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Tried & Tasted: Head to INA market in Delhi for some authentic Kerala food

You’ll get almost everything from prawns and fish to crab and lamb and vegetable dishes at the INA Kerala eateries.

tried and tasted Updated: Sep 10, 2017 08:39 IST
Rahul Verma
Pothu (buffalo meat) fry being cooked at Hotel Appus in INA market, Delhi.
Pothu (buffalo meat) fry being cooked at Hotel Appus in INA market, Delhi.(HT Photo)

Let the naysayers grumble, but I think Delhi is today the food hub of India. It started late, no doubt, years after Kolkata and Mumbai had been declared the country’s cuisine kings. But when it did, it left the others far behind. And this is most evident when it comes to regional food. From Maharashtra’s Kolhapuri mutton to Bihar’s litti chokha, from Odisha’s chhena pora to Hyderabadi biryani, from Goa’s pork vindaloo to Assam’s masor tenga and from Rajasthan’s ker sangri to Kashmir’s tabak maaz, you get it all here.

And right on top of the regional food centres are the Kerala eateries, which serve authentic – and the most delicious –food of the region. Many of us were introduced to Kerala’s food when an upmarket restaurant opened up in central Delhi. It shut shop after some years, but gave Delhi-ites a taste of the regional cuisine. That, and the fact that there is a large section of Malayalis living in the city today, led to the birth of many small eateries.

I stumbled across one such eatery – actually quite a few of them – during a fish buying sojourn at the INA Market one day long years ago. Abutting INA, I noticed, was a small area which looked like mini Kerala. It catered to the needs of the Malayali population in Delhi, and among the services this little neighbourhood provided was food.

Since then many of the small restaurants have changed hands. Every time I go there, I find that a new eatery has popped up, and an old has closed shop. A few months ago, I had eaten at a place called Annas. This time, it was called Appus Hotel.

Kerala food is a cause for celebration, for the region is rich in syncretic traditions. Both Christianity and Islam reached there long before the religions went elsewhere. Food traditions merged, and kept their own moulds. So you find in the state three main streams of food –Christian, Muslim and Hindu – but also find food borders happily blurring among the communities.

The INA Kerala eateries serve mostly Syrian Christian food. You get almost everything from prawns and fish to crab and lamb and vegetable dishes. I had some chicken roast, pothu (buffalo meat) fry, vegetable stew, parottas and appam.

Kerala is known for its spices, so black pepper, cardamom and cinnamon add flavours to most dishes. You will find the piquant taste of kadhi leaves, as well as the creamy texture of coconut milk, in gravies.

Kerala takes pride in the vegetable dishes that it serves. Last week, on Onam, I was reminded of a delectable vegetarian feast – consisting of some 26 dishes -- that our Malayali friends had cooked for us. There was avial (vegetable mix prepared with coconut), thoran (beans with coconut) and kaddala (black channa curry), among a host of other dishes.

This year, alas, they were busy with work and home. That’s when I thought I needed to visit the little INA enclave. After all, when Kerala food beckons, you wave right back.