I'm not sure when the 'travel bug' bit me but I think it was somewhere between the time I was packed up and relocated to a small town in England and when I decided to renounce my cushy Delhi life for studying in Manipal. I went from a butter chicken and naan loving Punjabi to someone who developed a fondness for the unpredictable and unexplored.
I was hooked. Not to 'luxury travel' but to 'good travel'. One that pulled me out of my comfort zone and put me in a place unknown with people unknown. Not the kind that was featured in glossy travel magazines but the kind that needed to be experienced firsthand.
While in college, I was surrounded by an eclectic mix of intelligent Malyalees who convinced me that I hadn't seen anything till I'd seen god's own country, Kerala. Their argument was so persuasive that a few days later I found myself on an over-night train that took me 650 odd kilometers away to Kannur.
Kannur, formerly known as Cannanore is the Northern most city of Kerala. Its name is derived from two words: 'Kannan' which stands for Lord Krishna and 'ur' which means place, making it the place of Lord Krishna.
Kannur welcomed me with open arms - its coconut palm lined coasts, beachfront restaurants, rustic and worn-out brown bungalows, high red-bricked walls and its pleasant aroma of the sea. I felt confident that this journey would be a magical one but I wasn't aware that it would be a gastronomical one too.
Kerala, unlike its neighbours Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, takes pride in its wide variety of non-vegetarian food. They've got chicken, mutton, beef, pork and a thrilling variety of seafood - mussels, crab, tiger prawns, king prawns, tiny prawns, oysters, sardines, mackerel, tuna and gorgeous red lobsters. This 'land of spices' has many exquisite foods to showcase but there few ingredients that I found common to most foods - coconut, chopped, grated or shaved, coconut milk or paste used in gravies or as oil for cooking. Chillis, curry leaf, mustard seeds and tamarind also dominate the dishes. (More: 10 best Kerala recipes)
During the wee hours of the day, I stood glaring at a list of breakfast items on a chalk board. My eyes darted from puttu and kadla curry to ghee roast masala dosa to the rest of the items on an inexhaustible list of vegetarian delicacies. They were all priced reasonably from somewhere between Rs.30 to Rs.60 and each dish came straight off the stove and into my lap.
Puttu and Kadala Curry - Puttu is a cylindrical steamed rice cake cooked with coconut shavings and is an extremely popular breakfast dish, not just in Kannur but through other parts of Kerala as well. It's usually served with kadala curry (black chickpeas/kala chana) but can also be relished with ripe bananas and grated coconut. (Recipe: Puttu andKadala Curry by Niru Gupta)
Appam with Stew - Honestly, appam is a revolutionary food. Not once did I devoid myself of the pleasure of its company. It's got a soft and thick center and a paper thin outside. It's essentially a rice pancake which you can pair with almost anything and it will still steal the spotlight. In a typical Southern stew you'll find chunks of chicken or meat bathed in a beautifully spiced and dreamy coconut gravy. (Recipe: Chicken Stew and appam by Joey Matthew)
Dosa Ghee Roast with Kerala Style Sambar- Dosa is listed among 'World's 50 most delicious foods' and for good reason. Made from fermented rice and lentils, the ghee roast dosa is cooked in pure ghee and roasted till it gets as crisp as it can. (Recipe: Onion Rava dosaand sambhar by Niru Gupta)
Nadan Kozhi Varuthathu aka Spicy Chicken Fry - As mundane as chicken fry sounds, this version is downright delicious. Served up on a banana leaf, chicken is fried with onion, garlic, chilli, vinegar and coriander. Let me warn you, this fiery feast will get you hooked!
Kerala style Fish Molee/Moly - Don't mistake this for just another fish curry because it's absolutely sensational. The flavour of coconut and cocoum also known as kudampuli take this dish to a whole new level.(Recipe: Meen Moilee by Manish Mehrotra)