and tasty preparation of fish in coconut milk. Its best with Palappam, made with rice flour and coconut milk, usually eaten as breakfast.
Appam and fish molee is not the only suitable combination; we love appam with Mutta (Egg) curry, again made with coconut milk and there is also a dry preparation called Mutta (Egg) roast.
Avial is a veg dish that finds lots of takers. There are two views on when it is usually made – some say on the first day of the week, after a visit to the market and back home with the fresh produce, while others say on the last day of the week, with the left-over veg in the fridge; it has an assortment of boiled vegetables cooked with grated coconut. My aunt says that it had originally only the locally grown vegetables, hence the carrot we add is an aberration albeit it adds a dash of colour to the dish.
A much loved breakfast dish in Kerala is the Puttu, made with rice flour and steamed, the edges laced with grated coconut. Puttu- kadala, puttu- egg roast are lip smacking combinations.
There are many other Kottayam favourites. The meat dishes are missing……we chose fish over meat and hence the meat favourites will take some time to compile.