Travelogue Archive

Bar Food

India’s attitude towards alcohol varies from state to state. In some places, stocks are limited and prices are kept high to discourage the habit. In others, it is the complete opposite.

Alcohol is prohibited in Kerala. However, it is the only state which implements the consumption of alcohol in a very unique and systematic manner. Popular culture suggests that alcoholic beverages are consumed in Kerala more than in any other state in India. In reality, that is incorrect.

Toddy, fermented palm wine, is Kerala’s favourite country liquor. Misunderstood by many, country alcohol is made in rural areas and consumed in states all across India. Toddy is just the best-known Indian made country liquor. Drinking toddy is a tradition here; it’s a gritty fisherman’s beverage. Toddy bars monitored by the government are found all over the state wherever they’re in demand. It’s easy to see how people take to drinking toddy. Naturally made with local palm, the drink is perfectly in sync with the weather of this region.

Served alongside the mind-numbing drink are some of the best bar foods possible. They have potent flavours, made with some of the best spices in the world, to complement (but not overwhelm) the taste of toddy. Bar snacks are common in this part of the country. Everyone likes to munch on them while drinking. And Kerala has some of the most unique bar snacks in the country.

Fish head curry, “kappa” and toddi

Here are some recipes for Indianized bar dishes which may be a little more appealing than a bowl of peanuts, masala papad or whatever you order along with your drink. These are all Kerala-inspired creations, ironic because our version of “bars” are hardly found in this state.

  1. Spicy deep fried sea food. Can be made using prawn or small fish such as pomfret. Bind in a paste made with chillies, aromats (garlic & ginger), coconut flakes, lime juice/vinegar and pepper. Season to taste. Marinate for 30 minutes before deep frying in oil (preferably coconut oil).
  2. Idly stir fry: Ingenious vegetarian snack. Cut baby idlis in half and toss in a pan along with curry leaves, black mustard and white gram (this is a staple South indian tempering). At this point, anything you want can be added. Podi powder or gunpowder along with some clarified butter does wonders.
  3. Kappa croquettes: Kappa is tapioca. Starchy and heavy, it is eaten extensively by the people of Kerala, the way we use potato. When kappa is boiled and mashed, it may be cooked further like mashed potato, with the addition of strong South Indian flavours. Then, these can be rolled into croquette cylinders and fried, Anglaise style.
  4. Egg fry: Really easy. Boil an egg. Coat in cornflour/gram flour (besan) batter and deep fry. Cut into quarters (four pieces). In a pan, fry onions, aromats, chillies, curry leaves and add chopped tomato. Cook till the tomatoes break down. Season to taste. Into this, add the egg and toss till they’re coated.
  5. Beef Chilly fry: A Kerala classic. Although this recipe changes everywhere, it is essentially the same thing. Beef can be replaced with lamb, pork or deep fried chicken (bound in cornflour, like in Chinese food). Boil cubes of meat in some turmeric and salt. Once cooked, set aside. In a pan, add oil, onion, aromats, South Indian tempering, split green chillies, dices of green pepper and toss till the peppers are cooked. For a rich colour, add dark soya. Season to taste, add lime juice and then the meat. Toss till it is coated.


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