Best of Kerala dishes
> Meriam Sophia Alfonso’s Malayalam restaurant offers Southern Indian cuisine served in a contemporary setting
FANS of Anthony Bourdain or David Rocco would have caught some of their shows that were shot in Kerala (a state in Southern India), where both celebrity chefs were captivated by the food from this Land of Spices.
In Malaysia, there are many restaurants serving Kerala cuisine but Kayra stands out due to its family history.
Meriam Sophia Alfonso’s grandfather opened a Keralastyle banana leaf restaurant in Johor Baru in 1949, which the family still runs to this day.
Inspired by that legacy, Meriam, a lawyer, decided to pursue her food dream of opening her own Malayalam restaurant. Thus, Kayra Kerala Cuisine was born.
Located in Taman Tun Dr Ismail’s busy Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 1, Kayra’s decor is simple and tasteful with black and white pictures of Kerala (taken by Meriam’s cousin) adorning the main back wall. The wooden table and chairs add a homeliness to the place.
“I wanted a more contemporary, minimalist setting,” explains Meriam, who spent two years conceptualising the outlet before finally opening it in March this year.
She has a staff of 11 (five of whom are chefs) who all hail from Kerala and are well equipped to explain each dish to customers.
Kerala is known for its spices, and also its coconut and coconut milk.
On weekdays, special taali set menus are served for lunch (alongside the a la carte menu) with a choice of vegetarian or the non-vegetarian sets.
The non-vegetarian sets come with fried chicken, fried fish, fish curry, seafood molee, prawn mango curry, chicken curry and mutton curry.
The vegetarian taali meal comes with rice, capati, six vegetable dishes, yoghurt and a dessert.
There is also a chicken briyani set and a chicken wrap which is capati bread filled with shredded chicken.
An appetiser not to be missed is appo – mini rice balls that are topped with spice powder and coconut chutney. These are tiny flavour bombs and quite filling on their own.
Meen pollichatu is a piece of masala-covered mackerel wrapped in banana leaf and then grilled. Served with a side of tomato and onion relish, this fish is fragrant, mildly spicy and when eaten with the tangy relish, it is an explosion of flavours.
The mutton ollathiadhu, a dry spicy mutton dish that has coconut shavings cooked along with it, is superb and packed with flavours and textures.
Don’t miss the fragrant coconut rice (that has curry leaves, dried chilli and mustard seeds fried in oil and then mixed in) and kappa (a spicy tapioca mash) that is enjoyed with a rich Kerala fish curry.
The seafood molee is a mild coconut and turmeric-based curry that has shrimp, squid and mackerel in it and goes well with the apam.
Meriam says that while most Malaysians are usually familiar with apams with a sweet coconut milk centre, the plain version is enjoyed by the Malayalam community along with savoury stews and curries.
Then there’s the prawn ulaithiyath cooked in spices and lots of onions. It looks fiery but is surprisingly mild with the prawn’s fresh sweet flavours coming through.
Among the popular desserts are the vattalapam, a jaggery (palm sugar) and coconut milkbased creme caramel served with some grilled pineapple.
So earthy, so divine, just like Kerala.
Kayra Kerala Cuisine is open daily except Mondays. For more, visit its website. To avoid skipping the meal entirely, nutritionist Raphaël G ruman recommends putting off breakfast for a few hours and tucking into either sweet and savoury foods – whatever takes your fancy.
Should you always eat breakfast in the morning, even if you’re not hungry? “Yes, it is important to eat breakfast. Breakfast helps balance out your food intake throughout the day, avoiding calorie intakes that are too high in the evening, which can lead to weight gain.
“No matter what your age, breakfast is an essential meal of the day. Research has found that it improves concentration, memory and learning.”
Can changing your evening meal improve appetite in the morning? “When dinner is too copious in quantity or in calories, you don’t feel hungry the next day. It’s important to reverse the trend by reducing portions in the evening to help bring back your appetite in the morning.”
What quick and easy solutions do you recommend? “You don’t have to eat as soon as you wake up. I recommend drinking a large glass of water or a cup of tea or coffee when you wake up to prepare the digestive system to receive food in the minutes or hours that follow.
“If you get up at 7am or 8am, it’s fine to eat breakfast at 10am. Try making a little sandwich with two slices of wholewheat bread or a small individual bread roll from the bakery with a single cheese slice (prepackaged). Ideally, add a piece of fruit too, such as a mandarin.”
What foods do you recommend for breakfast? “Those who prefer savoury can tuck into bread with cheese or ham. For fans of sweet foods, I recommend a large bowl of natural yoghurt or cottage cheese with a handful of nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts) and a piece of fruit, all mixed together.
“It’s also actually better to consume foods that contain fat and sugar at the start of the day. The body therefore has the whole day ahead to use up the calories.” – AFPRelaxnews
Karya (left) and Meriam with … (clockwise, from below) kappa and coconut rice with fish curry; apam seafood molee; vegetarian taali set; mutton ollathiadhu; prawn ulaithiyath; and vattalapam dessert.