The monsoon is here. And so are the crabs. The crabs peep out of the crevices in the slushy, muddy monsoon earth. And most of the Malayalis just start drooling even when sighting the crab.
The crab meat is available throughout the world, across many cultures. Interestingly, crab meat is one of the foods that our prehistoric ancestors actually started to relish, all those millennia ago. Talk of cultural progress that the humanity has attained, yet you can find that it's the prehistoric diet that still stays close to the human heart, of course, with more sophistication. It was the tribal people who had first discovered that these creatures, sporting dangerous claws and hidden under tough shells are quite edible and tasty. And no culinary god has ever been able to move at least one step ahead from what our prehistoric ancestors had discovered.
Crab meat is one of the most favourite food for the Paniya tribe of Wayanad. As we know, Wayanad is also the land of 'Vayal' or paddy fields. Crabs form an integral part of life for the members of Paniya community who had come down to the human settlements from their forest abodes, looking for pastures to cultivate. Usually, they make use of the crustaceans like crab, or kakka (mussels) or noonchi that they gather from the paddy fields.
The Paniya tribe believes that there are four kinds of crabs. The Kotti Njandu is found only during the monsoon time. Then there are the 'Unda Njandu,' 'Vella Njandu,' and 'Paara Njandu.' It's quite an exciting sight to watch the Paniyas catch hold of the crabs with their bare hands. Their hands inch along the burrows, crashing the burrows as the hand moves down. And finally, the crab would be in their hands within a second, catching the crab with the earth so deftly as to escape the claws.
Another trick to catch crabs is to use a bait made of the tender shoots of paddy, which is slowly dropped into the burrow. The crabs that follow the paddy shoot soon land up over the fire.
The tribal people usually follow very simple recipes for cooking the crab meat. The crabs are washed and cleaned neatly. The meat would be separated from the shell and cut into small chunks. A coconut paste will be made with enough pepper, kanthari (small green chilies) and coriander will be added as per need. And the crab will be cooked with the spice mix in pure, locally made coconut oil.