Somewhere in the bowels of the Ministry of Tourism in Thiruvananthapuram, there is an avial victim. Someone who has eaten avial, a common dish in every home there, beyond human endurance. Tired of the everyday, he or she dreams fitfully of the exotic. That which is exotic in Thiruvananthapuram could well be comfort food elsewhere — Delhi’s chhole, Kolkata’s shukto, Chennai’s tair-sadam, Mumbai’s poha, Thimpu’s ema datshi. In such matters, location is everything.
But these homely delectables were beyond the reach of our hero in Thiruvananthapuram and in a brief moment of frustration, he or she thumbed off a tweet with an image of a parody of avial, a half-cooked mess which affronted fans of the dish everywhere, accompanied by a disgustingly inaccurate description: “Nothing but a medley of native vegetables in a thick coating of coconut paste.” Not the sort of thing that is likely to attract hordes of tourists, who are generally in search of karimeen, egg roast and Malabar parotta.
A food fight broke out online immediately, and with surprising good humour — considering the bluntness of the tweet that started it— Kerala Tourism turned it to its own advantage. They admitted that it was a “sticky avial situation”, and that the Malayalam term for “messing up” was the same as the name of the dish. It’s quite an achievement to extricate oneself from such a mess. Only one person in recorded history has got away with such food slights. In the first dictionary of the English language, Dr Johnson had defined oats thus: “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” His stature may have prevented the Scots from chastising his person, but the tweeter in the Tourism Ministry had no such protection. Such courage is to be admired.