Food, Glorious Food

Our first proper stop in Kerala was in Thalaserry, in Ayesha Manzil, an old colonial building which has been converted into a guesthouse. We were technically supposed to be staying in a double room with an extra bed in it here, but because the owners are awesome (I believe their reasoning was ‘it’s our house and no one else is staying here so we can do what we like’) they put me in my own separate room, with a four poster bed and an en suite bathroom bigger than some of the rooms I’ve stayed in so far.

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In fact, I’m fairly sure just that shower unit is bigger than some of the rooms I’ve stayed in so far.

The stay is full board with amazing food and a good swimming pool, so we happily could have stayed here and chilled out for two days, but the owners provided us with a guide to go on several mini excursions while they were busy making our enormous meals.

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Obligatory artistic shot of boats on the local beach, where we gathered shells and attempted to spot the teeny tiny crabs that were making firework patterns in the sand as they burrowed.

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This is part of a Theyyam ritual in a small sacred area (not a temple – the dancers are always ordinary people, often of the lowest caste, rather than priests). The performers apply makeup and wear costumes to look like gods and goddesses and then leave their human lives behind in the dressing room to come to the stage as vessels for the divine. They then dance and chant, assisted by an attendant carrying a lamp and accompanied by some incredibly loud and hypnotic drumming until they are possessed by their god for the night. They can then answer prayers and deliver blessings on the local people who come to ask the god incarnate for help. It’s mesmerising to watch, even though this is only a mini ritual – the bigger, much more elaborate ones are in December to February.

The next day we were booked in for a cookery lesson with the lady of the house (Faiza Moosa, who has her own cookbook), so early in the morning Mr Moosa took us to the local market to pick out the fish, meat and vegetables we wanted to cook.

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Cleaning our pomfret for dinner

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Sharks and stingrays (no, we didn’t have any of these)

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Beef! In India! God bless the Muslims

We then drove off to see a couple of local industries while Faiza was busy making our lunch and preparing our cooking lesson.  The first was the Beedi cooperative, beedi being the small local Indian cigarettes rolled in green leaves. Despite not being a smoking fan it was an interesting place to visit, and seemed to be quite a good place to work compared to most factory jobs. The women are all sitting around chatting as they cut leaves, roll cigarettes and package them up into 15 cigarette rolls to be sold for a whopping 10 rupees (about 10 pence). They even have a man come round every morning to read the day’s paper to them as they work.  I was only disappointed that they didn’t break into song a la Carmen. Maybe they were just waiting for us to leave.

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My close ups are fuzzy as she was moving so damn fast, but this lady had a steel tip glued to her fingernail to help her fold in the end of the leaves on each cigarette.

We also visited a cotton weaving centre, making fabrics for shirts, sarees and tableware and managing to weave some incredible patterns into the fabrics (particularly the border patterns on the sarees).  I succumbed to temptation and bought some fabric here for no particular reason, which of course means I have broken the seal and will have to continue buying fabric wherever I go. It also means I’ll have to get off my arse and actually get out my sewing machine when I get home but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

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Finally in the evening our class starred, with PRE CHOPPED INGREDIENTS! Hurrah!  We made way way more food than three people could eat, so hopefully it went to the staff as well!  I’ve now come away with recipes for beef fry (phenomenal beef boiled in a buttload – technical term – of different spices before being fried to thicken the sauce), cabbage thoran (made with grated coconut and mustard seeds), yogurt based beetroot pachadi (not traditionally made with beetroot so apparently we’re very weird for making a pink one, in fact I’m pretty sure the name means something like ‘white dish’), fish molee (coconut based fish curry, not half bad despite not really being a fish fan), and a creme caramel type pudding made with freshly made coconut milk and jaggery – unrefined sugar. My fingers smelled of curry spices for two days after this class but it was sooooo good. I kept sniffing my hands in public without meaning to.

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