Poor man’s kappa is now a costly dish in Kerala!

T.k. Devasia
Filed on August 25, 2013

Tapioca (cassava) is no more the poor manís food in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Called kappa, tapioca is fast turning unaffordable to the poor with its price shooting up in the local markets. The price has been going up steeply following promotion of the delicacy by the hospitality sector as an exotic dish.

After adoption by hotels, the price of kappa shot up from Rs2 a kg to Rs30 to Rs40 in the retail markets in the last few years. Five star and deluxe category hotels have been charging as much as Rs400 for 100gm of cooked kappa.

Hotels started adopting kappa after it lost fervour with the poor following availability of rice at low prices. The purpose of promoting the tuber crop was lost after the state and federal governments started supplying rice at highly subsidised rates as part of their social responsibility initiatives.

Kappa was promoted in Kerala by the erstwhile Travancore rulers during World War II when the state faced acute shortage of rice, which was then the staple food of the people. A large number of people, especially the labour class, accepted the starch-rich kappa as a substitute to the costly rice.

Thus kappa came to be known as the staple food of the poor in the state those days. Hotels refused to include kappa in their menu due to its working class image. The promotion was left to the toddy shops, where the proletariat turned up for relaxation after a day’s hard work.

Kappa puzhukku (mashed tapioca) along with fish curry is still the hot dish in the toddy shops throughout the state. But it comes in many forms in the hotels with chefs experimenting variety of cuisines from the local product.

Tapioca cultivation, which was abandoned by many farmers following steady decline in its demand in the last decade, is likely to pick up in the coming years with the fresh use leading to a surge in its demand.

The area under cassava cultivation in Kerala has been continuously on the decline since the year 1995. There was a reduction in area under the crop by 34.99 per cent during the last decade.

Kerala had ranked first in the cultivation of tapioca in the country until recently. The position has now gone to the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu following the steady decline in the area under tapioca in the state.

The story of tapioca is similar to jackfruit, which saw a sudden surge in demand following adoption by star hotels. The jackfruit, called the poor man’s fruit, is now an important item in the menu of many hotels serving tourists.

Even the upper middle classes in the state are patronising the neglected fruit. Kerala had regarded jackfruit as a heavenly fruit in the ancient times as it had many medicinal values.

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