The last thing Anjana Gopakumar needs in her life to spice it up are condiments; they make her start sneezing helplessly.
Gopakumar’s allergy to spices stems from a medical condition she has: Atopic dermatitis, or eczema. Common and non-infectious, it causes skin irritation, and often, asthma, hay fever, and food allergies.
And while the condition can be triggered by something as innocuous as soaps and detergents, for Gopakumar, it is spices.
The natural instinct of most people in her situation, perhaps, would be to stay away from the kitchen. That was never an option for her; it is the kitchen that has always drawn her.
In fact, the kitchen provides Gopakumar with food for thought.
“I have always been fascinated by the idea of food culture,” she tells South First. “The history of various dishes intrigues me.”
Kerala cuisine calls
Gopakumar’s love for the history of various dishes perhaps explains her vocation; she is a food blogger and a restaurant consultant based in Thiruvananthapuram, running a blog and an Instagram page titled Thank God I’m Fat — Big Heart, Bigger Appetite.
She loves Kerala’s cuisine and mostly experiments with and blogs about new places serving nadan or local dishes.
And so, it seems only natural that her project too is only about cuisine from her home state, known for its generous use of spices, coconuts and vegetables grown exclusively in the region.
Gopakumar is quick to argue that Kerala dishes are much more than coconuts and spices.
“Kerala food is as diverse as other cuisines from India, it has its fair share of influences and ingredients that dominate,” she says.
“I would say curry leaves, eggs, tamarind, peppercorns, and so much more add value to the dishes. It would change depending on where you are in Kerala.”
Gopakumar posts pictures of the dishes she eats, and also shares reviews in the form of Reels about lesser-known eateries she visits.
Take, for instance, the Sri Saraswati Tea Stall in Palakkad district. It is a small establishment at a village named Ramasseri, where a close-knit community of women make Ramasseri idli — a fusion of idli and a dosa.
“The pancake is served with coconut stew, coconut chutney, tomato chutney and podi, and it is soft and fluffy,” she says.
Another interesting find is the Rawther biryani, also from the Palakkad region. Introduced by the Rawther Muslim community that migrated from Tamil Nadu to Palakkad, this dish is rich in spices.
The small grain rice is tangy and is filled with tomatoes — “a hit among biryani lovers”.
All roads lead to family
The unstoppable foodie was introduced to the culinary world at a very young age.
“I grew up watching reality shows like Highway on My Plate by Rocky and Mayur, and cooking shows by Ritu Dalmia, Aditya Bal, Nigella Lawson and more,” she says.
Her family is “obsessed with food”, she says, which meant food was always part of dinner-table discussions. “I think my whole affiliation towards food is mainly because of my family.”
Growing up, she was most fond of her grandmother’s cooking. That later shifted to her mother’s dishes. These days, she craves her brother’s preparations as well; he is not only the “biggest foodie”, he is also a “brilliant cook”.
“Now, I live for the days I get to eat the food my brother cooks. But one constant has been Amma’s chapathi, chicken curry, and Russian salad — it is a staple at home and we love it.”
Chef to blogger
Interestingly, despite her allergy to spices, Gopakumar’s first career choice was of a chef, and in 2015, she enrolled in Manipal’s Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration to learn the ropes.
But her dreams died an early death because of her allergy and she had to drop out. “Despite dropping out, my interest in food grew,” she says.
While she couldn’t be a professional chef, Gopakumar has since then been focussed on the management side of the food industry.
For instance, she says, she has been an active part of the food and beverage industry, and worked as a marketing manager for Uber Eats in Kerala in 2018-19.
“I started documenting food in 2018 when I found myself stuck in my journey of trying to be a chef,” Gopakumar says, explaining how she forayed into blogging — actively encouraged by her brother, a passionate cook.
“I don’t know if there is any agenda behind this; this is just something I absolutely love doing and I wouldn’t want to stop.”
Very recently, she even completed a diploma course in food and beverage management from George Brown College in Canada.
And then, of course, there is her passion project — her blog — which is a virtual gastronomic delight for food enthusiasts, who also help her unearth hidden gastronomical treasures.
“I go with the saying — we attract what we love,” Gopakumar says with a chuckle, referring to lesser-known information she receives from friends, acquaintances, and followers on her Instagram page.
“The Palakkad finds came to me during a friend’s wedding I attended recently. He suggested that I visit those places.”
Starting a community
Gopakumar says the response to her journey in discovering Kerala cuisines has been “amazing” so far; the numbers bear her out: She has about 73.8K followers just on Instagram.
“I have always had a beautiful audience and people who have been extremely supportive of what I do,” she says.
In fact, so involved is she with her projects on Instagram that she hasn’t found time to write her blog in a while. “Videos are more of a thing now,” she says. “I am working towards that.”
The reception to a new set of videos she made on Instagram has also proved “overwhelming”. “The kind of love I have been receiving makes me so grounded.”
At the moment, Gopakumar is busy running another Instagram page called Eat At Trivandrum with other food enthusiasts.
“The page was started by Arvind Soju and then fostered by the four of us (Vinay Sivadass, Aslam Kunjumoosa, Arvind and I) for the past eight years.”
“Eat At Trivandrum is not just a page, it is a community,” says Gopakumar. “We started as a Facebook group for people to share their ideas, views and opinions on the food of Trivandrum and wanted to contribute to the growing food scene of the city.”
Currently, Eat At Trivandrum has 1.65K followers on Facebook and 77K followers on Instagram.
“We also conduct annual food awards where the winners are selected by the people of the group and Instagram.”
Lately, she has dedicated her research time to learning about foods from North Kerala and the Arab influence there.
Gopakumar wants to write a book, as an ode to Kerala foods. She actually started working on it in 2020 but “could not dedicate enough time” for it.
“Maybe in 2024 I will sit on it again and work towards it, fingers crossed.”