MALAYALEE MASALA

As the plane touched down at the Cochin International Airport, the majestic terminal building swung into view. The sight of the coconut treetops from the plane had enlivened our senses, and anticipating the scenic drive, we walked eagerly to meet our host Abdul, who escorted us to the limousine.

We were on our way to Thekkady, the country’s largest wildlife sanctuary. I was looking forward to all the sights that Thekkady had to offer and had done much research on it. Thekkady is a haven for nature lovers, with its ample tropical flora and fauna. It is also home to rich, indigenous tribes.  One of the main attractions in Thekkady is the 120 years old ‘Surki’ dam built across the Periyar Lake. The huge artificial fresh water lake attracts thousands of animals from the surrounding sanctuary, making it a great watering hole and a perfect setting. The government of Kerala has also launched an innovative cruise that takes tourists close to view the animals, while they come to the banks of the lake to quench their thirst. It is very exciting to see these animals in their natural habitat, however sometimes visitors forget the need to remain calm and rush to spot them, rocking the boat precariously. The dried trees that jut out of the great water body are beautiful, but also provide navigational challenges to the boat driver.

As I recalled all that I had read, speeding along the green belt of grass, I felt a slight drizzle on my face.  Mistry, the architect, was explaining the architecture of the resort, which was being set up atop a hillock in Thekkady. He described the pool built right on the summit, with its vast view of the lush greenery. Soaking in the passing sights and sounds, I smiled at the thought of how some of the finer architectural details just went over my head.

In my broken Malayalam, I asked our bearded driver the name of the town we had passed, and he said “Pala.” My mind connected the word to the Malayalam word for milk, paal. The weather was just perfect for a glass of piping hot paal chaya. We pulled up in front of an extremely neat Malayalee version of a dhaba. Rubbing my hands gleefully, I called out to the Mundu clad waiter and ordered ‘masala tea’ for all of us.

Soon, we were discussing the resort’s sloping roofs and the temple designs for the main building. I wanted a state of the art, efficient kitchen. Someone asked how the guests would trudge all the way to the top to get the pool, to which, another person replied, “Oh it’s easy to do so in bikinis, especially in the winter!” We chuckled and waited eagerly for our tea, but there was no sight of the warm brew yet. Looking anxiously around, I enquired politely, “Just five more minutes,” the waiter said. With the beautiful surroundings, we didn’t mind the five-minute.

Soon the waiter arrived with four yera glasses brimming with the dark greenish hot liquid. I took a sip of the brew and called out, ‘Yende Eshwara!’ My God! This hot spicy liquid would just not go down my throat. With tears flowing down my eyes, I asked, “Yendha idhu?” What is this? The owner gave me a weird look and replied, “You asked for a masala tea alle? We added chilies, onions, coriander and a bit of ginger to help your throat. We usually put these special ingredients in our masala omelets too…

Venu Rao
Director Peacock Hospitality.

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