If your grandmother thinks it's food...

When I trace back my visits to Kerala; once a year from Calcutta during our summer vacations and now more often as an adult in Bangalore married to a fellow Malayalee, there's one thing that catches my fancy always. The kitchen and everything that comes out of it. There's something about traditional practices... fresh produce and well used and often worn out vessels and who could ignore the classic wood fire? Although I don't have the scientific expertise to demonstrate how tastier and healthier they are, one needs little evidence to concede. Which brings to my next point.

Rice is almost always cooked in firewood and I've seen this same vessel from the time I remember. 

Rice is almost always cooked in firewood and I've seen this same vessel from the time I remember. 

One cannot begin to explain traditional Kerala cuisine without coconuts  

One cannot begin to explain traditional Kerala cuisine without coconuts  

Like every trip, as I was enjoying the culinary experiences and satisfying my eyes and taste buds, I remembered how my grandmother fed and grew these traditions over generations. Even though they come from different homes, there are many dishes which my aunts make which practically have the same great taste! There are dishes which my grandmother has made thousands of times and vessels she would have used tens of thousands of times. The smoke, heavy physical work and lack of modern equipment would have been extremely difficult but her sacrifice has paid off and has enabled scores of people in my mom and dad's families to grow up healthy. And looking at the continued influence of my grandmother today reminded me of the validity of the claims of Rujuta Diwekar, author and nutrition expert who has championed the cause of traditional food. If you don't know about her yet, I would highly recommend you check out www.rujutadiwekar.net for some no-nonsense, sensible and viable food and nutrition advice. She is one of those people who is actually an expert and advises stuff which is actually good for you. Rujuta coined the term The Grandmother test. Which basically says this

The grandmother test: Did your grandmother eat this food when she was your age? If no, then you can safely avoid it, no matter if the latest ‘research’ is promoting it as the saviour. Food is genetic medicine and food which a family has eaten for centuries is your best bet. So ghee and not olive oil. Poha/upma/idli/ dosa/parantha and not oats/cereals, etc. As research belatedly cat­ches up with the invaluable oral wisdom on food we were handed down for free (and thus don’t value), it is becoming clear how right your grandmother was about most things food. It’s just that she forgot that she has to sell it to you not on acc­o­unt of taste but how it would affect your waistline.
~Rujuta Diwekar
— http://www.rujutadiwekar.net/article.aspx?articleId=94

Both my grandmothers haven't met or have heard about Rujuta but I'm pretty confident that they will wholeheartedly agree with her. I personally fail at the grandmother test often but my home in Kerala reminds me of these truths and I would be untruthful as a photographer if I don't translate these charmingly photogenic realities into images. These photographs are my attempts at showing such food, their creation and the environments which fostered it for centuries. I'm not sure if I'll continue this series in future trips but for now, it surely looks delicious to do so :)

 

And fish! 

And fish! 

Tubers are another essential and yam stir fried in coconut oil (or chena mezhukku peratti) is a personal favourite.

Tubers are another essential and yam stir fried in coconut oil (or chena mezhukku peratti) is a personal favourite.

Traditional stone grinding of spices

Traditional stone grinding of spices

Freshly prepared Hot Parippu Vadas (Lentil fritters)

Freshly prepared Hot Parippu Vadas (Lentil fritters)

So what are you experiences about your 'grandmother's' food? I would love to hear them in your comments below.

 

Tech stuff for photographers:

All images shot in available light using the Fujifilm X-T1 with 35mm 1.4 lens.