The stereotypical notion with regards to South Indian cuisine is the extensive use of coconut, whether in the form of milk or oil, for cooking. While this holds true to some extent, generalizing the same for all of South India wouldn’t be fair. So would the idea of dosas and idlis, irrespective of whether it is Kerala, Karnataka or Tamil Nadu. The vast diversity prevalent in the south has given rise to region-specific cuisines. Little did we know that Kerala’s existing lavish fare is also home to another lesser-known cuisine. We are talking about Mappila cuisine. 

The state of Kerala has as large a Christian population as a Muslim one. Towards the southern end of the region, you would find a predominantly Christian and Syrian style of cooking whereas Mappila and Malabari cuisine claims the northern side of the state. Mappilas are the Muslim community of Kerala that was formed when Arab travelers settled along the coast of Malabar and started a family with the natives of North Kerala in the 7th century. This gave rise to the unique Mappila community, an amalgamation of Arabic and Kerala’s cultures. It is also heavily influenced by Portuguese, Dutch, French and Jewish cultures. 

Also known as Moplah, the word Mappila is believed to have been derived from the Malayali word maha pillai, referring to honoured people. While the Malabari cuisine has been in the limelight for long, Mappila is yet to make its mark on the food map of India. This relatively unexplored fare has a rich culinary scope and several distinguishing features. 

What The Spice!

Cardamom and cloves are the staple spices of the Mappila cuisine. Tellicherry pepper is one such spice that you would hardly find in any other part of Kerala. In fact, it is so popular that there is a special Tellicherry biryani that is prepared on dum, without using yoghurt for marination and tenderness of the chicken, unlike the famous Thalassery biryani of Kerala. 

Another huge distinction is the use of aniseeds aka saunf instead of cumin seeds aka jeera. The Mappilas aren’t very high on spices so their flavours are quite subtle. They generally use whole spices like nutmeg, bay leaf, poppy seeds and the like, for preparing the biryanis and other dishes. There is no pre-ground masala, everything has to be freshly prepared from scratch. 

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert

The day for the Mappila community begins with an egg curry along with some kanji, which is a red rice porridge. Fish curry is served along with puttu, where rice is steamed to make flour. 

You would find a variety of pathiris like Ney Pathiri on the menu too. These are thin breads made from rice flour and generally relished with a meat curry. Yes, all of this features on the breakfast plate of the Mappilas because they want to start the day high on energy and carbs.

As the day progresses, lunch is served which generally comprises of rice. Chicken, meat and seafood curries are commonly found during this meal like Mutta Ishtu, Alisa, Meen Molaku and more. Alisa has a Mughal influence as it is similar to the traditional mutton haleem that is prepared. Meen or fish biryani is also quite popular here more than chicken or mutton variants. 

Towards the end of the day, when it is time to retire to bed, they prefer to keep the dinner meals light by including kanji and pathiris while the desserts are dominated by rice and eggs. You will find mutta mala (egg pudding) and kalthaappam (rice cakes) on the dessert counter. Unnakayi are sweet banana rolls that are made with eggs and nendran bananas. 

The extensive use of ghee in place of coconut oil as well the techniques of cooking biryani and stuffing meats with other meats are some of the predominant Arab influences on the lesser-known Mappila cuisine.