Veteran actor Maniyanpillai Raju is a self-confessed foodie who loves trying out different cuisines and dishes. However, he has a special love for some of the iconic dishes that are unique to his hometown in Thiruvananthapuram.
The actor shares his favourite food memories that are nostalgic and special. He remembers that the present-day Chala market, especially the Kethel restaurant in Thiruvananthapuram, hasn't changed much since the olden days. He is proud and elated about the great culinary heritage of the capital city.
"My father Sekharan Nair was a big foodie. He knew the places in the city where good food was available and took me with him. During those days, we lived near the Model School in Thampanoor. It was my father who took me to the iconic Kethel restaurant, for the first time, 50 years ago. That hotel hasn't changed much since then," recalls Maniyanpillai.
Not just Maniyanpillai Raju, film personalities like Mohanlal, Priyadarshan, G Sureshkumar and Sanal Kumar, too, have enjoyed the food at Kethel in their childhood. Raju says that a huge portrait of Sri Chithirannal, the Maharaja of the erstwhile Travancore province, was kept inside the Kethel restaurant earlier.
The actor recalls how he did a rather nasty mischief just to find money to have food at Kethel's. "One night, I removed the brass tap in front of our house and buried it under the soil. Next morning, when my father woke up, he found the front yard flooded. Everyone in the family began discussing about the thief who stole the tap. To save myself, I said that the thieves roaming the city at night may have stolen our tap as well. Next day, I took out the buried tap and sold it at the Chaala market. Using that money, I had food to my heart's content from Kethel Restaurant."
In another incident, Raju, who was studying in class 6 then, sold all his books at a rag shop as soon as his school closed for summer vacation. That day, too, he enjoyed the delicious food at Kethel Restaurant with that money. But, as fate would have it, he flunked the exam and had to repeat a year in class 6. Raju says his father beat him on the day when the results came, not just because he had failed but for selling the old books as well. That year, his father had to buy him new books again.
"Once, when Mammootty was staying at the Taj, I sent him food from Kethel. He liked it and bought it again. Besides, he asked his wife to learn the recipe of that dish. She examined the chicken dish and somewhat understood its preparation. Recently, when I visited Mammootty's house, I had a chicken dish prepared by Mammootty's wife. It tasted almost similar to the famous Kethel chicken. I had also taken actors like Ratheesh and Jagadeesh to the Kethel restaurant and bought them the delicious chicken dish there," says Maniyanpillai Raju.
Around two and a half years ago, one of Raju's friends from Dubai visited the actor at Thiruvananthapuram. Just as he would treat everyone of his friends, Raju took this friend to the Kethel restaurant. Six months later, the friend called Raju at one of his locations and said that he had booked his ticket directly to Thiruvananthapuram.
"When I told him that I was away shooting for a movie, he said, to my utter shock, that the taste of the Kethel chicken was still on his palette. He had planned to have food at the restaurant and then take a taxi back to Kochi," recalls Raju with a smile.
Maniyanpillai Raju shares the recipe of his favourite pressure cooker biryani which he says is an absolute winner at his home. This recipe can easily feed five people.