Pork is king of Angamaly's cuisine. Another speciality is meat cooked with yam and jackfruit seeds. Angamaly residents' love for meat is depicted faithfully in the movie 'Angamaly Diaries' produced by local man and actor Chemban Vinod.
For every function held in the area, meat items are compulsory. It is joked that the folk of Angamaly prefer to have a couple of pieces of meat even in vegetable curry.
Shajan Antony, son of Chettungal Antony and Chemban Vinod's neighbour, is the ideal person to explain Angamaly's preference for meat dishes. He is the owner of Palace Hotel in the town.
His restaurant serves every local dish from mango curry to meat dish with jackfruit seed as ingredient. The chief chef of the eatery is Venu Nair, who has been here for the last 46 years. Venu lists the major specialities of the restaurant: "Pork curry with 'koorka,' pork-yam curry, jackfruit meat, jackfruit seed-meat, beef curry with plantain, 'pidi' and chicken curry, yam with taro leaves and Angamaly mango curry."
Saji, manager of the restaurant, gives details.
Mallussery is a place in Angamaly which is well-known for its mango. Mallussery, in fact, has been connected with the Christian traditions since the time of the Portuguese. The tangy taste of Mallussery mango and the 'Angamaly mango curry' prepared with it adding curd is even more famous.
Saji is eager to relate more local history. "In older times, ports were called 'maly.' The port here was a centre of spices trade. It was the Tamil-speaking people who added 'Anga' to 'maly.' They called it the entry point to Malliankara. Another legend says that it was the ground (also called 'maly') where 'angam' (battles) were staged," he says.
But now, a new legend is being created by the local cuisine of the place. Angamaly was also the administrative headquarters of the Syrian Christians and the seat of the first Portuguese bishop in India. This suggests that the unique cuisine of the place has a history of five centuries. The ancient Christian families of Angamaly lived in 18-and-a-half 'cheris' (slums) and gave first preference to pork in their kitchens. The second choice was beef, while chicken and other items were preferred less.
Another path-breaking development in the local cooking was the use of jackfruit. Even a 100 years before the Kerala Government declared jackfruit as the state fruit, Angamaly folk had started making several dishes with various parts of the succulent fruit.
While in other parts of Kerala, the only dish made with jackfruit was the 'puzhukku' with the fleshy part, in Angamaly the fruit was cut into fine pieces and added to meat preparations. The fat of beef and the wax of jackfruit blended to produce a taste that was never experienced before. Similarly, plantain that started to ripen was cooked along with beef. Yam too was made an ingredient in pork curry.
Once upon a time, taro leaves were an item that the poor people of the locality used for cooking. But now along with yam, it is part of 'high-class' cuisine.
"Earlier, taro leaves were taken for cooking when one couldn't afford meat. But later yam and taro vanished from dinner tables. However, we are now offering the dish," says Venu.
"When local people started cooking pork and yam together, the latter became part of the menu again," he says and adds that it was a major landmark in the local history.
Vegetable pork curry
Vegetarians reaching Angamaly would find it hard to find a place where authentic vegetarian dishes are served. Pork with 'koorka,' beef with plantain or jackfruit with beef are the 'vegetarian' items available in the restaurants here. An elaborate search would end up with vegetarians having a lunch with cabbage 'thoran,' pickles, papad and mango curry as dishes. These are, however, sufficient for having rice to one’s fill. But the housewives may add a few pieces of fish to the mango curry.
More local facts
Angamaly has a fertile soil on the banks of the Periyar River. On its East are places such as Malayattoor in the Western Ghats. On the West are Paravoor, Thekkumbhagom, and Aluva. In the North is Chalakkudy. Angamly has turned into an urban space with the opening of the Kochi airport at Nedumbassery nearby. The heart of the town is the bus stand area.
There are several major churches and markets in the town and the railway station has been given the name 'Angamaly for Kalady.' The birthplace of Sankaracharya, Kalady, is also close to the town.
The place is also related to Buddhism. The 18-and-a-half 'cheris' are considered to be a symbol of the Buddhist past. The 18 'cheris' are: Nedumbassery, Palaprassery, Aduvassery, Kaprassery, Kodussery, Mallussery, Padappassery, Kannamkuzhissery, Kurumassery, Kunnappillissery, Poovatthussery, Puthuvassery, Thuruthussery, Poykottussery, Kunnissery, Palissery, Parambulissery and Karippassery. Meanwhile, Vappalassery is termed a 'half cheri.' However, when Angamaly town turned prosperous, all the slums have been transformed into stately houses. Still, the local people have not lost touch with their traditional cuisine.
Another notable figure in the local lore is Arnos Pathiri, who made a major contribution to the development of the Malayalam language. It is believed that Pathiri learnt Sanskrit from two Namboodiri Brahmins in Angamaly.
Though the place was earlier part of the Kochi kingdom, it was merged with Travancore after the 17th century.
No wonder, having vibrant historical, cultural, political and literary traditions, Angamaly retains its supremacy regarding the local cuisine too.