The whole world knows that Kerala and the coconut go together. What about Kerala and tapioca? Of course! It’s a connection that’s less visible than the coconut connection, but one that anyone with even only a nodding acquaintance with Kerala knows about. Kerala and tapioca are inextricably linked. Or are they?
The other day we had tapioca (kappa in Malayalam) and fish curry for dinner, prepared in traditional Kerala style. There was also fish roe for good measure. Tapioca still has a working-class image, and it’s hard to get kappa and fish curry in a city hotel. It is the toddy shop one must go to, and indeed, toddy adds to the taste of the meal. With a little exaggeration, one can say that toddy is to Kerala what wine is to France. But toddy also has a working-class odor, which comes in the way of its promotion. But I digress. It is not toddy but tapioca I want to talk about today.
Over dinner, my father told us about how tapioca became popular in Kerala. That itself was news to me, the first surprise; I’d thought tapioca had always been popular here in Kerala. Imagine Kerala without tapioca; it’s like imagining (or trying to imagine, rather) Germany without pork.
Flashback to World War 2. Rice was the staple food in Kerala, as in much of South India. Much of this rice was imported from Burma. Now, that, frankly, was the second surprise, and a nasty surprise at that. Verdant, water-surplus Kerala didn’t produce enough rice for itself?
When the Japanese occupied Burma, it caused a rice shortage in Kerala. It was then that the British promoted foods like tapioca as substitutes for rice. The popularity of tapioca in Kerala dates back to Word War 2. Here is corroboration from the Kerala food blog, Collaborative Curry:
It was a friend who shared the history of how Tapioca was introduced in Travancore (South Kerala). The king of Travancore; Vysakham Thirunal Maharaja, who was also a botanist, introduced this quintessential laborer’s food in the 1860s. Later, in the beginning of 19th century, when people from central Travancore started to migrate to the Malabar region they took tapioca with them introducing it to the locals. The cultivar was not very popular until the break of world war.
The full article: Collaborative Curry