Food experts say that it's only been about a decade or two since Keralites began to serve variety of dishes for their lunch or dinner parties. Now, foreign dishes and cuisines have dominated the Malayali platter. These days Arab, Chinese and Lebanese cuisines are served along with authentic Indian dishes at the high profile wedding parties. North Indian dishes like fried rice found their way to Kerala almost 25 years ago.
Keralites have been relishing biryani since the last 35 - 40 years and this delicious dish also reflects the extraordinary history of the Malayali migration to the Gulf. It was only after the Gulf exodus that biryani became the main course in the Muslim and Christian wedding menu. Before that, piping hot ghee rice was served along with spicy chicken curry, dal curry, okra preserved in salt and chilli and cabbage thoran (stir fry) were served at the Muslim homes for wedding feast. However, there are a few historical documents which state that biryani was one of the exclusive dishes served at well known Muslim families during weddings and other special occasions even 70 - 80 years ago. For Christian weddings, the lunch included meat and fish dishes prepared in the authentic Kerala style, along with rice, 'moru' (spiced and tempered buttermilk) and vegetable stir fries. Later, appam and stew made its way to the menu followed by meat cutlet, and cake and wine to add a little bit of 'spirit' to the wedding feast.
The traditional Kerala 'sadya' (feast) with a variety of vegetarian dishes and curries are still the star of Hindu weddings. However, many dishes which are served on the banana leaf as part of the sadhya cannot be called authentic Kerala dishes. It is said that during the first half of the 20th century, the sadhya did not even include half of the dishes that are served today. The rice served for the feast was usually cultivated in one's own paddy fields. Ghee would be poured over the hot rice, and it would be accompanied by only few curries. These dishes were primarily made with jack fruit, coconut, spinach, yam, mango, tapioca and the like which were abundantly grown at one's own plot of land. Kaalan, spiced buttermilk, mezhukkupuratti (vegetables toasted in oil), olan and erissery were the four main dishes served at the wedding feasts. Inji thairu (ginger in yogurt), raw mango preserved in salt, inji curry (ginger curry), raw plantain chips and sarkara uppery (fried plantain coated in jaggery) were the other 'special' items served on the banana leaf. Deserts too were simple, often serving sweet and hot adapradhaman payasam.
In the days of yore when weddings and feasts were not so grand and elaborate, food was a means to unite people. Historians who specialize in food and cuisine say that wedding feasts comprised of a humble bowl of good old kanji (rice gruel) accompanied by spicy and flavoursome puzhukku (boiled vegetables mixed with grated coconut and spices) made with home grown vegetables like long beans, tapioca, yam etc.