The chicken tikka masala has already been crowned by many as Britain’s national dish but not many have tasted the real Indian cuisine. There can’t be a better way to experience it than by diving deep into the nuanced depths of India’s regional dishes.
Perceptions of Indian food are clouded by myths: for a start, not all regional food is “spicy”; combinations of fresh ground, roasted and whole spices are common but not obligatory; and the inclusion of chilli is by no means compulsory, either.
Lovers of the endorphin-releasing pleasure of seriously “hot” chili-infused cooking will be able to find new levels of challenge, while taste buds prone to milder delights will find that plenty of Indians have a similar preference. Without a doubt the best Indian cooking of all is found in people’s homes, so any chance to experience this should be seized.
Traditional food dishes of a region are deeply ingrained within a community and recipes are passed down directly from generation to generation. Rarely are recipes written down and most are inherited by word of mouth.
By holding onto these culinary traditions, cooking becomes a means of honoring the past and of honoring the family — two very important values in Indian society. In many ways, it’s also a way of actively preserving a culture’s most sacred elements for generations to come.
One such place that has been trying their best to preserve this art is Ayisha Manzil. An old colonial bungalow, Ayisha Manzil is just outside the chaotic little coastal town of Thalassery in Kerala and proudly owned by Mr. C.P. Moosa, universally known as Moosa.
Ayisha Manzil was built in 1862 by Murdoch Brown, a tradesman from the East India Company, and bought in 1900 by the Moosas, a local timber trader family of Muslims who still runs it today.
Inside, the huge dark rooms are full of heavy carved wood furniture. Outside there is a veranda from where you can see the waves of the Arabian Sea crashing below and kites in the palm trees above.
If you wish a Houseboy can accompany you on trips to a 6 Km long tropical beach, the fruit markets of Thalassery or to the 300 acres of cinnamon plantation which was originally established by Murdoch himself and is the only one of its kind in the country.
But my favourite way to spendthe day at Ayisha Manzil is with an early morning trip to the fish market and spice merchant. It is fascinating to see the barefoot porters run through the market wearing plastic sun hats to catch the drips slopping from the stacks of fish on their heads.
Moosa is always happy to take guests to the market and it is wonderful to enjoy the walk along the beach with him and his dogs.
This coastal strip is famous for its fish, caught daily in the warm waters that lap the heavenly Malabar Coast and sold right off the boat on the local beach. Here they sell everything from tiny anchovies to stingrays the size of a man. Guests are encouraged to choose ingredients here and return to the house to learn how to cook them.
Faiza Moosa will show you how to cook in the style of the local Indian cuisine, which developed here quite differently from elsewhere on the subcontinent.
Named after the 'Mopillas' Or 'Muslims of North Kerala", Mopilla cuisine is the tradition here, where delights such as fresh prawns, shrimp, crab, mussels & oysters are served up in sumptuous sauces and spicy curries.
One integral ingredient of the local cooking is the multi-faceted and multi-purpose coconut. This is a distinctive part of Kerala’s cuisine as one rarely ever comes across coconuts being used in recipes outside of this state.
Whether it be fresh coconut flakes in a dessert, coconut milk to thicken a curry or coconut oil used almost exclusively as the oil of choice in dishes, the people of Kerala truly love and respect the coconut.
These cookery courses can be just for a couple of hours or a few days and then you has the pleasure of having it served on the menu that night and dining on your own creation.
My other favourite culinary experiences in Asia:
At Home cookery classes with Nimmy and Paul in Kochi, Kerala.
Boutique properties of Trinity and Privacy in Kochi, Kerala.
Shreyas in Bangalore, a wellness and yoga retreat serving delightful rejuvenating food.
Jalakara in the Andaman Islands, focussed on wellbeing and serving exceptional and fresh seafood caught locally.
Or call us on: (UK) +44 (0)1367 850566, (USA) 1-855-216-5040
Posted by: Harsha Ogale
Posted on: 20th September 2016
Read more: Posts about Asia