Pazham Nirachatu To Unnakkai: Understanding Thalassery Cuisine
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Thalassery cuisine refers to food from Thalassery, a town along the Malabar Coast in Kannur in Kerala. The town was a maritime trading post and so the cuisine came to be an amalgamation of Indian, French and Arabian influences. The repertoire of dishes of the Muslim community see a Mughal influence. Within Kerala, Thalassery also pioneered the bakery industry, with the first bakery established in 1880 and Western cakes being introduced in 1883. Thalassery cuisine is a part of Malabar cuisine, which hails from the North of Kerala unlike its Southern counterpart which is referred to as Syrian-Christian cuisine. Most of the food that’s part of Malabar cuisine uses ghee. 

One of the most popular Thalassery dishes is Thalassery biryani (pronounced ‘biriyaani’ in the local dialect) or Tellicherry biryani. It is the only biryani that can be found in the cuisine of Kerala and uses kaima, a regional, aromatic variety of rice, instead of basmati. Biryani originated during the reign of the Mughals, who brought the biryani from Samarkand, but this version is indigenous to the Malabar Coast. It symbolises the merging of Mughal and Malabari culture and cuisine. It is believed that Thalassery biryani came into being due to the influence of Mysore and Arkot’s Muslim rulers and isa reminder of foreign influences in the Malabar region. It is a part of traditional Mappila cuisine. 

Other dishes eaten within Thalassery cuisine include snacks like pazham nirachatu, which are made by stuffing bananas with jaggery or shredded coconut mixed with sugar and then frying them. Muttamala is a sweet delicacy made using egg yolks. It is found in the Northern Malabar region but actually originated in Portugal (the Portuguese made fios de ovos—a snack also known as angel hair—with leftover egg yolks, strands of which they sweetened). Unnakkai is a spindle-shaped sweet treat made with plantains (which are filled with coconut and fried in ghee) and is served as a part of festivities at weddings and Iftar parties. 

The holy month of Ramadan sees Malabar dishes in abundance. However, the cuisine of the region changes with place. In modern times, with the development of communication, cultural differences between coastal regions and hilly areas ceased to be noticable, which resulted in the blending of the food culture of the Muslim community. Within the Muslim community, meat dishes are required to be compliant with halal and pork is not consumed. 

With its Arabian and Mughal influences, the cuisine of this region has slowly become more popular, especially because it uses no artificial flavours. It has gone from being merely regional or native to a novelty enjoyed by many.