Thalassery and Kozhikode are two places where food is served with an extra tablespoon of love. They are said to be the kings of Malabar when it comes to taste and flavor. They’ll write essays on the versatility of Biryani or the uniqueness of fried Kallumakkayas, and give you a long list of dishes they consider their own. It is an experience to stroll through the streets of Thalassery and Kozhikode and savor the ocean of flavors that will delight your taste buds.
You ask and they will serve you – creamy mutton korma, beef varattiyathu, airy pathiris, irachi pathal and kallumakkayas, the list never ends.
The Paris of Malabar
Thalassery is a gourmet’s paradise. It is said that the food enjoyed by the people of Thalassery will be a hit all over the world. And of course, it is common knowledge that they are willing to travel very far for food. When guests arrive at Hotel Paris de Thalassery, they are bewildered by the variety of dishes. “Where to start?”
As the biryani dum gets ready, they start to get impatient. Suddenly conversations and thoughts flow around the biryani. Various masalas sautéed in ghee, added with mutton, dried fruits and the final garnish with coriander leaves make Thalassery biryani a gastronomic marvel. That aroma that emanates from this cauldron can make your belly growl from hunger. At the Hotel de Paris, you will discover that all the stories about its biryani are true.
After a plate of biryani, walk straight into this restaurant near the new bus station and the puff of fried chicken is too tempting to ignore. This dish is the Chicken Pentagon, named after the US Pentagon at the Rara Avis restaurant and is a smash hit at the Thalassery. They can’t get enough of this fried chicken that’s sautéed in tomato sauce and garlic paste before serving.
“This is our success. We will experiment and find our own flavors. And it will be a mix of new and old,” says Hashim, owner of Rara Avis.
In search of chicken thighs
Have you heard of the unique chicken thigh made from tapioca? It’s a must-try street snack in Thalassery, made of thinly sliced tapioca marinated in masalas and fried.
Then, of course, there will be irachi pathal, kinnathappam, deviled egg, mutta surka, appam and ‘kilikoodu’ which is made of eggs, masala and mix. Nowhere will you have so many options with your evening chai.
“The first thing they ask a Thalassery girl is about the variety of snacks you can make. Although I know a few snacks, I still can’t match my mother’s cooking,” says Ashika, a student at Farook College, Kozhikode.
If Thalassery gets a bit lazy after the sun goes down, its neighboring town shows no signs of slowing down even at night. Welcome to another gastronomic paradise – Kozhikode.
Food served with love
Whether it’s biryani or Suleimani, they add dollops of love to the ingredients that make them so delicious. That’s why people come back to taste the food of Kozhikode, also called the food capital of the state. Kozhikode is not only about food, but also about love, friendship and hospitality.
The people of Kozhikode believe that everything should start on a positive note. This is why you will see motorists returning excess money from the meter in coins down to the last rupee.
They love to serve food and the day always starts on a tasty note. Some of the morning specialties include elanchi which is a thin and sweet pancake made from flour, stuffed with grated coconut, sugar and dried fruits, ila ada, a sweet made from rice, coconut and of jaggery wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed mutton cutlets. Each snack is tempting enough to have a second or third cup of chai.
Whether it’s morning joggers or those here for work, their day on the town invariably begins in front of a tea stand. Before having their homemade breakfast of pathiri or dosa, they must first fill up on a cup of kaali chai and fried banana fritters. It is said that there are people who walk around in the morning just for the purpose of having that calorie-dense but extremely satisfying quick meal.
The Bombay hotel by the beach is where you will get a tasty snack platter. Although the city is updating with the changing times, the snacks at the 60-year-old Hotel Bombay remain legendary.
Those who travel to Kozhikode are advised by friends to try their biryani and vellapams. Really? Are vellapams and fish curry so important? That would be their counter-question! But the minute they taste Paragon Hotel’s sweet white vellapams and roasted coconut fish curry, all their doubts will be instantly dispelled. Pair this with Kozhikode’s own ‘ammayithava’ and your day instantly becomes brighter.
“Ammayithava is a specialty of Kozhikode. It was a fish delicacy that a mother-in-law cooked for her new son-in-law which was basically fish marinated in a paste of roasted red peppers, tamarind, shallots and fried tawa. And it was so delicious that people only had to fly from the Middle East to taste it,” says Soman, chef at the Paragon Hotel.
Chunks of chicken wrapped in fragrant pandanus leaves and fried called Chicken Pandanas, white pepper prawns are some of Chef Soman’s signature dishes. Paragon is the go-to place for some quintessential Kozhikode dishes.
Sarbath, rice and biryani
When you exit Paragon after a heavy meal, you may notice a long queue of people on the right side. No, they are not there to buy their pint of alcohol of the day but to taste sarbath with milk. By the way, not just any milk Sarbath, it must be from Bhaskarettan’s shop. Anyone from Kozhikode will vouch for its mind-blowing taste! A handful of crushed ice first goes into a tall glass, followed by some sarbath and milk and voila, you have your milk sarbath. There is a particular rhythm in Bhaskarettan’s hands as he assembles the drink. Kozhikode’s best kept secret for years, no one knows its recipe but Bhaskarettan. It’s a plain little store with no chairs, but people come back with their friends and family.
Kozhikode’s special fish and plantain leaf curry meals are equally special. Fluffy white rice is accompanied by a variety of fried fish. “Although there is sambar, avial and pickle, people still ask for the masala crumbs that come with the fried fish. On some days, even if there is rice and curries left, there will be a shortage of fish,” Amma Mess’s Sanal informs. For the people of Kozhikode, this 16-year-old mess is the closest thing to home cooking they can get.
If you’re craving beef biryani, head straight to Kozhikode’s second gate. “When it comes to beef biryani, it has to be Rahmath Hotel. It’s very addictive, ”says a regular on the site.
Suleimani and snacks
It is said that by the time you finish your biryani and Suleimani, the aroma of freshly prepared snacks would have already caught your nose. It will float in and around Mittayi Theruvu (SM Street) and Mavoor Road. And wherever you go, there will be plates laden with fried snacks inside the display cases. Hard-boiled eggs stuffed inside fried chicken called kozhinirachathu, a quaint looking pudding called muttamala, unnakkaya which is a cylindrical shaped snack made from crushed bananas, grated coconut, sugar and dried fruits or chatti pathiri, which is rice bread stuffed with meat. You can easily expect at least 5-10 snacks from any tea shop in town. But Zains on convent road run by Zainabi Noor is a superstar when it comes to Kozhikode snacks! During the evenings, there will be at least 30 varieties of snacks on display. They are so tasty that we actually wish we had a bigger appetite to do them justice.
If you’re planning a walk on the beach to burn off those calories, you’ll have no respite as even more food surrounds you. Kallumakkayas will be fried in hot kadais at roadside shacks and there will be more snacks piled on plates. On one side you can see salted mangoes, guavas, pineapples, carrots, apple jackfruit soaked in glass jars waiting to be devoured. How can we forget the city’s famous frozen candy (water-based frozen confectionery)? Called ice orathi, you will get both savory, sweet and spicy versions.
If there’s one thing you can’t escape when you’re in this city, it’s their hospitality. Don’t attempt a tour if you’re on a diet (or trying to portion control). They will keep piling your plates with food and by the time you go to bed after a heavy meal they will already plan a breakfast of pathiri and beef curry for you.