Mother of Malabari cuisine Ummi Abdulla gives us a taste of authentic Mappila cuisine
Ummi Abdulla was 40 years old when she started taking chances on her cookery, as for the most part of her life, she has had cooks to aide her household. Over the next three decades, she would earn the title of ‘mother of Malabari Muslim cuisine’. Mappila cuisine, which originates from the Northern regions of Kerala, was actually influenced by the food habits of Arab merchants who would travel there to look for spices; in fact, in the last couple of centuries, it has also picked up elements from other foreign palates, like Syrian, Dutch, Portuguese, which makes Mappila cuisine the perfect union of coastal and exotic flavours. And Ummi, who is now in her ‘80s has been a pioneering name in bridging the gap between her native food and global specialities.
Not only has she written several cookbooks on the topic, but she has travelled the world extensively to educate chefs and experts about the approaches to Mappila cuisine. You could imagine our excitement when we were given a chance to meet the doyenne at a tasting held at The Westin. Ummi’s coffee table cookbook ‘Kitchen Full of Stories’ was conceptualised by her granddaughter Nazaneen Jalaludheen, and was written over seven years; it documents Ummi's culinary journey and features wonderful delightful from her childhood, recipes of ethnic Mappila fare and some simple kitchen hacks.
“The book took seven years to come together; it was quite challenging. Everything from finding an editor to a photographer and all other details were taken care of by my granddaughter Nazneen. All the pictures in my book were actually shot at our house in Kerala!” Ummi tells us, as she picks up a plate of a wonderfully assorted water mussels dish, called Arikadukka, from the table.
“This is actually something you get at the roadside stalls in the Malabar region, it’s quite popular and appetizing. It’s mainly water mussels stuffed with rice fillings, coconut, small onions, aniseeds, steam it, add in some spices, fry it and you can serve it with the shells!” Ummi revealed.
We found the Arikadukka to be a slightly salted, but light entree, which derives most of its flavour from the mussel meat itself, instead of the spices. We helped ourselves to a serving of some crispy fried onions, as well, which were tasted somewhat like our familiar piyaji, but simpler in relish. We quietly awaited the Puttu, which is a widely popular breakfast rice cake. We discovered Ummi’s version consists of a delightful texture, which is denser than the usual rice cylinders, and had a homely coconut filling, which gave it a dry velvet-like finish.
We paired the Puttu with some delicious Malabari Mutton and Kayipakka Mulakittathu, which is essentially a bitter gourd curry. And if you’re wondering why we’re giving the lesser favourite ‘karela’ a chance at this fantastic tasting, you only need to try Ummi’s version. As we bite into the soft, cushiony gourd, we are blown away by the intense melange of desi spices; we can guarantee Ummi Abdulla will make a gourd loyalist. We also found ourselves a serving of a summer Cabbage Upperi, which is a stir-fried coconut with coconut ground paste, and is a great entree for intensely humid afternoons.
The Erachi Biryani was definitely our favourite. It was saffron flavoured rice infused with spices, layers of meat curry paste and garnished with light golden onions; it had a slight coastal tanginess and was simpler and less rich in the palate.
We also tasted the ever-popular Avial, which is basically a veggie curry seasoned with coconut oil and curry leaves. For dessert, we had some Kayada, which is a festive Malabari snack, made with rice, jaggery, coconut and wrapped in banana leaves. It was sweet but had a lovely consistency in its fillings; if you love the Bengali, jaggery-based desserts, there’s no way you won’t like the Kayada.
The Mappila Festival is on at The Westin till tomorrow. Price for one: Rs1499 ++