Food in Malayalam cinema
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Films entirely about food is still a rarity in Malayalam cinema (we still don’t have a Julie and Julia or Eat Drink Man Woman). But we’ve had many films with great shots of food…the kind that are impossible to watch in an empty stomach. Here’s a look at five interesting use of food in five recent films. 

The opening montage song, unniyappam, fish curry and a decadent rainbow cake in Salt N Pepper 

This film can officially be termed Malayalam cinema’s first food film. This Aashiq Abu directorial written by Shyam Pushkaran and Dileesh Nair has Lal and Shwetha Menon playing middle-aged singles discovering each other through food. The title card unfolds through a montage song, delectably showcasing a procession of popular delicacies and street foods in Kerala—right from the famous Pai Dosas, Karimeen Pollichathu snug inside banana leaves, fiery Syrian red fish curries, crisply fried anchovies, bubbling unniyappam, stacks of colourful halwas, paal payasams being carried in large cauldrons inside the Ambalapuzha temple, the plantain leaf sadya, yellow jalebis emerging from hot pans, heaps of jackfruit chips, plates of roasted beef laced with shards of coconut, steaming puttupathiri, containers of Thalassery Dum Biryani to shots of iconic restaurants and thattukadas. At the time of its release, the film came with a statutory warning—never watch it on a hungry stomach. Food milestones carry the narrative forward—a wrongly dialled food delivery call triggers their first conversation, the fight is resolved after relishing the very dosa and garlic chutney that created the conflict in the first place and the romance gradually evolves through a decadent old rainbow cake recipe. For the leading man, food has played a significant role in discovering his favourite people, including his Man Friday. What was supposed to be a matchmaking event ends up with the man hijacking the cook after he bites into the unniyappams served for him.    

Pork on the plate in Angamaly Diaries 

Lijo Jose Pellissery’s slice of life film around Pepe and his mates in Angamaly, a town in Central Kerala is laced with local cuisine. Like the Gaul’s mates in Angamaly love their pork roasts, and prefers some ingenious combinations, suited for every occasion and celebration. It can be with Chinese potato, yam or just crisply sautéed as it is, and it has to be from the choicest of meat shops. Pepe’s teenage is marked by his constant affair with food—be it pounding raw mangoes and polishing it off, seasoned with chilli and salt, ghee dosa with a free side order of beef curry, parotta and beef fry, omelettes, biryanis or just downing lime sodas with friends. When he finds love, he equates it to a combination of Kappa and eggs and when they break up, he says she found it better to team the kappa with pork.

Red velvet cake, fish fry and Nannari Sherbet in Premam

This coming-of-age film from Alphonse Puthren chronicles the life of George (Nivin Pauly) from his school to adulthood and food typically spills all over the narrative. Beginning with teen George’s love letter to Mary that gets distracted by his greed for sardines. There is the school-going Mary (Anupama Parameshwaran), who strolls into a tea shop and gazes longingly at the tall thick glass jars filled with kappalandi muttainaranga muttai, and plates of steaming pazham pori and parippu vada. Nannari soda topped with khus khus provides the energy to discuss George’s wooing plans with his friends. In the college canteen, we have Vimal Sir getting conned by PT sir for an extra helping of fishy fry in exchange of tips to woo Malar miss. While George and friends also join in this charade for plates of puttu and beef curry. And then comes what can be literally called the icing on the red velvet cake, which provides the milieu for George to meet his future bride, Celine. Great closure to a delectable narrative.

Premam

Pathiri soaked in coconut milk and beef curry in Parava Set in the backdrop of Mattanchery and pigeon racing, actor Soubin Shahir’s debut directorial headlines two young boys and the big and small events in their lives. In a film which gets the details to the T, be it the Fort Kochi dialect, the interiors, the trade and people, food is as meticulously rooted. It’s there in how Haseeb explains over breakfast, as to why a good pathiri needs to be soaked in creamy coconut milk before mopping it with some beef curry. Or the step-by-step procedure in which Dulquer Salmaan’s Imran gets to the business of making fish biryani. 

Politics of beef and parotta in Godha 

Basil Joseph’s sports film about a Punjabi girl, passionate about wrestling, finding her dreams fulfilled in Kerala has this little scene that comes early on in the film. The hero Tovino Thomas who is studying in Punjab declares his desire to tuck in some parotta and beef to his Tamilian mate. He savours each and every line as he explains the process of preparing the beef curry and how crispy parottas should be dipped generously into it to reach that ultimate gastronomical heaven. The friend and the audience are left salivating.    

Making dum biryani, a Kerala-European fusion parotta and the magic of Suleimani in Ustad Hotel 

In this food film that captures the conflict of ideologies between a grandfather who is a traditional chef with some native recipes up his sleeve and his grandson, an internationally schooled chef who has set his heart on making it big abroad, food definitely makes a regular appearance. It begins with the scene where the grand dad feeds Kesar milk to quieten the wailing baby grandson, which seems like the right way to introduce him to the world of taste. It’s a crab dish gone sour that brings Faizi (Dulquer) and Shahana (Nithya Menen) together.

Ustad Hotel

The grandfather, in a beautiful monologue to Faizi, says it’s a sprinkling of love and compassion that’s the secret behind his cup of Suleimani. It’s an acknowledgement of his generosity and skills when he confides to his grandson that it’s his old Biryani recipe that’s been selling like hot cakes at the nearby five-star hotel. Faizi attempts to impress a foreign chef with a Kerala-Italian fusion parotta. And then there is Faizi who discovers the true spirit of cooking when he prepares a cauldron of Biryani for the special children.

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