Friday, December 2, 2011

Nuts About Fruit

I reached Calicut a day before  Eid and  stayed on a day after The Revathi Pattathanam festival at the nearby Thali temple where the descendant of the  Zamorins continues to  honour scholars and philosophers. Calicut or Kozhikode as it is now christened has hosted a multiplicity of cultures for exceedingly long centuries. It continues to be home to several communities and boasts of a multiplicity of religions and cuisines. When the plane touches down at Kozhikode airport , the landscape is predominantly green, with cottages discreetly tucked away beneath trees. It is only when you drive into the heart of the city and its commercial centre that you see the ascending buildings and the newly positioned malls, conspiring together in recently conquered space.

This time, there was no sadyam feast to partake of, so we sampled local fare in different parts of the city. One mall I visited served traditional Kerala cuisine, ranging from idiappam( rice noodles) to chilli katta (steamed, chopped and garnished tapioca served with  hot green chilli and tamarind chutney) and a range of pradhamans(kheers made of cereal, lentil and fruit). All these foods were  reasonably priced and unbelievably inexpensive by Delhi Mall standards, so we ate without wincing and flinching at prices after a very long time.

My favourite  moment in Calicut was the discovery of an amazing  fruit snack selling in different parts of the city. We first noticed the carts along the road adjoining Calicut beach. Large jars were arranged all along the cart. These were filled with cut and whole fruit that  were immersed in what looked like brine. At  first glance these recalled  decorative salad jars with chunks of fake carrots soaked in fluid that form part of most Italian Eatery decorations. These however  were meant to be eaten. Sliced pineapples, mangoes, carrots, beetroot, cucumber and whole guavas, large bers and gooseberries(amla) were  the  standard offerings on display. In a country where potable water remains an everyday luxury, anxieties regarding  the liquid immersed fruit immediately surfaced.

 We dispelled anxiety  with the aid of our new scientific learning. The jars sparkled and the brine water was not clouded over. The fruit immersed in it looked fresh and  inviting and a great number of people eating it seemed happy and healthy, even by our  exacting standards of finickitude.   The vendor used a pair of stainless steel tongs and fished out a piece of fruit which he handed over to the buyer, deftly opening and closing the lid in the course of the transaction.  We began our exploration with sliced cucumber and  whole ber. Each piece cost us the princely sum of one rupee and tasted delicious. The brine water also had vinegar and chopped green chilles which lent a piquant flavour to the cucumber and the ber. When we asked for  gooseberries, the vendor told us that they weren't ready yet.

 Over three days, we sampled the fare from several carts and discovered the delights of this delicious, inexpensive and fast-moving snack.. The nature of fruit is such that if left alone in brine and vinegar it begins to putrefy. Most vendors we spoke to said that they were sold out at the end of the day and that they renewed their fruit stocks every other day.Slices of pineapple, raw mango and whole guavas cost three rupees apiece, and  the pineapple slices won the palate vote, closely followed by the guava. Conversations with vendors at locations such as Bathord, Bangladeshi Colony, Mannanchira Maidan and  Pulimode  have led me to conclude that this fresh pickled  fruit'n'vegetable combo is the special preserve of  communities that consume meat and fish, who have evolved this cottage-industry technique of ensuring adequate  fruit and vegetable volumes in their daily diet.
Traditional food options no longer form part of the everyday food currency of the big city. Invaded by the global endemic of  uniformly prepackaged, processed and sanitized foods, such fare is a poignant reminder of patterns of eating and consumption that we have shrugged off nonchalantly.  Assuredly,  it will take  Walmart and Carrefour  a very very long time to  sustain or carry forward such practices and customs,  let alone replicate them. We seem to be doing pretty well without them!


This is  from a street vendor's cart on the way to the Airport.


  1. As a former sadak chhaap of Delhi, I cannot but agree with you more on the joys of street food.

    If you need a ticket to get through the gates of heaven, then slurp standing - I say. But having to choose between two different vendors represents a cruel 'Sophie's Choice'. Oh the humanity!

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