I've been getting rides back and forth to Divakar's home from his nephews Abhi and Akshay. While most people in India speak a language called Hindi, in Kerala they speak Malayalam. I asked the boys to teach me something this morning. Not an easy language to learn.
Last night Divakar had me over to his house for an Indian feast. I felt so lucky to be invited into his home. I have been treated like royalty since the second I arrived. Divakar and his family have been such gracious hosts.
All of Divakar’s family joined us for the meal including his wife Shaila, his 17 year-old son, Revanth, his 23-year old nephew, Abhilash (Abhi), his sister and mother. Shaila works as an OB/GYN at a local hospital and often doesn’t have time to cook. Divakar’s sister lives with them and cooks most of the meals for the family.
The dinner was nothing like I’ve ever tasted. Most of the Indian food in the States is based on northern style Indian cuisine that uses milk and cream. The southern dishes mostly use coconut milk instead and as a result are lighter and healthier. Since Kerala is next to the ocean, seafood is a common ingredient.
We dined on prawns in spicy coconut sauce, fish molly, vegetable stew and fish masala. We were also treated to a thin dinner pancake called appams, puri and payasam.
Everything was incredibly delicious and very different than the way you might expect Indian food to taste. That’s one of the things I love about traveling. You are continually readjusting your understanding of the culture. Instead of thinking of Indian food as heavy and spicy, you realize that it can be light and refreshing depending on the area of the country. Your understanding becomes richer.
I enjoyed getting to know the boys as well. Abhilash has an engineering degree, and like many of the well-educated Indians, he will be taking a job soon in Dubai. India has few jobs and there are so many educated Indians, that they are finding a better job market in the Middle East. In fact, the flight I took to Kozhikode from Qatar was filled with Indians coming back home from their jobs abroad.
Revanth is in his final year of high school. He enjoyed talking American culture with me, especially when it came to Kobe Bryant. When I started telling Revanth and Abhi a story about the time I saw Michael Jordan in Highland Park, their eyes lit up as big and wide as appam pancakes.
We met some interesting local characters on our first day in Kerala. While we were exploring, we saw some men working by the side of the road. They are what is known as Toddy Tappers. This profession has lots of upward mobility because it basically consists of climbing trees for a living.
The Toddy Tapper goes from tree to tree collecting as much sap as possible from the coconut bark. But the tricky part is that the bark only grows at the very top of the trees.
At the end of each day, the Toddy Tappers sell their special sap to the local Toddy Shops. On a good day, a Toddy Tapper might take home 500 rupees or about ten bucks.
As you might have guessed, the toddy sap actually ferments into a potent alcoholic beverage. But you have to be careful with the sour libation. As they say around here, “Too much Toddy ain’t good for the body.” (Okay, I made that last part up.)