Just outside Fort Cochin, in a quiet residential corner of the city, Leela and her husband Anto invite guests into the warmth of their home for interactive cooking demonstrations and dinner.
My evening began with a small glass of homemade wine in their family sitting room surrounded by black-and-white photos from years gone by next to newer ones of Leela’s two children proudly hanging on the walls. We were invited into the dining room, where laid out on the table, were the ingredients and spices for the night’s menu. Leela proceeded to carefully explain how these are used in her home cooking.
Unlike much of India where the cuisine is primarily vegetarian, southern Indian cuisine involves a lot of meat and fish, and this was exemplified in Leela’s menu. We tried our hand at making a traditional chicken stew and a pancake called ‘appam’, as well as beef fried in spices and some Keralan brown rice. Coconut featured heavily, as did Kerala’s 3 Cs of spices – cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.
Leela and Anto are such delightful company and incredibly welcoming. The evening was ultimately much more than a cooking demonstration. It was a chance to see how an Indian family home, such as theirs, is run and gave us the opportunity to have a very open conversation about the role of each family member, and the importance of meal times for bringing both friends and family together.
I left with some delicious recipes to try back in my kitchen at home, along with a much greater understanding of the culture of southern India, its cuisine and traditions, which are as fascinating as they are culturally diverse.