Student handouts


Rice and Sea food is a staple diet in Kerala, along with beef, pork, poultry and mutton in the non-vegetarian sections. Rice, coconut, spices and curry leaves are omnipresent in almost every Kerala dish. The rice consumed in traditional Kerala homes is the unpolished rice. It’s considered healthier, as its original fibers are retained.

Lesson 1

For over 2000 years, Kerala has been visited by ocean-goers, including traders from Greece, Rome, South China, the eastern Mediterranean, Arab countries, and Europe. Thus, Kerala cuisine is a blend of indigenous dishes and foreign dishes adapted to Kerala tastes. The Mappila community of Kerala owes a lot to the spice trade that had been happening in the Malabar region since 1000 BC. The famed Tellicherry black pepper that brought seafarers from as far as Rome changed the culinary landscape of not just the traders who took the spices to faraway lands and introduced pepper into the diet of Europeans, but also of the local communities. Drawing from the Portuguese, Dutch, English and most heavily, Arab influences, Mappila food is the best sort of amalgamation of local and borrowed food traditions.

Examples of Mappila food that has borrowed food traditions

1. Sulaymani is available any tea shop in Malabar, stretching from Kozhikode to Kasargod. The name is believed to have been lent to this simple drink by the Sulaymani Bohras (Sulaymanis), a Musta’lī Ismaili community from Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

2. Mandi is a distant cousin of the biryani. It is said to be the traditional dish of Hadhramaut and Sana’a areas in Yemen, the mandi among the relatively unknown delicacies found on Malabar Mapila dining tables. Mandi is said to be a corruption of the Arabic word “nada”, which means “dew”. The name is an allusion to the tenderness of the meat.

3. Alissa, a wheat, meat and cinnamon porridge, is similar to harisa, a recipe preserved over centuries by the people of the Middle East. Recipes for this dish are found in 10th century Baghdadi cookbooks Annals of the Caliph’s Kitchen, Sufi Cuisine as well as in the Iraqi cookbook ‘Delights from the Garden of Eden’. In medieval Baghdad, it was called ‘hareesi’. Even today, the dish is served in Turkey, [where] it goes by the name ‘herise’, while in Lebanon it’s called ‘ hreessey.

4. Ari pathiri’, a thin chapati made out of rice flour. Rice being the staple grain in the region, breads and rotis were alien to the local food habits. The women innovated what they had in hand and made bread with rice powder for their Arabian paramours, who were used to a bread-based diet

5. Malabar biryani, one of the key stars of any iftaar table, has a distinct Arabian touch. The rice and the meat are cooked separately and then layered and cooked. “Biriyani ustads”, who specialise in making this dish, are hired to cook it for weddings, special occasions and iftaars. Malabar or Thalasserry biriyani is served with date pickle, raita and coconut chammanthi (chutney), again a fusion of West Asia and Kerala

6. Muttamala: Thin filaments of egg yolk are cooked in sweet sugar syrup served over Pinnanathap- pam, steam-cooked cardamom-scented egg white pudding has roots in Arabian cuisine

7. Stuffed meat dishes: In the case of Mappila food, kozhi thalayana, a whole chicken stuffed with boiled eggs and then encased in dough and baked is a classic that clearly draws inspiration from various

Examples of Nasrani food that has borrowed food traditions

1. Many Nasranis are traditionally known to be abstainers from pork meat and pork is still considered a taboo in many families which is an important Jewish practice. This practice became less prevalent following the Portuguese era and western influence.

2. Animals slaughtered for consumption is generally done by the Nasranis as per the Jewish or Halal method 3. Nasranis are also expert grape-wine makers and widely consume wine in contrast to their neighbors of other faiths. Wine is generally prepared weeks in advance for festivals like Christmas and Easter. It must be noted that wine-making is not an Indian but Mediterranean and middle-eastern in origin. 4. It is believed that the Palappam and Kallappam were derived from an ancient Jewish food. Similarly the Pesaha appam or Kalathappam are also similar to unleavened bread used for Pesaha Vyazham or Maundy Thursday to commemorate the Israelite Passover feast.

Unique to Malabar — Arikadukka

Although it may seem that the best of this unique cuisine is borrowed, Arikadukka is testament to the ingenuity and culinary prowess of the Mappila matriarchs — mussels are first stuffed with a fragrant rice and coconut paste, and then marinated in a fiery batter made of red chillies and finally, fried to perfection.

Other states

The similarities among the five states’ cuisines include the presence of rice as a staple food, the use of lentils and spices, dried red chilies and fresh green chilies, coconut, and native fruits and vegetables including tamarind, plantain, snake gourd, garlic, and ginger. The four cuisines have much in common and differ primarily in the spiciness of the food.


The Srilankans eat more are less Food which is similar to Kerala. But this is common in many sea towns in the Sub continent, not just Kerala. That’s why many ask — why Bengalis eat Fishes and their food culture is similar to Kerala. Also Mangalore, tends to have a similar culture. Geography plays a vital role here. Even in Tamilnadu, Sea towns like Tutircorin, Thiruchendur and Rameshwaram has the same: Coconut, rice, fish cuisine.

Lesson 2


Agriculture in Kerala has passed through many phases. The major change occurred in the 1970s when production of rice reduced due to increased availability of rice supply all over India and decreased availability of labor supply. Consequently, investment in rice production decreased and a major portion of the land shifted to the cultivation of perennial tree crops and seasonal crops. Profitability of crops reduced due to shortage of farm labor, the high price of land and the uneconomic size of operational holdings. Kerala produces 97% of the national output of black pepper and accounts for 85% of the area under natural rubber in the country Coconut, tea, coffee, cashew and spices — including cardamon, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg comprise a critical agricultural sector. The key agricultural staple is rice, with varieties grown in extensive paddy fields. Home gardens comprise a significant portion of the agricultural sector. Related animal husbandry is touted by proponents as a means of alleviating rural poverty and unemployment among women, the marginalized, and the landless.

Tea in Kerala

Chinese varieties of tea were first introduced into India by the British, in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on tea.The British, “using Chinese seeds, plus Chinese planting and cultivating techniques, launched a tea industry by offering land in Assam to any European who agreed to cultivate tea for export”.
Tea was originally only consumed by Anglicized Indians, and it was not until the 1920s (and in rural North India, the 1950s) that tea grew widely popular in India through a successful advertising campaign by the Tea Board. Idukki, Wayanad are the major tea producers in Kerala.

Current scenario

Ill-effects due to the usage of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides has gradually contributed to preferences for organic products and home farming, and as a result the Kerala government plans to shift to fully organic cultivation by 2016.

Woman workforce towards food security

Some 250,000 Kudumbashree women throughout Kerala have come together to form farming collectives which jointly lease land, cultivate it, use the produce to meet their consumption needs and sell the surplus to local markets. Currently, these collectives are farming on an approximate area of 25000 hectares, spread throughout the 14 districts of Kerala. The idea is to increase the participation of women in agriculture, and in particular, to ensure that women, as producers, have control over the production, distribution and consumption of food. This strategy for involving women in agriculture comes at a very crucial time for Kerala. As in most parts of the world, vast quantities of Kerala’s agricultural land has been diverted towards residential and commercial development. At the same time, fall in agricultural prices and rising wages have made farming an unprofitable activity leading to a continuous fall in food production in the state. It is in this context that Kerala has developed its food security strategy. Slowly but surely, the connections between local livelihoods, local markets and local consumption are being reinvigorated.

Lesson 3

Green Leaves for Plates

One of the essential traits of south Indian feasts is banana leaves used as plates. Banana leaf is one of the most eco-friendly, disposable dinnerware. The leaf makes an attractive serving platter because of its size and sturdiness. It requires very little cleaning, a simple sprinkling of water and wiping is enough to clean a banana leaf and it is waterproof. The leaves can be quite big and there is plenty of room to present a variety of dishes. Besides being environ- mentally friendly, the banana leaf helps retain the flavor, aroma and nutritional value of the food placed on it.

In the old days, people sat cross-legged on a straw mat or a wooden plank and food was served on a banana leaf placed on the floor in front of each diner. There are specific places for each of the dishes on the banana leaf, and the servers are expected to know these rules. As soon as hot food is placed on a banana leaf, it releases a particular enzyme which enhances the flavor of the food. Banana leaves are still used for serving food, but mostly they are placed on top of a dining table. Sometimes they are cut into round shape and metal plates are lined with them. Due to the mild flavor it imparts during cooking, many recipes rely on the banana leaf as a wrapping for both steaming and grilling for the specific taste and fragrance they impart. It is also ideal for packing food and works as a great liner for steamer vessels.

Jack fruit leaves are pinned together to make good table spoons. Pale green palash leaves are stiff and velvety to begin with, and leathery later. Palash and banyan leaves are pinned or stitched together to make plates and bowls. Just like banana leaves these leaves also impart a mild fragrance to the food served on or with them. Palash is known for its medicinal properties. According to Ayurveda, the Indian herbal medicine, eating in plates made with banana leaves, palash leaves, and banyan leaves is also good for digestion. These leaves also function as serving dishes, providing a renewable alternative to paper plates, waxed paper, foil or parchment.

Cheminical engineering

The inherent safety, convenience, availability, nutritional content, aesthetic appeal, and variety that typify our food supplies are a hallmark of modern life, but this was not always the case. For the last 100 years we have been witnessing dramatic advances in the scientific understanding and engineering techniques that increase agricultural production and allow for the commercial-scale production of countless processed foods. Through the concerted efforts of chemical engineers and others, the yields and quality of farm crops have increased exponentially, and the industry producing and packaging foods and beverages has evolved to a business worth many hundreds of billions of dollars.

Early food-related businesses usually consisted of small stores selling primarily fresh, locally grown foods with a limited shelf life. Before modern engineering advances were widely adopted by the food industry, the variety of foods available at stores were determined by what was produced locally, since transportation limitations dictated the distance that perishable foods could travel.

The 20th century, with its two World Wars, space race, immense technological advances, and rapid modernization, brought unprecedented advances in the tools and techniques to ensure food safety and improve nutritional value and aesthetic appeal. Ingenious packaging options and sterilization methods were also developed extending transportation distances and the shelf life of foods. These changes have brought a much more varied cornucopia of foods to people all over the world.

Chemical engineering know-how can be credited with improving the conversion of raw foodstuffs into safe consumer products of the highest possible quality. Chemical engineers routinely develop advanced materials and techniques used for, among other things, chemical and heat sterilization, advanced packaging, and monitoring and control, which are essential to the highly automated facilities for the high-throughput production of safe food products.

21st Century Food

The latest development in food is genetically modified food. GM crops are now being grown in many countries of the world. Today in the developed world ordinary people are better nourished and eat a wider variety of food than ever before. Technology has enabled feeding the increasing population by utilising lesser resources.