Inside Kochi’s Jewish Kitchens With A Simple Coconut Cake

India’s Jewish community has a rich history that has become interwoven with local culture to create a legacy of its own. The Kochi Jews (or the Cochinim as they’re known in Israel) are the smallest of the three hubs of Judaism in the subcontinent but they’re also the earliest settlers in the diaspora. 

Their history traces back over 2000 years to when they landed on the Malabar Coast. They were thought to be sailors in King Solomon’s fleet coming to barter precious spices and metals. They soon made a home in Cochin, Kerala and while they shared a lot of their own culture and traditions, they also took on a lot of the local traits and that cross-cultural exchange can be most clearly seen in their cuisine. 

Though their number in the city is dwindling today, they are still very rooted in tradition and part of honouring the culture means eating only Kosher food. In Hebrew, the word for keeping kosher is Kashrut and roughly translates to ‘staying fit’. This diet usually prohibits the mixing of meat and dairy as well as a ban on pork and any seafood that doesn’t have fins or scales, such as crustaceans. 

When they first arrived in India, these restrictions must have been a little hard to adjust to. Not because of the meat aspect – India has more than enough proof that you can thrive on vegetarian food – but for the dairy aspect, so much of India’s rich recipes can be traced back to yoghurt or cream. Although cows are technically Kosher animals, for the milk to be considered kosher it requires certain procedures and rites to be observed which were not always possible for the small community.

But luckily in Kochi, if there’s one thing that’s always in ample supply, it’s coconuts and soon, Jewish families realised that coconut milk was an ideal alternative to cow's milk in any situation and soon it became an integral part of most dishes in the region. This Coconut Cake is a celebratory recipe from Esther David’s book Bene Appetit - The Cuisine Of Indian Jews which honours that aspect of life as Kochi Jews and their adaptability.


  • 1 cup semolina 
  • ¾ cup oil
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 1 cup grated coconut
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 almonds
  • 10 raisins
  • 8 cashew nuts
  • ¼ tsp cardamom powder


  • Roast the semolina in a dry pan until it’s browned and then let it cool.
  • Whisk together the eggs, sugar, coconut milk, grated coconut, chopped nuts, raisins, cardamom and semolina.
  • Pour the batter into a lined tin and bake for 30 minutes at 180 C. 
  • Cool and serve.