Monthly Archives: July 2009

Kerala—the Spice State

Coconut and Waterways in Kerala

Coconut and Waterways in Kerala

Spices For Sale

Spices For Sale

From Chennai in Tamil Nadu we flew to Cochin in Kerala. It is said of Kerala that there are more coconuts here than there are stars in the sky. However, despite all the coconuts, it is not the thing for which this state is famed. Kerala is India’s “Spice State.” It is from here that about 80 percent of India’s spices are shipped. It is among the most beautiful places in the world. It is also the state with the highest literacy rate in India (almost 100 percent) and a long history of multiculturalism (this is where traders have come for 3,000 years to obtain the fabulous spices that made India the goal of so many explorers—Kerala is the point of origin of pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger).

It would take days to describe everything we saw and experienced in Kerala, so I shall share only some of the highlights. We enjoyed an elaborate meal in a private home, then were delighted to see family members’ wedding albums. We had a cooking demonstration of Keralan cuisine at the splendid Coconut Lagoon, a resort built among waterways, palm trees, flowers, and butterflies, where one stays in traditional Kerala teak houses. (The photo across the top of this blog is from that cooking demonstration.) Continue reading

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Indian Odyssey – Tamil Nadu

Gathering Sun-Dried Rice in Tamil Nadu

Gathering Sun-Dried Rice in Tamil Nadu

A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of traveling through southern India with four other members of the Culinary Historians of Chicago. Our itinerary had been arranged by Culinary Historians president, Dr. Bruce Kraig, who had just finished filming a TV special on the foodways of southern India. This had the tremendous advantage of giving us access to chefs and learning opportunities we would otherwise not have had. Though there was a considerable focus on food, the tour also took in a wide range of non-culinary delights as well. We did far too much to include in one post, so I’ll break this up into the four states to which our travels took us: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Goa.

Our first stop was Chennai, formerly known as Madras, in the state of Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu means “the state where they speak Tamil,” and Tamil is the local language.

When we landed in Chennai, I stepped outside the airport, took a deep breath of the warm, fragrant air, looked around, and instantly knew that I was going to fall in love with India—and I also knew that two weeks wouldn’t be nearly enough time. Our surroundings were enticingly exotic and beautiful beyond imaging. They were also bustling, crowded, and full of life. Continue reading

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