Every now and then, I get to experience a meal that is so amazing it stays with me forever. On my recent work/holiday to Kerala, my wife Caroline and I got to do just that. My friend Jomon Kuriakose, Chef de Cuisine at the brilliant Lalit London just happened to be visiting family while we were there and he arranged for us to meet his friend Shihabudeen VM and his family at their home in Arookutty, a beautiful suburb of Kochi.
Have you ever been invited to someone’s home for a meal and then been blown away by the work they put into it? These great people must have worked for hours creating that masterpiece of a meal! We appreciated it so much and every bite brought something new and wonderful. This was food perfection.
When we arrived, Shihabudeen showed us around the grounds outside. This too was an experience that any Indian food fan would love.
Shihabudeen pulled a fruit from his nutmeg tree and split it open. I wanted to show you this as it was the first time I had seen nutmeg this fresh. The brown bit in the centre is the nutmeg and the red bit that is wrapped around it is mace. Both are dried before using. Then there was the fruit that incased the nutmeg and mace. We tried some and it was really good. As you might expect, it tasted of nutmeg but in fruit form. This fruit is used a lot to make pickles.
Then came that fantastic meal which included no fewer than twelve different dishes. If that were the only meal we had in Kerala, we would have still have gone away happy. Shihabudeen very kindly gave me a few of his recipes we tried that day. You have to try his aleesa which is a chicken and wheat dish enjoyed year round but it is especially popular at Ramadan. I shared the recipe for you here. It will be in my fifth book “The Curry Guy Bible” that is out in December 2020. He also gave me the recipe for a chicken and rice dumpling curry that was out of this world gorgeous. I’ve made it too but haven’t typed the recipe yet. That recipe will be on my blog soon so WATCH THIS SPACE! I think it might just be in the book too.
After that fantastic meal, it was time to move. Shihabudeen planned a canoe trip for us all in the backwaters of Kochi. To do this, we had to get an old ferry to the other side of one of the waterways which was a fun experience in itself. It was a scorching hot day so umbrellas were essential out there on the water. We travelled by canoe out to a group of islands and docked up on one of the islands which is now a yoga retreat. We relaxed there for about an hour in the sun and were served some delicious fruit drinks that were made by the chefs. We don’t do yoga but I could see Caroline and me staying there for a few days in future. No internet, no phones, just quiet relaxation.
Then we travelled around a few other islands where we saw what used to be spectacular holiday retreat hotels but are now abandoned. Times change and these remote islands are just a bit too difficult to get to, to make them viable as a holiday destination. Still, we could see why someone took that business gamble as these islands were beautiful.
On our way back to the car, we happened by a fisherman who was catching and selling fish. Shihabudeen purchased a few pearl spot for his family’s dinner. If you ever get to Kerala, that is a fish you need to try. I didn’t know it at the time but Caroline and I got to try some pearl spot later that afternoon at Cheenavala Seafood Restaurant in Kochi and I highly recommend not only the fish but that amazing restaurant.
I would like to thank Shihabudeen, his wife Rubaida, mother-in-law Aisah Umma and sons Irahad and Arshad for their hospitality and making this such a memorable day in Kerala. We can’t wait to come back and see you again.
Chef Jomon Kuriakose has a fantastic Facebook page where you can see and try some of his recipes. You will find it here. Jomon went out of his way to introduce us to his Kerala and we are forever grateful.
You can visit Shihabudeen’s new Youtube channel here. I highly recommend that you do. Not all of the videos are in English but you will get a good idea about how to make the recipes which are all spectacular.