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.

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