Posted by: cochinblogger | March 18, 2014

Creative Food Names and the Lord’s Prayer

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During my schooldays in Calcutta, we ate out regularly in Chinese restaurants. Calcutta has a well-established community of Chinese, most of whom are (I should say “were” as I don’t know if that’s changed now) engaged in traditional trades such as leather, dry cleaning, hairdressing, and restaurants. Waldorf on Park Street was the family’s favorite Chinese restaurant for many years. I love Chinese food, as did my mother (who grew up in Malaya), and I can still recall the thrill of anticipation as we walked in and settled ourselves in our seats. I looked at the Chinese lanterns and paintings while my parents studied the menu, and though I wasn’t particular about what was ordered, sometimes while waiting for the food to come I idly skimmed through the menu. I remember two names that caught my imagination: bird’s nest soup and shark fin soup. I couldn’t believe they were for real; maybe they were there as imaginative padding, I thought. Nobody in their right minds would order such dishes, and even if they did, the standard reply would be that they were not available, I thought. It was only much later that I learned that these dishes did exist, and would’ve been served if I had managed to persuade my parents to order them.

Fast-forward to the present, to Cochin. I’ve found that Malabar cuisine boasts creative names.I gave one example here: Kozhi Kala: A Classic Tapioca Dish from Malabar. Here are a few more examples. All the photographs were taken at the Malabar food eatery Ojeen, on Post Office Link Road, Broadway.

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This is the poo appam, or flower bread; the folds resemble the petals of a flower. Inside this flower nestles an egg wrapped up in chicken masala. And what is the flower made of? Wheat flour, I think.

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This is called the money bag. 🙂 Again, as far as I can remember, the money bag is made of wheat flour, and the filling is chicken.

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Shades of Waldorf and bird’s nest soup! This is called kili kudu (bird’s nest) for obvious reasons; it’s a vermicelli and chicken snack.

And what’s the connection with the Lord’s Prayer? Well, I asked my father what the English translation of appam (as in poo appam) is. I thought it might be “cake,” but he said the closest equivalent is “bread.” In fact, he added, when the Lord’s Prayer was first translated into Malayalam, “Give us this day our daily bread” was rendered in Malayalam as “Give us this day our daily appam.” This was the version of the Lord’s Prayer my father learned as a boy in the 1930s. However, some decades later, it was pointed out that the staple food in Kerala is not bread but rice. After some debate, the sentence was changed to its current form, “Give us this day our daily aharam,” the word aharam meaning food. “Give us this day our daily rice” presumably didn’t pass muster.

Another small digression. The Chinese community in Calcutta was targeted by mobs during the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962. Their shops and businesses were looted. It’s a shameful blot on the largely excellent record of amity that has existed between the disparate communities that lived in Calcutta (including the Armenians). Most of the Armenians, I believe, have left the city. Now, I have a quiz question: Which prominent currently active Indian sportsperson is half Chinese?

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