Swedish Malayali kitchen
Devi Nair, a Kochiite settled in Sweden, is cooking up a Malayali storm in her foreign kitchen
When Devi Nair, an Ernakulam native, settled in Sweden with her husband Prasad almost a decade ago, she found relief in the fact that the country is rich in seafood varieties. Pomfrets (avoli), anchovies (netholi), mackerels (ayala), salmon (chemballi) and prawns were available in plenty there, to Devi’s delight.
One indeed becomes more nostalgic about home when they move abroad. This was true in Devi’s case too. She wanted to familiarise her daughter with Malayali food and not just Swedish and international cuisine. During the pandemic, she chose to take her cooking adventures to Instagram.
Her recipes included festive delicacies like the Bengali sweet Rosbora, local parotta and non-vegetarian Kerala dishes popular on social media because they are easy to make, but good to eat and look at.
During Malayali celebrations, Devi cooks up a storm of authentic Kerala recipes. Soft, plump unniyappam, spongy kozhukkatta, rice dumplings, Vishu ada, Vishu katta (a traditional breakfast cake made with coconut and rice served with sweet jaggery syrup) — these were just a few items on her Vishu menu this year. For Eid, she made undaputtu with spicy prawns filling, kilikkoodu from meat and egg white and ammini kozhukatta, a spicy rice dumpling.
But Devi’s cooking adventures are not always an easy affair. Finding ingredients for native dishes in Sweden was a real challenge. “Food is something you take time to adjust with when you move to a different country. European snacks and food are good for a while, but eventually, you miss the spicy dishes of your hometown. You then start craving Kerala food. Among the Eid dishes I cooked, idiyappam nirachath was the most memorable. My neighbours back in Kerala used to cook it for us during Ramzan when I was a kid,” says the mother of a 13-year-old. Devi is also a pastry chef at the Swedish resto cafe Tegners Bageri.
Devi says Sweden has a negligible Malayali population — around 600 people. “A few strands of curry leaves will be a rare find in Sweden. While they cost Rs 10 to Rs 20 in Kerala, it costs around Rs 600 here. I pre-order and source the items from a Sri Lankan provision store. I had to wait around three to four months to get around 100 grams of bird’s-eye chilli from an Asian grocery shop. When people see my food posts, they believe local ingredients are abundant here. But the truth is, I struggle to find them,” she says.
Devi’s non-vegetarian recipes are more popular, especially beef dishes. Once, she attempted Chef Suresh Pillai’s Fish Nirvana in her kitchen and it turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences for her. “Chef Pillai directly congratulated me,” Devi said.
She is also an expert at improvisation. “Pasta payasam was something I came up with. I was craving ada payasam, but ada was not available. I found some pasta at the provision store. So I experimented with it. The fusion dessert tasted similar to ada payasam. My friends and family liked it,” says Devi. She wants to launch her bakeshop in Sweden soon.