Kerala has always faced harsh criticism over meat consumption, particularly beef. It is nothing new for us to be put under the limelight for progressive decisions and steps the State had taken in multiple fields, be it education, upliftment of non-binary genders, feminism, communal harmony or even food culture.
With the recent animal cruelty incident (which has caused great pain) pointing fingers at our food habits , here is a piece that I hope will enlighten you into looking beyond the face value attached to a cuisine through the medium of social media.
Yes, we consume fish, chicken, beef and pork, but we also welcome you with open arms for something as grand as a ‘Sadhya’, a colourful and nutrient-rich feast, making Kerala a paradise for vegetarians. Owing to the serene and beautiful coast of the Arabian Sea to our west, we inherently consume seafood. Like every other state in the country, our food culture has also been influenced by visitors and invaders, from Portuguese, British, Dutch, Jews, to Arabs and more. This has only made the people of the land more inclusive. The merits of which are evident in how we treat migrant labourers as our own.
Amidst all of this, an overlooked fact is Kerala’s association with veganism, a lifestyle that follows plant-based living. Let me explain better. A vegetarian consumes products of the soil but also products of dairy – like milk, butter, curd, clarified butter (ghee) and so on. A vegan diet excludes any commodity that involves the usage of animals, clearly why even the consumption of honey and refined sugar (since it receives colour from a process that involves bone char) is avoided by them.
When did Kerala cuisine start getting identified only with beef? What happened to our Ishtoo, Appam, Unniyappam, Prathaman, Puttu, Kappa, Olan, Thoran, Mezhukkuperatti, Kootu curry, Oratti, Pathiri, and more? How did we end up being portrayed as a food culture that only caters to omnivores? Let us burst the blown up bubble.
Veganism is considered to be an expensive affair, especially in a country like India. It could be, only when you look at it from a western perspective. Once we dive deep into our own cuisine we realise that many delicacies pass off as vegan dishes. From Breakfast to dinner with mid-time snacks included, there are a variety of options that vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike would enjoy.
Breakfast: Pick your favourite from Appam, Idiyappam, Puttu, Pathiri, Orotti, Idly, or Dosa. All of these deliciously steamed/ cooked bread is vegan. Since most of the vegetarian gravies use coconut oil and not clarified butter for tempering, Kadala curry (chickpea curry), Veg Ishtoo, Sambhar, Payaru curry (green gram curry) qualify as vegan dishes. Talk about breaking your fast like a King!
Lunch: Carbohydrates are an important element in our diet, be it in the form of rice or tapioca. And no, tapioca doesn’t always need a fish curry, a humble coconut chutney with shallots and dry red chillies works wonders, you will also be surprised to know that the most popular accompaniment for Kappa uses only three ingredients: salt, coconut oil and green chillies. A simple dish like Olan made with pumpkin, coconut milk and black-eyed pea is a nutritious vegan delight. Any vegetarian Thoran (vegetable sauteed with a spicy coconut mixture) or vegetable Mezhukkuperatti ( sauteed in coconut oil) adds texture to your meal. If you eliminate dishes like Pachadi, Kichadi and Aviyal (since all of them make use of curd) your vegan lunch is super easy to prepare.
Snack: Traditional Kerala snacks are unique, uses seasonal produce at its best and are delicious. Let us take a look at Kuzhalappam, our own variant of a cannoli minus the filling. Made with rice flour, shallots, garlic and fried in coconut oil, a crispy delicacy like this shouldn’t be missed with a strong cup of black tea. Talking about tea, you will find us consuming varieties of black tea, at home or from the tiny tea stalls that dot the state. I am sure you must have or yearned to try our famed Sulaimani.
Dinner: Sustainability is the key! Whatever is made for lunch should easily become dinner too.
Desserts: As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, refined sugar is something that vegans avoid! Why worry when there is Jaggery (I love the tone of this sentence). Many of the desserts that we prepare are mostly seasonal (of course) and use jaggery as the sweetener. You must be familiar with Payasam (before you stop me, yes it is made with cow’s milk) but our Pradhaman is what is vegan. Made with coconut milk and jaggery, Pradhaman has alternatives as per season. A jackfruit season calls for Chakka Pradhaman, plantain season (almost always) demands a Pazham Pradhaman and so on. Unniyappam, Neyyappam, Chakka Varattiyath and more await you in the land of peppercorns.
For people throwing dirt at the food culture of my land, let me get this straight, no one has the right to belittle any cuisine! The culture of a state or a country lies deep in its history, one will have to delve into the roots to get a clear image of what is in store. Hate mongering will fetch you nothing, but acceptance and inclusivity will take you places. It is time for you to choose, just like how we chose to live in harmony. Welcome to Kerala, nice to meet you!