The island of Kumbalangi, located in the suburb of Kochi, is famous for finding success with the village tourism model. Rooted in the philosophy of sustainable tourism, visitors are encouraged to experience life as it happens on the island, with little add ons and frills. Home stays are mere extensions of houses and food is served just the way it is traditionally cooked. Tour of the village includes sharing a day with the people engaged in traditional occupations like coir weaving, fishing etc.
Yet, the older generation of the islanders remembers the days of hunger and poverty. Before the Kumbalangi Model Village Tourism Development Society turned the tables for them, the fish from the lake had provided sustenance to the inhabitants. All that Kumbalangi offers to tourists who now flock to the island are the recipes they found during the days of little choice and the abundant goodness of a life close to nature.
Kumbalangi Model Village Tourism Development Society Secretary Shaji Kuruppassery offered to prepare a signature Kumablagi spread for the Onamanorama team. The original plan was to visit the canteen below the Kumbalangi bridge that serves 'irachippidi' and 'pachoru.' But the shop would only open in the evenings.
The appetizing aroma of spices filled the air as cooking progressed in the home opposite to San Jose Church. Shaji was helping his wife Lincy chop the meat. Between the chores, Shaji spoke enthusiastically about the island’s culinary traditions.
"The circumference of Kumbalangi is all of five-and-a-half kilometre. Around 45,000 people live on the island. Traditionally, the islanders have preferred fish and meat. The typical preparations found a huge fan following when the Tourism Development Society brought in visitors to the island," he said.
Tourists who were bowled over by the Kumbalangi delicacies went back to their worlds and spread the word. More and more people flocked to the island to check out the Kumbalangi flavour of travel and food. Sure enough, the flavours were enticing, each time and every time.
"I remember the days of poverty on the island. All the people here depended on the lake for sustenance. The fish preparations were perfected in those days of food shortage. Only, the world got to taste it after the tourism industry took roots here. It definitely has changed things for the better. The economic and social conditions have improved so much. Home stays have come up on the island. The islanders tweaked their old recipes to suit the palate of the visitors and came up with even more delicious versions of the traditional Kumbalangi dishes," Shaji said.
Much-loved delicacies like duck roast in banana leaf wrap, roasted chicken, 'chiratta puttu' (puttu cooked inside one half of an empty coconut shell), gizzard curry (intestines of buffalo/cow/goat), and 'pidi' are in high demand round the year.
The recipe of the gizzard curry is more or less similar to the way beef is cooked in other parts of Kerala. The intestine is thoroughly cleaned and chopped into fine pieces. A paste made of ginger and green chilli is rubbed into the meat which is pressure cooked for half-an-hour. Dried coconut, garlic, cardamom, clove and cinnamon are ground together with some turmeric powder. The half-cooked meat is marinated with this masala. Oil is heated in a pan; onions and red chilli are sautéed and the meat is added. When the cooking is done, the delicious fragrance of coconut oil and spices will make your mouth water.
The gizzard curry can make almost anything taste great. One suggestion is to try it with a steaming cake of 'chiratta puttu.' Lincy's preparations floored us all and it took barely a few minutes to polish off the curry and the puttu. Confiding that she follows her mother's recipes to a T, Lincy declares confidently that she can single-handedly prepare a feast for a group of 25-30 people.
The preparation of beef roast is slightly different. Sliced onions, bird's eye chilli and small onions are sautéed in oil with some turmeric powder, garam masala, clove, cardamom pods, pepper powder and fennel seeds. The masala is added to cooked meat and allowed to simmer for sometime.
The beef preparation is served as a side dish for 'pidi' – moist and supple dumplings made using rice flour, desiccated coconut and salt. Together, the dish is fondly referred to as 'pidi-irachi' by the locals of Kumbalangi – a national dish of sorts on the island.
Vying for the status of the official Kumbalangi dish is 'pachoru,' made using raw rice and coconut milk. The combination for pachoru is 'sarkkara pani' – melted and strained jiggery syrup. The golden brown syrup is generously poured over the milky white pachoru and the visual appeal of the dish is hard to rival. Islanders who discovered such posh delicacies as the marble cake later in life are convinced that they were inspired by the homely pachoru and pani of Kumbalangi.
Duck roast in banana leaf wrap is yet another famed dish that visitors to Kumbalangi are often bend on tasting. Sergil and his wife Phansi, who run the 'Puzhayoram' resort near Pooppanakunnu have everything set and ready for a cooking and tasting event.
Washed and cleaned duck is split in half and covered in a marination of pepper powder, clove, curry leaves, and coriander powder mixed in olive oil. After letting the coating stay for a while, the duck is cooked in a pressure cooker till it almost done. After it cools down, keep it in the freezer after cutting it into smaller chunks. The thick milk from one half of a coconut should be kept aside for later use. The thinner milk can be mixed with turmeric powder, chilli powder, coriander powder, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Simmer till the mixture attains a thick consistency. Take the meat chunks out if the freezer and smear the paste well on all the pieces. The thick coconut milk can be added to make it soft and moist. Wrap the pieces in banana leaf and roast over a tawa.
The Kumbalangi combo is to team duck roast with potato fry. The recipe is also used for preparing prawns roasted in banana wrap. To get the dish right, it is not enough to add the masala in the right amounts. The wraps have to flipped on both sides till it is cooked well, but should the removed from the tawa before the meat is charred. Only a seasoned cook can get the trick right and it appears that Kumbalangi has a good number of them.