Tanya Abraham, a journalist, grew up in Fort Kochi where her childhood was largely shaped by two factors — food and history.

The women in her home, particularly her grandmother, Annie Burleigh Kurishingal, played a vital role in this. As did the city.

Tanya grew up surrounded by Jews, Arabs, Muslims, and Konkani Brahmins, with the experience adding richly to her life.

Their history intrigued her, as did their food.

And in a quest to dive deeper into these hidden treasures, she wrote a book titled ‘Fort Cochin’ in 2009, followed ten years later by ‘Eating with History’, which she dedicated to her grandmother.

Tanya went on “a life-changing journey” across Kerala to unearth the recipes of traditional dishes as told by the women of the country.

“Writing this book was almost like reliving my grandmother’s mind in many ways,” she shares. Here are few of the rare dishes that Tanya chanced upon during her research process.

1. Peechinga Chamandi When Lord Parasuram, one of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, threw his axe into the Arabian Sea, it landed on a piece of land that bore great wealth and held spices.

Pic source: Indian Veggie Delight

This is where the spice trade began. And this ridge gourd chutney is one of the spicy preparations of the land. The tangy preparation is a common feature in most homes.

Pic source: Kannamma Cooks

2. Pesaha Appam This is unleavened bread prepared without using yeast and commonly eaten on Maundy Thursday (Pesaha Vyazhacha).

“The bread is cooked by placing a cross made from the palm leaf received on Palm Sunday. In the evening, the male head of the family breaks the bread after prayers and shares it with his family to commemorate the Last Supper. The bread is eaten with a jaggery sauce,” the book notes.

3. Ariputtu In the 15th century, when the Portuguese entered Kerala, they brought with them spices, potatoes, chillies, etc. One of the foods they “invented” was the puttu (a steamed rice cake).

The book talks of how the puttu was originally made in bamboo steamers or coconut shells but has now shifted to more user-friendly metal puttu-makers.

Pic source: Prema's Culinary

4. Chemeen Pada The shrimp pickle, a staple in Tanya’s household, is an ode to the Portuguese tradition of pickling meats in vinegar. In fact, as Tanya writes, vinegar is one of the most important foods brought to Kerala during the colonisation in the 15th century.

“The Portuguese used vinegar extensively in their food; especially to preserve salted meats with paprika and garlic which were stored in large barrels during their voyages in ships to lands afar.” She writes, “This proved to be a quick savouring dish when fried in oil, close to the meat pickle famously relished in Kerala today.”

Pic source: Yummy O Yummy

5. Kazhal Kothiyathu The Latin Catholic minced liver fry recipe prepared by Tanya’s grandmother differs from other community recipes in terms of preparation.

“When choppers were not available, quick and constant chopping of the meat on a large wooden board (with two knives on either hand) was how the liver was minced to a fine form,” notes the book.

6. Dutch bread The bread known as ‘bluder’, ‘brudel’, ‘blueda’, ‘bloeder’ and ‘blueda’ is a remnant of the Dutch rule in the 17th century. It amassed immense popularity as a culinary gem and is still enjoyed centuries after the Dutch rule ended in Kochi.

Prepared with maida, sugar, eggs, ghee and yeast, the bread also features raisins in rare cases. “It is said that the raisins do not sink to the bottom in a breudher made well,” Tanya writes.

7. Neiappam The Jewish community entered Kerala in the 15th and 16th centuries from Spain and Portugal, bringing their food along with them. In the book, Tanya writes that it was due to the Portuguese tyranny that they fled to Kochi and thrived in Jew Town in Mattancherry.

“A breakfast or tea time snack, which the Jews especially prepare during Hanukkah as a popular treat during the festival, neiappam is popular across Kerala and is also called unniyappam,” the book mentions.

Pic source: Sharmi's Kitchen