Kerala’s Christmas trimming - snip goes the menu

By Sanu George, IANS
Friday, December 17, 2010

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM - Once upon a time not so long ago in Kerala, the Christmas Day table was a smorgasbord of homemade wine, painstakingly roasted duck and fresh toddy appams among the delicacies. But the times have changed and the meal, still delightful, has undergone a makeover with the menu now tailored to suit busy, westernised lifestyles.

So, the table is now groaning under the weight of turkey meat, in keeping with more western tastes, appams made with the more convenient coconut milk and the quicker beef stew instead of roast beef.

“The influence of the western world has seen the entry of turkey meat in Kochi, especially during the Christmas season and this has replaced traditional duck roast normally served during Christmas lunch,” Kochi-based Nimmy Paul, a homemaker and cookery expert who specialises in Syrian Christian dishes and also conducts cooking classes for foreign tourists, told IANS.

Another change is the absence of domestic helps, who could be seen scurrying around homesteads along with the women of the house getting ready for the big day.

“Today that category is gone. It is because of this reason that on Christmas Day many families either arrive at hotels or order from hotels,” said Paul.

The central districts of Kerala - home to a large number of Christians who make up 22 percent of the state’s 32 million population - mark Christmas with the maximum fanfare. Catholics are the dominant group, comprising 50 percent of the Christians in the state, followed by the Orthodox Church with a population of around 2.5 million. Jacobites, Mar Thoma, the Church of South India and the Pentecostal churches make up the rest.

Another change is in the breakfast menu on Christmas with the traditional Kallu appam (made with toddy and a paste of coconut in the shape of a small dosa) giving way to the laced appam, made using coconut milk.

“Yes, the change has taken place because these days fresh toddy is not easy to get,” said Molly Cherian, a housewife in Thiruvalla. She adds that beef roast for Christmas Day breakfast has been replaced with chicken or mutton stew.

Other staples for breakfast are steamed banana, cake and halwa.

Lunch has also seen the advent of fish as a main dish.

“In my younger days, a variety of meat dishes ranging from beef curry, chicken curry and even pork were the main dish apart from vegetable dishes like stir fried vegetables made with onion and garlic seasoning and grated coconut. Today, cooking for many has become a laborious process. Hence, many people go for chicken or mutton biryani,” said retired banker Varghese George, who is also an accomplished cook.

Old timers also recall with nostalgia the ritual around making wine at home when the buzz would begin in October itself.

“I remember my mother used to make sure that by the end of October latest the grape wine was prepared and kept for fermenting because it required nearly 45 days for the wine to be ready. These days, wine making is no longer an activity except for those who have taken it up as a business. Today we simply buy the wine,” Saramma Joseph told IANS.

With the food focus moving from the home to the market, confectioneries are making a killing.

“The biggest change over the years has been the increase in the variety of cakes. Not long ago there were just three cakes - plum, tea and a cake with hard icing. Today, we ourselves make around 15 varieties,” said Prithviraj, who hails from the popular Mampally family in Tellichery and runs the Best Bakery chain.

Costs had gone up, he said, with one kg of plum cake selling at Rs.175, up from Rs.160 last Christmas.

But the Christmas spirit can take care of that.

(Sanu George can be contacted at

–Indo Asian News Service

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