THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: ON the streets of Tokyo, it was the squishy takoyaki (Octopus balls), enroute to South India it was the ubiquitous Indian Railway chaai, and at Kochi’s Lulu Mall the chocolate momo. New York-based travel writer Alyssa Pinsker’s appetite for quirky food knows no bounds. The solo traveller has been on a four-month-long journey through India and is currently in Kochi,her final destination. Lounging on the lawn of the Old Bristow Lighthouse Hotel, Pinsker says “I am on a mission for good food, spirituality, connecting with the Indian Jewish community and more than anything, to find a new home. New York is a very fast and materialistic space,” shares Pinsker.
A contributor to some of New York’s premier newspapers and magazines (like Huffington Post and Cosmopolitan), Pinsker chiefly writes on travel, faith, feminism, food and relationships. She admits that her life used to resemble the cliche of an American television drama. A struggling writer burnt out with the sameness of the busy New York City. “One day I took off and travelled through Europe, Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The varied tastes, people and lives I experienced along the way gave an abundance of inspiration for me as a writer,” says the 36-year-old, who is writing a travel feature on BBC regarding the last Jews of Kochi and a travel memoir, Girl Gone Global, which also gives street smart tips to travelling single women. Girl Gone Global had already taken another shape in the form of an internet forum, where women travellers can exchange experiences and find travel mates, all hosted at her webpage, alyssapinsker.com
Also a connoisseur of coffee, Pinsker reveals that she is smitten by the frothy Indian coffee, custard apple (seethaphal) and jaggery. “I also had the privilege of sharing meals at Jewish homes in Fort Kochi, where dishes are prepared with recipes handed down by older generations,” explains the writer, who still networks through the traditional word-of-mouth to meet fellow Jews in India. Pinsker is surprised to learn that Simcha Torah (a Jewish holiday that marks the completion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings) is still celebrated by Jews in Kochi. She recollects the interesting Minyan (prayer service) that never happened on Simcha Torah day, as the ceremony required 10 Jewish men and they could only find nine. Pinsker is headed back to America in November, where she will tour the South to explore more flavours. We bring you Pinsker’s choice of dishes on this culinary journey.
This dish reminded me of home as it was a mild dumpling served in vegetable sauce. Made with semolina, the dumplings were filled with minced chicken breast, onions, cabbage, celery, and coriander, and looked like the Cochin version of Iraqi kubbeh. Prepared by Aunty Queenie, an older member of the Kochi Jewish community, the dish was a delicious addition to the main course, which was served on the Simcha Torah dinner.
Not something I would call delicious, but a must eat for novelty sake for anyone visiting Ernakulam. Served by WOW momo at Lulu mall, the dish had four pieces of momo filled with molten chocolate. It would have been a great idea if it were fried in cinnamon dough and topped with a scoop of ice cream to make it truly magical. Priced at Rs 120 for a plate of four.
I don’t eat a lot of duck back home unless it is Chinese, but the chef at Malabar House at Parade Road is European trained and is exceptionally good with fusion food. The braised duck served there was quite unusual for me as I am so used to the crispy duck. The hotel also served a triptych in bananas: banana fries, banana tart, and banana fry; such assortment of dishes prepared in banana, which I have never seen in any other town. A complete degustation experience including tuna, tiger prawns, duck and chocolate mousse at Rs 2000. Details: 2216666
The owner of Caza Maria restaurant has a homestay called Sui House at Jew town. I was put up there for few days and one night his wife offered to cook a meal with bananas. It was healthy and delicious. Raw banana curry, rice, banana stem (pindi)sliced and fried so it tasted like a vegetable patty. I was delighted as the banana stems has lots of fibre. When it came to dessert, she served me the ubiquitous fried banana. Details: 2227078