If it is filter coffee, this must be Kalpathy.
Kalpathy is a way of life, a history, heritage, culture, romance and cuisine of Tamil Brahmins who migrated to this nook in the heart of Palakkad and carved a name for itself as a home away from home. Famous for its agraharams (a conglomeration of settlements), the hoary history of Kalpathy is laced with its delectable cuisine, its aromatic filter coffee, kondattam, idlis, sambar and chutneys.
An early morning walk through the agraharams on a cold, misty morning is the best time to sip filter coffee served piping hot in a steel tumbler. The Kalpathy culture goes beyond the coffee to the sacred ash on people’s foreheads; the kanakambarams that adorn the women’s neatly brushed hair, the kolams in front of each house and the still pace of life here. The famous “Ratholsavam” or chariot festival is an annual spiritual and cultural extravaganza held at the Sri Visalakshi Sametha Sri Viswanatha Swamy temple at Kalpathy.
Nobody ever walks by without sniffing the aroma of the coffee that fills the air. Walk in to one of the tea stalls here and ask for a glass of coffee. Milk and water is already on the samovar, waiting to boil up. The coffee decoction is poured into a small container, the hot milk and water, into a steel tumbler. A bit of sugar and then the decoction. The filter coffee is ready -- hot enough to warm up one’s body. Seductive. That is what the flavour is all about. Filter coffee or what is termed thus and served in city hotels can never hold a candle to the Kalpathy kaapi. Coffee is a way of life here as are so many other things.
The early mornings, the time between 5 and 5.30 am are the best for a jaunt down the agraharams. That is when the women come out in all purity to draw those intricate kolams in front of their homes or even on narrow strips of slabs. The times have changed and so have the kolams. They are no more the elaborately crafted large designs. Nobody has the time nor the energy for such intricate kolams now. Yet, what little remains of them are designed beautifully and finely. It is a Tamil Brahmin woman’s prerogative to draw the kolam and she will carry on the tradition come what may.
Long “item” boards are displayed in front of almost all homes. They bear the names of all the kondattams and delicacies sold in their respective homesteads. These kondattams have earned for Kalpathy its heritage status and a name that spells taste in its purest form.
People are just about waking up and sale begins only quite late in the morning. A small shop in a corner is open and sells kondattams, murukku, chammanthi podi, veppilakatti, idli podi and several other home-made items. There are several flavours of delicious rice sadam. The “thamara valayam” is a Kalpathy-special kondattam. These are dry lotus root fryums. The lotus roots are boiled, sun-dried and salted. They can be preserved for long and fried when needed.
Coffee done, it is time for a bite. And the bite has to be idlis – from Ramassery. Once you move out of Puthussery, you need to take the country road inside. The roads and the scenes here are very rustic. A short auto ride brings you to the doorsteps of Sree Saraswathy Tea Stall at Ramassery, a small roadside eatery caught in a time warp. The place is straight out of an old-time classic, the quintessential tea stall. But for the woman in the cashier’s chair and a man moving about with his chores, there’s not a soul around. However, the idlis are ready.
In a room inside, Ramassery’s yummy idlis are being steamed. There sits an earthen pot over an earthen hearth. The man ladles out specially-prepared idli batter on to a piece of cloth spread inside the idli moulds. The mould is then placed over the pot. Several such moulds are stacked one over the other. When the idlis are done, he shakes them out into another vessel. In a small room outside, a grinder sits whirring, doing its work for the next day’s idlis.
There is just this one family in Ramassery which makes the idlis. The family is planning to open a few outlets outside. The idlis going by the same Ramassery name are not the original ones. Two idlis are served on a big table, along with chutney powder and ulli chammanthi. On top of the idlis is a spread of coarsely ground coconut chutney that tastes divine. And of course, there’s the Ramassery podi to go with it. Pay Rs 14 for two sets of idlis. They pack the idlis for you if you don’t have the time to enjoy them at the stall.
Buses seldom ply the route. And you cannot hope for a bus back to Palakkad either. The only way to get to Palakkad is to go via Puthussery. Were Ramassery’s idlis worth all this trouble? The taste of the idlis and their chutneys is still fresh in the mouth. Bus or no bus, who wouldn’t venture out for some?
Palakkad is famous for its cuisine, its sweets, fryums and delicacies. And outstanding among these are Kalpathy’s kondattams and Ramassery’s idlis. Head to Palakkad just to savour their taste. It should be worth all the trouble.