Several quaint traditions revolving around the newlyweds and food make up the wedding.

Traditional Malabar Muslim wedding dishes
Features Food Saturday, February 20, 2021 - 13:55

When in Malabar, celebrate food — goes the old saying. The northern region of Kerala comprising Kozhikode, Kannur, Kasaragod and other districts is the birthplace of several legendary meat dishes and tea time snacks. However, the Malabar culinary game is at its finest when there is love —  and the union of love, i.e., a wedding.

In many ways, a traditional Malabar Muslim wedding is the safekeeper of ancient recipes and age old food traditions. “These weddings are a repository of old customs. They keep several forgotten food traditions from perishing. There are certain snacks such as the Paneeneer Petti (Rose box) and the Panjara Patta (Rice and sugar pancakes) which are very difficult to make and are sometimes made just for the groom,” says Aysha Markerouse, a Moplah cuisine consultant who has worked with prominent restaurants in Kozhikode.

Mussamman Kozhi, a Malabar delicacy 

Today, some of these customs might seem a tad dated and patriarchal. Much of it revolves around pleasing the groom and involves the intensive labour of women. However, the ancient recipes and the mouthwatering dishes come alive through these practices. One such custom at the very beginning of a wedding is inviting guests after the marriage is fixed.

Bajaar Niraththal

“There are women known as Vilikarathis or ‘inviters’ who do door-to-door visits and hand over wedding invites to guests. These women would not be related to the bride or groom’s family, but would just be locals who know the politics of the region. Which are the families to be called for the wedding, and the families that are not to be given a very serious invite,” explains Aysha.

When the Vilikarathis come calling at each house, it is a mandatory custom to lay out a bajaar or a bazaar. Translated to English, it simply means market or market snacks. The hosts are expected to lay out a feast of bakery items on a large platter. The bigger the family that is giving the wedding invites, the more elaborate the bajaar would be.

Sulaimani tea, sometimes served with the Bajaar snacks

The snacks are arranged in layers on a big glass plate called Thoukoosa or Kaasa. “The first layer would be a michar (or mixture), followed by banana chips, sponge cake, a poo sponge (flower sponge cake wrapped like a toffee), bananas and ghee halwas in the end. On top of the platter would be ladoos and jalebis. The bajaars were only served to women and around the big plates would be smaller plates calles Bassi. The bassi will have some homemade snacks,” Aysha explains. Back in the day, the number of bassis placed along with the kaasa would indicate how good the family’s hosting was.

Sometimes,the Vilikarathis were not served tea or water until the host (woman) was satisfied that they had eaten the snacks properly.

The Arikuthu Cheral or rice pounding ceremony

The bride’s kin, close and distant, are invited for the Arikutthu Cheral or rice pounding ceremony which takes place a week or 10 days before the wedding. Simply put, all the masalas and podis which are required for the wedding feast are made during this ceremony. 

“Tonnes of rice is pounded into a powder to be used to make Pathiris, Puttu, Idiappams etc., made to feed the visiting guests. Even chilli powder, garam masala, coriander powder, and turmeric  are prepared at home during this event. They also make brinjal pickle (Vazhudina curry), cook mussels or kadakka during this time,” Aysha adds. Women are the main participants of the Arikuthu Cheral while the men busy themselves in cleaning the house and setting up the venue for the big day. 

A traditional Vettilla Ittu menu comprising Beef Stew, Ghee Rice, Chicken Varattiyath and Venda Molittath 

A few days before the wedding comes the Vettilla Kettu (betel leaf folding ceremony), where several batches of beeda or paan are made for the wedding guests. Women generally get together to fold hundreds of paan. Typically they wrap up with a dinner which would mostly be ghee rice, mutton or beef, stew, a spinach and curd item and bananas for dessert. 

“There is also a sweet item called Kunjan Urapichathu — which is egg yolks cooked in sugar syrup and served hot,” Aysha adds. 

Ghee rice is the staple for most events prior to the wedding, with biriyani reserved for the D-day. 

The Erachi Chor, predecessor to the Dum Biriyani, is also served during weddings 

Most often family friends, neighbours and relatives pitch in by sponsoring tons of sugar, rice, vegetables or other items necessary for making the food. This way, they ease the financial burden on the hosts. 

Arayil Aakal

Among the most important of ceremonies post the nikkah or wedding is the Arayil Aakal. This is when the groom comes to the bride’s house and the couple are sent to the room to spend their first night together. “Usually the groom’s family comes with him to the bride’s house and stays for dinner, and this is when there is a massive feast of snacks or palaharams laid out for the evening," says Aysha.

Some of the snacks are reserved especially for the bridegroom. The Paneneer Petti or Rose box —  a layered snack made with coconut, jaggery, milk etc is one such item. The Panjara Patta — sweet discs eaten with bananas and milk is also a delicacy. 

Panineer Petti or Rose box, a sweet dish made during the Arayil Aakal 

“Making the Panjara Patta is a two person job. A batter is made with rice flour and milk and is beaten till frothy. Only the froth is poured on to the pan and cooked, making the pancake very light and fluffy. This means that one person has to continuously beat the batter while the other makes the pancakes. Typically women slog it out in the kitchen to make it,” Aysha adds. 

Other snacks include Chatti Pathiri (a sweet pancake), Unnakkaya (a fried banana snack), Irachi Pathiri (meat pancakes), Samosas, Chukkappam (dough friend into buttons) and beef masala etc.

Piyapla Kolu and Ammayi Thakkarams

Unlike in most weddings, in some sections of the Malabar Muslim community, it is the groom who moves permanently into his wife’s house post marriage. And needless to say, he is treated like royalty.

One of the customs fresh after the wedding is the Piyapla Kolu or feast for the bridegroom. For 40 days straight, his mother-in-law lays out of a feast for breakfast and dinner —  serving meat and egg and banana delicacies right from the morning tea. Custom also says that it is shameful to serve the groom the same variety of pathiri twice in the 40 days.

“This is not followed too often now. But back in the day, there was a new type of pathiri made every day for the groom,” Aysha says. 

During the Piyapla Kolu, the groom is also expected to pay certain fines or tokens of appreciation such as the Ammayi panam (mother-in-law free), ‘chaaya paisa (tea money) and ‘Meen Panam’ (seafood fine). 

Nura Pathiri and Meen Molittath

“There is no seafood made during the first 40 days. So if the groom craves fish, he has to pay a certain amount to his mother-in-law, to express to her that he needs seafood. This is called the meen panam. The Chaaya Paisa is the equivalent of the Jhoota Chupai (hiding shoes) in north Indian weddings. While the groom has to pay the bride’s side to get his shoes in the north, here the groom gives money to the bride’s aunts as a token of appreciation for cooking for him and taking care of him,” Aysha adds. 

Suppara

In certain parts of Kozhikode, there is also the Suppara —  a community eating practice followed during weddings. Biriyani or ghee rice is served in huge plates from which 8-10 people can eat. On top of this, a roast chicken or mutton is served.

Top left: Kannappam, right: Jeeraga Kanji, bottom left: Parotta, onion masala and beef, right: Nei Pathiri and Chicken curry 

“The plate is placed on the floor or on a stool and 8-10 low wooden stools known as masara palaga (plank) are arranged to seat the guests. The guests then eat from the big plate called Dolungu, with each of them also getting a small personal plate called Bassi for themselves. Biriyani is served with curd, onions, chutney etc,” Aysha says.

Supara however, is not so common in weddings any more, and was stopped as a practice years ago.

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