Abida Rasheed was born to cook. As a child, she loved spending time in the kitchen with her grandmother. She started cooking for others when she was in fifth standard. She ran a successful catering company and now operates culinary tourism outings and classes from her gracious home in Kozhikode (Calicut).
Abida’s cuisine differs from other Keralan cooks. She is the state’s most famous Moplah cook.
Moplah cuisine is particular to the Muslims of the Malabar Coast between Kannur and Kozhikode (Calicut) in North Kerala. Because most visitors to the state mainly visit Kochi and The Backwaters, few people are familiar with these North Kerala places and food.
The Moplahs are also known as Mappilas
Their food is quite different from the Moghlai Muslim cuisine of North India. Moghlai food favours gravies heavy with butter and cream. It’s also different from the Muslim cooking of Hyderabad which originated in Persia. Moplah food can be traced to Arabic routes. Abida explained the distinction further.
“Flavours are subtle because we want you to taste the real flavour of the ingredients. We use mainly chilli powder, salt, and oil plus a few whole spices like coriander, cardamom, cumin, and turmeric that we grow ourselves. There is much less emphasis on garlic or ginger pastes and no heavy gravies.”
The Dutch explorers had a great influence on Kerala’s Syrian Christian community. In that food you see lots of thick starchy gravies. The Nadans (people of the soil), ancient aristocratic Keralan families, favoured highly spiced and oily dishes.
When the Arab traders came, they brought their cooking traditions with them and many stayed and married Keralan women. These sons-in-law moved in with their wives’ families and that matriarchal tradition still carries on in this community. In fact, the word Mappila means son-in-law in Tamil.
At home with Abida
It’s a moonless, pitch-black evening when our taxi winds its way down the country lane to Abida Rasheed’s home. With the help of a few cell phone conversations between our host and driver, we make our way. Abida greets us warmly at the front door.
She lives with her three daughters, Nafisa, Aisha and Fathima. She also employs a few traditional women cooks called ethathas to help with the amount of entertaining, catering and teaching she does.
Hospitality effuses from Abida’s every pore. We arrive at her home about 7 p.m. but she is in no rush to get on with our cooking lesson.
We sit and sip refreshing iced beverages in her large open living room – in view of a very modern looking kitchen. She shares stories of the family’s life, weddings, and her husband’s work in the textile industry. She tells of excursions she can offer – trips to markets, picnics by the river. She loves where she lives and wants to share her favourite things, dishes and places. When we do go to cook, we feel we’ve been friends forever.
Abida is a person who is comfortable in her own skin. And, that is even more apparent then when she begins to cook. She knows her food so well, cooking is a flow state for her. It’s lovely to watch and even better to eat the results.
Cooking with Abida
Together we made a classic Moplah Marinated Fish, Mutton Stew, Pathiri bread, Shrimp Biryani and Chakara Chora, a wheat berry pudding. We ate, laughed, and talked until late in the night. And still, when our host walked us to the door, she beamed.
They say when someone is doing what they were born to do, they make it look effortless. Abida Rasheed has found her calling and we felt blessed to experience a bit of time with her and her family.
In our next post, we’ll share more about her home city, Kozhikode (Calicut), and then we’ll share her wonderful recipes. If you are interested in a cooking lesson with Abida, contact her through the link to her Facebook page at the beginning of this story. We’ll leave you with a few video clips to give you a little glimpse of Abida in action.
During this period of COVID-19, we are happy to offer our blog as a form of armchair travel. When it is safe to travel again, we sincerely hope you’ll venture forth and experience all these wonderful Faces, Places and Plates for yourself! – Karen and Pauli-Ann.
Thank you to Abida Rasheed for making us feel part of her family while she hosted us during our stay in Kozhikode in 2017.
All words and photos are our own and were not shared with the sponsors before publication.