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4 Lent food of Kerala Christians

Yesterday, was Easter and the 40 days of fasting and 10 days of the passion week has come to end. This year many people said that they never knew that Christians fasted and abstained from non-vegetarian food, including milk and alcohol, for 50 days in a year.

Fasting, abstaining from certain food, penance and praying have relevance in the Christian religion, from the time of Christ itself. Christ went on 40 days fast in the wilderness, before beginning his 3 years ministry leading to his Crucifixion and Resurrection. 40  days lent is one of the basic foundation the Orthodox and the Catholic churches, founded by the Apostles. Believers get purified, detoxified and they get the energy to survive spiritually for the next one year.

Christianity came to Kerala in the early days itself, when St. Thomas (who is known as Apostle of India), came to India in AD 52. In the past 2000 years, Kerala Christian’s tradition of prayer, food, and culture is a blend of the Bible, the life of Jesus, the association with other Apostolic Churches in the world and Kerala tradition.

The first forty days of fasting is purely full of prayers, fasting even without drinking water up to 12:00 pm; and having lunch after the Midday prayer and kneeling 40 times. The simplest form of fasting is abstaining from meat, fish, and egg for 50 days. The toughest form of fasting depends on the one who fasts. Some of the Ashram priests, it is said, have light lunch that includes kanji (water rice or gruel) and stir-fried moong (green gram). And they have even lighter supper — Such men do not live by bread alone but by the word of God.

There is a lot of symbolism connected with the lent season, which raises nostalgia. Certain lent food prepared during the last 10 days of the passion week has a lot of symbolic value. The 40 days of fasting ends on the Friday before Good Friday, and the next 10 days are dedicated for more prayers and more spiritual activities.

Here are some the food items which are symbolic of certain holy days of the Lenten period:

Kozhukattai Saturday

The family of Lazarus, and his two sisters, Martha and Mary, was Jesus’s favourite. Lazarus died and was buried. On the third day, Jesus came and rose Lazarus from the dead. It is said that Kozukattai was one of the favourite food of Jesus. He had kozukattai with Lazarus family. The raising of Lazarus from the dead is remembered on this Saturday.

People make kozukattai at home and share it with friends, relatives, and neighbors. Kozuattai has steamed rice dumplings with a stuffing of coconut gratings, jaggery and a pinch of cardamom. 

Vattayappam/Pesaha Appam

The tradition of Pesaha Appam dates back to the Jewish tradition 2000 years before the birth of Jesus. The Jews remember the Passover day when the Israelite’s left Egyptian slavery and started their Exodus to Israel. During the preparation to leave Egypt, the Israelite’s were asked by Moses to prepare unleavened bread. That was because they had to leave early in the morning and so there was no time to ferment the dough. 

Yesterday someone commented on the Pesaha Appam video given below that this is not an authentic traditional way of preparing Pesaha Appam. As the batter is not fermented for making Pesaha Appam. On consulting many elderly and experts preparing the Pesaha Appam, there were different opinions,

Some prepare the batter and immediately make the appam. Others keep the rice and urad dal batter mix aside for 3-4 hours before preparing the appam. Some use yeast. Because they are preparing the appam to be given in the Chuch as offering after the Passover Service. While in other places there is a ceremony in the house on Thursday evening where Pesaha Appam and Pesaha Pall (Coconut milk recipe) is given as a dip. 

The video given below was intended for the working young women and men in cities who want to prepare appam as an offering for the Church, The intention was to help them be part of the tradition even when they have time constraints. This is how my family and friends prepare appam for Pesaha. 

On the day before his Crucifixion on Good Friday, Jesus observed the Jewish Passover festival with his 12 disciples, at the house of Mark. The ‘Last Supper’ painting of Michelangelo depicting the event is very popular.

Kerala Christian prepare unleavened bread or Pesaha appam (Pesaha mean Maundy Thursday) with rice flour and urad dal as the main ingredients. There are a number of different varieties of preparing pesaha appam.

And an accompaniment called Pesaha pal is also prepared. In traditional homes, all the members of the family gather around the table, with the head of the family at the main chair. The youngest member of the family will ask the head of the family about the relevance of the festival. He will explain and distribute the appam to the family members.

Good Friday Kanji

Good Friday Kanji

Rice Gruel (kanji) at the end of the long Good Friday service is nostalgia for Kerala Christians. After fasting for the whole day, and having Chorukka (bitter drink) at the end of the service, the Rice Gruel, with stir-fried green moong (green gram) and kadu manga(a special mango pickle) is an incomparable delicacy blended with spiritual and traditional values. In the olden days, the Kanji was served in an earthen pot with jack fruit leaves shaped like spoons.

Vellayappam

Vellayappam is a kind of dosa prepared from rice flour, grated coconut and; fresh coconut toddy or yeast used as the leavening agent. On the two main festivals of Kerala Christians, Christmas, and Easter, vellayappam is prepared in large numbers for the relatives, neighbors, and helpers.

For a Kerala Christian Christmas cake is exotic. For them, vellayappam with chicken or mutton stew symbolizes the celebrations of Christmas and Easter.

Watch this video for Holy Week Recipes. A quick recipe is provided to prepare Pesaha Appam for Maundy Thursday,  A recipe on how to make kanji, payar, and kadumanga (Mango Pickle) at home for Good Friday, as it is Lockdown. And for Easter, there is the recipe for Vellayappam and Chicken Stew.

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Ancy Abraham
Blogger, Nature Lover and Cooking Enthusiast. Worked as a Magazine Assistant Editor for a Consumer Magazine. Presently writing about lifestyle topics related to health, food, shopping, fashion and people for Lifestyle Today News for the past 6 years. Also, volunteering as UN Volunteer News Editor for Climate Change News. Mentored around 18 Youth News Writers, passionate about Climate Change activities, from different parts of the world Nominated to attend COP26 as Observer. #COP26glasgow

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