When I hired an autorickshaw from Thondayadu Junction in Kozhikode, my heart was, in fact, hastening faster than the vehicle to reach the ‘Thattukada’ on Bypass Road. My thrill seemed contagious – the driver was pumped up to hear the name ‘Thattukada,' renowned for about 60 varieties of yummy dishes.
More surprises awaited me as I alighted – there were vehicles of all kind, ranging from Audi cars to light cargo carriers. The queue easily outnumbered the ones in front of liquor outlets. When I scrambled for a seat, someone promised: ‘wait a moment please.' That’s all. He disappeared like steam from the 'puttu' cylinder.
My glance glided through the mouth-watering delicacies on the tables. On one, there was king fish curry spread over puttu and it tempted me like an enchantress. On another plate, hot porotta was getting drenched in beef curry. I was eager to grab a seat. But when would I get one!
Kada, Chukka, Njandu, Muyal…
“Menu please…” that was all I asked. The reply was a long and disarming rendition of the list of delicacies in one single breath. I had never heard some names he uttered.
“Kada (quail), chukka, njandu (crab), muyal (rabbit), prawns, chinnamutta, beef, liver, chicken biriyani, beef biriyani, kada biriyani, puttu, ney pathiri, ari pathiri, chappathi, porotta, ghee roast, masala dosa, appam, chicken samosa, chatty pathiri, pazham nirachathu… ”
I at once ordered porotta and 'ney meen' curry. The fish curry scared me with its deep red hue. Sensing my hesitation, the man said, “don’t worry about the color. We have used premium Kashmiri chili. It is not so hot as you think. We never use spurious ingredients. Trust me.” It was Gafoor who spoke to me. He was one of the spearheads of the hotel. I poured a little from the fish curry on the porotta.
Let us now listen to the story of the famous ‘Thattukada.' it is not just the tale of an eatery but one which is flavored by the struggles of Gafoor and his brothers.
Gafoor, a native of Karadiparambu on Bypass Road, was originally a wood worker. Like many others of his ilk, Gafoor used to take enormous wooden logs, fastened in a file, through the river to the Eranhipalam Mill. It was a tedious task that demanded a great deal of will power and physical strength. For Gafoor, life was no different. His father died when he was still a boy, leaving the responsibility of his four brothers and two sisters on him.
Love – that was the fastening agent that kept the siblings together in all struggles. Now, Mohammed Koya, one of the younger brothers, took over the role of the story teller. He narrated the rest of the story.
“When we were small, our uncle ran a hotel named ‘Namaste’ in Kozhikode. Ikka, who had seen it, nurtured a fascination for that business. That was how he set up a tiny ‘Thattukada’ five years ago. When we came here for the first time, it was an unexplored uncrowded place. Today, things have changed. Now, there are about eight restaurants on the stretch till Ramanattukara; most of those fairly big. Even though our Thattukada was a small one, we served about fifteen dishes from start,” he said.
At this point, he was requisitioned to the kitchen to fix a grinder.
This is no place to sit calm and sip your soup. The whole ambiance is boisterous. The sizzling sound of chicken emanating from the kitchen, the loud laughter of customers over jokes cracked by someone… Most of the tables were occupied by families. Dining here becomes a celebration. A large family runs the hotel; and large families gather here to dine and celebrate!
The hotel is run by Gafoor, his sister Suhra, brothers Ismail and Mohammed Koya. They have hired workers too. Suhra is in charge of meals, while Sameera, Mohammed Koya's wife, is the snacks person. Gafoor scouts the market at 3 am Ismail gets the kitchen going early with cooks Rajesh and Muneer. Mohammed Koya does the general supervision.
Every hand is ready to take up any job. Ajmal, Anwar and Rishad, the next generation, chip in before and after school.
Mohammed Koya is now back after fixing the grinder. “Our staff work here like family. Everyone is paid. Our employees like it here despite the hectic schedule,” Koya says.
“We make our masala ourselves. We need about hundred kilograms of 'puttu' flour a day. We prepare the whole thing. We wash the rice and grind it. Ikka has a passion for doing these things. Serving hygienic and affordable food, that is his motto. Ikka says that we get what is due to us. That is enough,” Koya says.
A lunch with four curries and a pappadam costs only Rs 35 rupees. It is Rs five for a chicken samosa. The brothers do not believe in making profit that is disproportionate. They know that money earned thus will not turn a blessing in life.
Rajesh, the chef, says chicken 'chukka' and thala curry are the 'king' dishes. “The head part of ney meen (king fish) is used to prepare thala curry. Cooking thala curry is not easy. Cleaning the fish is a task. The demand for chicken chukka and crab curry are high. Chicken chukka is prepared by applying masala over roasted chicken.”
Except during the Nombu season, the restaurant functions 24 X7. The employees work in shifts to ensure seamless functioning. The breakfast is ready by 6 am. Preparation for lunch will be in full swing by 10.30 am. The next shift begins at 5 pm. A second cook takes the reins by 10 pm. Thala curry will be ready only by noon,” Rajesh said as he sprinkled grated onion on the biryani platter.
A special drink
Suddenly, a glass of ball grapes appeared on the table. It is special drink served here. Peeled grapes floated on the grape juice. It was ‘ice cool’ and fairly sweet. While you sip the drink, you can savor the grapes too. The juice tasted a tad different from the ones we get elsewhere. It is their trade secret!
As I was about to bid farewell, I saw Gafoor at the entrance. “By the grace of God, we go on. Work hard and we will be able to survive – that is our belief. I have only desire - every customer stepping out of this hotel must have a smile of satisfaction. That is what makes life worth living,” he says.