Kottayam definitely holds a prime position in the flavour map of Kerala and is known for its mouth-watering local delicacies. From the spicy fish curry and boiled tapioca to the special homemade wines during the Christmas season, the district celebrates its unique cuisine in the most grandiose way. Preparing and enjoying tasty dishes is nothing sort of a grand celebration here. It is said that even the sweet breeze that flows through the kitchens in Kottayam carries the aroma of chilli, turmeric, coriander, cloves and the exquisite ilavangam (wild cinnamon).
Love for kappa
Kappa or tapioca is the first and the last love of the natives of Kottayam. They can easily turn a piece of tapioca into a delicious plate of boiled, mashed or spiced kappa dish. Tapioca biryani is a favourite among the foodies and kappa upma is a unique dish that is cooked in the kitchens here. Upperi kappa and avalu kappa are some of the varieties of the tapioca dishes that are extremely popular in Kottayam. Kappa, in all its delicious glory, has to be enjoyed with spicy red fish curry, dried fish vattichatu (roasted with spices and grated coconut), beef curry with roasted coconut gravy, beef dry fry with crispy fried coconut shards, spicy chicken curry or simple yet flavoursome bird eye chilli chutney.
Soft and lacy appams are another speciality of the unique cuisine of Kottayam. Palappam which is 'melt-in-the-mouth' soft, kallappam which can be prepared with or without adding local toddy, the sweet vattayappam, the Maundy Thursday special indri appam and kumbilappam made by steaming tasty jackfruit-jaggery mixture wrapped in fresh plantain or bay leaves are some of appam varieties that are often cooked in the households here. However, pidi or the rice balls cooked in creamy coconut milk is the most unique dish that can be had only in Kottayam. The people of the district have no doubts when they declare pidi and chicken curry, cooked in roasted coconut gravy, as a match made in 'culinary' heaven.
Tea time magic
There is a saying that the list of the evening snacks that are special to Kottayam is as long as the great Meenachil River. From avalosu podi, ariyunda, churuttu, kuzhalappam and cheeda to the soft ottada with coconut and jaggery filling roasted on tawa and valsan cooked in steam, Kottayam has been serving delicious snacks. Banana fritters, sukhiyan, dal fritters, pappada vada, onion vada and vettu cake are some of the snacks which have made its way, from the glass cupboards in the local tea shops, to the household kitchens. Besides, many bakeries in Kottayam are known for its special biscuits and cakes. Mrs. KM Mathews, Mrs BF Varghese and Thankam Philip are some of the culinary doyens who played vital roles in shaping up the unique food culture of Kottayam.
Saving for tomorrow
The people of Kottayam are known for preserving the seasonal produce so that they can use it throughout the year, even when there is a shortage of supplies. They have a special skill in preserving the surplus of whatever seasonal fruits or vegetables that are abundantly grown in their backyards. Mangoes, jackfruits and various types of bananas are dried and preserved. Ripe mangoes get transformed into tasty mambazhathera. Chammanthipodi or veppilakatti made using spicy and dry roasted coconut powder is stored in glass jars. Bilimbi, rose apple, nutmeg stem, lemon rind and plantain stem which are usually thrown away would be turned into delicious pickles in the kitchens at Kottayam. So, these preserved dishes make the meals extremely flavoursome and rich, even during the harsh monsoons when the produce is not that great.
As sweet as the wine
The streets of Kottayam fill with the sweet fragrance of freshly prepared wine during the month of December. It is the time when the wines that have been stored in huge earthen jars, for months, finally makes its grand debut. Gooseberries, pineapple, rose apple, grapes and nutmeg stem are all preserved and turned into delicious homemade wines that are enjoyed during the Christmas season. Panampani is a unique drink associated with the traditional Christian cuisine in Kottayam. During the olden days, panampani was served at the end of the elaborate Christian wedding feasts. This drink, which is as sweet as fresh honey, has made a comeback to the wedding feasts, recently.
The fresh Kumarakam pearl spot is truly a Kottayam speciality. Pearl spot marinated in local spices and baked in plantain leaf has admirers even in the foreign countries. The fresh water fishes caught from the local rivulets and lakes too have many takers. Small fresh water fishes are either cooked as peera with spiced coconut or fried to crisp. The culinary masters of Kottayam are known for adding a touch of magic to their unique dishes with a dollop of ginger-garlic paste, a drizzle of creamy coconut milk or a pinch of homemade fragrant masala mix. It is the traditional recipes that have been passed down through generations and the availability of fresh produce which makes Kottayam a haven of delicious delicacies.