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From the Spice Coast

Kerala’s food culture is being fostered anew, thanks to recipes, photographs and interactions by its natives and expatriates in the blogosphere, finds Rosanna Abrachan

Published: 09th February 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th February 2015 04:58 AM   |  A+A-

Nashira Abdul Hameed @ Plateful

Spice.jpgA mostly South Indian recipe site, with lavishly spiced dishes accompanied by vivid photographs, Plateful was born during Hameed’s break from a corporate job in December 2010. An expedition to the kitchen led to a few pictures and a blog deal that was sealed with a plan to tell the world that there’s more to Indian food than butter chicken, naan and biryani. Today, in her kitchen in Doha, the mother of two, who confesses to a crush on baking, cherishes memories of her mother’s tuna cutlets and cooking Sunday breakfasts of noodles and omelettes with her siblings. With her roots in Thrissur and an upbringing in the Gulf, Hameed, now working for Qatar Foundation, serves up foods with cross-cultural influences—like a strawberry rice pudding inspired by the unakkalari payasam. The blog, which sees around 30,000 visits each month, is the 39-year-old’s testimony to her love for shooting in natural light and cooking with love.

Mareena Jerrish@ Mareena’s Recipe Collections

Spice2.jpgAs a teenager who’d discovered she could bake, Jerrish, who hails from Muvattupuzha, was eager to bake not one but four chocolate cakes for guests. The cakes rose, but her joy was short-lived for they soon sank and not even her Great Dane would go near them. The baker didn’t give up and began collecting recipes from friends, family and magazines—the culmination of which is a three-year-old blog with over 12,700 followers on Facebook and a monthly readership of 50,000—mainly from India and the US. Featuring starters, vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian courses and bakes, the blog also publishes pictures that readers send in of dishes they’ve tried from the collection. With her 14-year-old son Daryl sharing her love for food, the family alternates between traditional Kerala cooking and world cuisines at home. What makes its way to their table, like Rajasthani ghevar, go on the blog. Taking criticism—both good and bad—in her stride, Jerrish only wishes for easier availability of ingredients to cook up a storm.

Kaveri Venkatesh @ Palakkad Chamayal

Spice3.jpgMolagootal (lentils and vegetables simmered with ground coconut), rasakalan (curd-based curry) and festival specials like thiruvadhirai kali (jaggery-based sweet) and nombu adai—Venkatesh’s blog is the stuff Palakkad Iyers’ food dreams are made of. Though settled in Amsterdam, the blog is her connect to her town of Puthucode and her engineering days in Kochi. “The Palakkad Iyers have a cuisine of their own that is handed down through generations—a mix of Kerala and Tamil Nadu recipes. It is pure vegetarian, coconut and its oil are indispensable and there is minimal use of onions and garlic,” she explains. That the internet had hardly any space dedicated to the community’s food saw her write her first post four years ago. The blog, often read by 3,000 people each day, is encouraged by an Indian store at Venkatesh's doorstep and comments from readers that say, “Amma pakkaththile vandaachu” (came close to mother’s).

Swapna Mickey Zacharia@ Swapna’s Cuisine

Spice4.jpgReflections of her Knanaya Jacobite upbringing in Kottayam and culinary tastes acquired in North-Eastern India and the Middle East, Zacharia’s blog is a melting pot of food cultures. There are recipes for everyday meals like kanji, payar and chamanthi, homemade wines (mint, mango, orange, rice, passion fruit, guava, etc), Italian and Chinese dishes. The Kuwait resident, who has pledged her love to desserts and cake decoration, took inspiration from other food writers to begin her blog in 2008. With around 70,000 views each month, the page gets by with her spouse’s help. Her husband took over as the official photographer two years after the blog went live, letting her concentrate on cooking and styling. While her signature dishes include a chocoflan cake and orange-soaked Bundt cake, Zacharia’s Kerala style pork fry is popular. And when she’s not blogging, you’ll find her working towards becoming a cake artist, with her idol in Nicholas Lodge.

Maria Jose Martin @ MariasMenu

A whopping 1.7 million blog hits per month, nearly 50,000 followers on Facebook and 20,000 email subscribers—Martin’s eight-year-old pursuit leads the naadan food brigade. Her husband’s suggestion to form an online scrapbook for paper cuttings and handwritten recipes saw the management graduate from Kochi start the blog. In fact, Jose Paul Martin is listed as the chief tasting/technology officer and the Bahrain-based couple guides you to getting your own blog up and running. “Blogging is like cooking while talking to a friend seated at the coffee table in my kitchen. The recipe becomes a small part of our chitchat,” Maria shares. You can take home some of her handiworks in a Chicken e-booklet featuring 14 recipes and five specials that, she promises, will never be published on the blog. Plans for more booklets are in the works. And until then, in her kitchen, “nothing is more sophisticated than rice and coconut. Period.”

 Aparna Balasubramanian @ My Diverse Kitchen

Spice1.jpgPure vegetarians, this one’s for you. A blog rooted in the Palakkad Iyer repertoire and dishing out egg-free bakes and breads, Balasubramanain’s pursuit has come a long way from her first food memory of being the official pea-sheller at home. The biochemistry graduate and freelance photographer, now settled in Goa with her husband, daughter and dog, put up the first post in October 2007. With 25,000-30,000 readers per month, the blog’s main focus is on home-cooked vegetarian Indian food, with Italian, Mexican and American recipes starring occasionally. Immense planning goes into each post. “First, I decide on the recipe, look up the food history, source the ingredients, and think about styling and photographing the dish. Then the actual cooking happens, the family gives its verdict, the writing is done and published,” she outlines. Her innovative posts include those on making navara rice, cardamom-flavoured rose cheesecake bars and an Indian-style vegetable pot pie. Balasubramanian also pens cookbook reviews, while baking and sauteeing her way to her dream of authoring one.

Ria Mary Mathew @  Ria’s Collection

Spice6.jpgLittle brothers are a blessing and one that gets you started on a food blog, a bigger one. Following her sibling’s suggestion to put all her recipes in one place, Mathew started her blog in October 2008. With her family all for food adventures, the blog is an extension of the culinary capers in her Minneapolis kitchen and her mother’s turf in their home in Kannur. Coming from a large family of cooks—her mother is a caterer—Mathew’s devotion to desserts shows on the blog and so does the ease with which she experiments with French, Mediterranean and Swedish cuisines. With nearly 1.5 lakh views each month, the blog—with its bounty of heirloom recipes—features specials like chatti pathiri and a layered Malabari lasagna, which won her Vanitha’s Pachakarani title in 2011. The homemaker, who also teaches Indian cuisine at a culinary school in Minneapolis, wants Malayalam cookery shows move to beyond the set and the host to educate.

Aysha Tanya and Kathija Hashim@ The Malabar Tea Room

Amother-daughter project—born out of distance and the need to do something together—the two-year-old blog is a visual treat. Tanya’s stellar photographs of her mother’s cooking in a Kannur kitchen and her writing come together to tell of their time by the stove and oven. The duo puts up food from all over the world, but usually adapted for the Indian palate, on their page that registers an average of 1,000 views each week. Experimentation is the norm—like in the coconut and jackfruit icecream, puffs with spicy curried tuna and the New England clam chowder with a distinct Kerala twist, with coconut milk and curry leaves. To Tanya, who holds a degree in political science from Fordham University and writes for Food52 and National Geographic Traveller, the best thing about a successful cooking session is the delicious food that awaits. “And nothing beats puttu and prawns curry,” she ends the post.

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