The magic of the house, no doubt, happens in the kitchen. It’s probably the most visited place within a household and carries the identity that brings the family closer together. Apart from the joke that a Malayali’s house always smells like dosa, there are a few other true factors that make the kitchens of Kerala unique to the state.
Partitions of plastic bags
In the kitchens of Kerala, plastic bags are a frequent sight. It’s common to see a big plastic bag filled with smaller ones. However, locals differentiate between good and bad plastic bags. The former are fancy bags used for gifts or shopping, while the latter are single-use bags treated as essential. These bags are typically hung from door knobs or stored in the lowest drawers. Some bags have been around so long that they turn into powder with the slightest touch.
Empty plastic containers
The plastic boxes are not thrown away whenever you dine out or get takeout. Instead, they are cleaned and repurposed to store spices or curries in the fridge. Even after multiple uses, the boxes are still used and become a part of the household. This practice extends beyond restaurant cutlery to include other plastic containers, such as those used for Horlicks and Boost, which are repurposed to store condiments. Everything that can be reused is utilized, and even those that cannot be reused are still given a purpose.
Fans of the show Thateem Muteem may recognize the popularity of Arikalam. One of the show’s highlights is Arjunan’s comical attempts to steal the money hidden inside Arikalam. Arikalam, also known as a steel or aluminium utensil used for storing rice, was traditionally given as a gift to newlywed women and brides to take home to their new kitchen. It was believed to ensure that the rice in the house never ran out, like the Akshaya Patram, a vessel that never runs empty. Families used to store money and jewellery in the Arikalam, believing that it would continue to replenish itself. An overflowing Arikalam is considered a sign of prosperity in a Malayali household.
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Desiccated coconut powder
Coconut is a great companion for Malayalis, but obtaining and storing real coconuts can be challenging if you live outside of Kerala. That’s where desiccated coconut comes in handy. These dehydrated coconut flakes can be stored easily and used like real coconuts. They are the key ingredient in preparing thoran and chutney quickly and can be sprinkled on top of puttu. Desiccated coconut is distinct from coconut powder and is a long-lasting substitute for fresh coconuts.
Bottle of oil by the stove
Coconut oil is a staple in every Malayali kitchen, just like coconut. It has a unique position beside the stove; no dish is complete without a bit of coconut oil. It’s easy to access and used freely in all dishes. The oil is transferred to a heat-resistant, transparent container in small amounts rather than left in its original bottle. When the container next to the stove runs dry, it’s refilled with preferably Parachute coconut oil.
The dosa-only pan
In a typical kitchen, one can find a variety of pans, but a special pan is solely dedicated to making dosas. Unlike the other pans designated for frying and omelette making, this dosa-only pan is designed for perfect dosa-making. Initially, it may have been a Teflon-coated non-stick pan, but with time, it becomes sticky due to the burnt dosa residue that is challenging to remove. Despite this, the dosas made on this pan have a unique taste reminiscent of the comfort of home. This pan infuses its distinct flavour into the dosas, creating a crispy and perfectly burnt edge that adds to the overall experience.
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Kazhikala aka the rag
Every household kitchen has a multi-purpose cloth that serves as an oven mitt, a cleaning tool, and more. The kitchen rag cloth is typically made from a repurposed piece of clothing, like a nighty or a lungi, stained with oil and masala to the point that its original colour is unrecognizable. This cloth can be found in various corners of the kitchen, and although it’s rarely washed, it’s an indispensable tool for your family while they’re cooking. Typically, only when it’s completely worn out is it replaced, and for some reason, every generation of kazhikala seems to have the same one. This fantastic cloth can soak up just about anything and clean everything!
Pappadam frying in Kerala involves using steel sticks that can also be used as weapons to intimidate children. Exceptional agility is required to handle these sticks proficiently. The pappadakolu’s unique shape remains a hallmark of the kitchens of Kerala.
Visiting our grandparents’ homes always brings back fond memories and a sense of nostalgia. One of the things that stands out during these visits is the delicious food and homemade pickles, which are stored in a white ceramic bharani with a brown top. This traditional Kerala Bharani is designed to preserve oils, pickles, and other liquids for an extended period without losing their texture or taste. It’s a staple in every Malayali kitchen, commonly used to store large quantities of food for joint families. The ceramic bharani plays an essential role in maintaining the original flavour and texture of the food while allowing it to age naturally. When guests visit, we proudly display the stacked bharani, often accompanied by achappam or mixture, adding to the warm and welcoming atmosphere.
You’ll find many unique tools and items in the kitchens of Kerala. One look at it, and It will remind you of the comfort of home.