Photo: Shutterstock/Santhosh Varghese

Taste of Malabar | Exploring the gastronomy map of Thalassery & Kozhikode

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 flavours. They will write essays on the versatility of Biryani or the uniqueness of fried Kallumakkayas, and will give you a long list of dishes they consider their own. It’s an experience to walk through the streets of Thalassery and Kozhikode and savour the ocean of flavours that are guaranteed to tantalize your taste buds.

You ask and they will serve you – from creamy mutton korma, beef varattiyathu, airy pathiris, irachi pathal and kallumakkayas, the list never ends.

Malabar’s Paris

Thalassery is a foodie’s paradise. It is said that the food that gets appreciated by the people of Thalassery will be a hit anywhere in the world. And of course, it is common knowledge they are ready to travel far and wide for food. When guests reach the Paris Hotel in Thalassery, they are confused by the sheer variety of dishes. “Where to start?”

By the time the dum for the biryani is getting ready, they start getting impatient. Suddenly the conversations and thoughts flow around the biryani. Various masalas sauteed in ghee, added with mutton, dry fruits and the final garnish with coriander leaves make Thalassery biryani a gastronomic wonder. That aroma that emanates out of that cauldron can make your tummy growl with hunger. At the Paris Hotel, you will discover that all the stories about its biryani are true.

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After a plateful of biryani, walk straight into this restaurant near the new bus stand and the waft of fried chicken is too tempting to ignore. That dish is chicken pentagon, named after America’s Pentagon at Rara Avis Restaurant and is a blockbuster hit at Thalassery. They can’t get enough of this fried chicken which is sauteed in tomato sauce and garlic paste before serving.

“This is our success. We will experiment and find our own flavours. And that will be a blend of new and old ones,” says Rara Avis owner Hashim.

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In search of chicken legs

Have you heard of the unique chicken leg made of tapioca? It’s a must-try street snack at Thalassery, made with thinly sliced tapioca marinated in masalas and deep-fried.

Then, of course, there will be irachi pathal, kinnathappam, stuffed egg, mutta surka, appam and 'kilikoodu' which is made from eggs, masala and mixture. Nowhere will you get so many options with your evening chai.

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“The first thing they ask a girl from Thalassery is about the variety of snacks you can prepare. Though I know a few snacks, I still can’t match up to my mom’s cooking,” says Ashika, a student of Farook College, Kozhikode.

If Thalassery gets a bit lazy after sunset, its neighbourhood city shows no sign of slowing down even at night. Welcome to another gastronomic heaven – Kozhikode.

Food served with love

Be it biryani or Suleimani, they add dollops of love along with the ingredients that make them so delicious. That’s why people return to taste the food of Kozhikode, also called the food capital of the state. Kozhikode isn’t just about the food, but also about love, friendship and hospitality.

The people of Kozhikode believe that everything should start on a positive note. That’s why you will see auto drivers returning excess meter cash in coins to the last rupee.

They love serving food and the day always begins on a tasty note. Some of the morning delicacies include elanchi which is a sweet thin pancake made of flour, stuffed with shredded coconut, sugar and dry fruits, ila ada, a sweet made of rice, coconut and jaggery wrapped in banana leaf and steamed, mutton cutlets. Every snack is tempting enough to go for a second or third cup of chai.

Be it morning joggers or those who are here for some work, their day in the city invariably begins at a tea stall. Before reaching out for their homecooked breakfast of pathiri or dosa, they have to first get satiated with a cup of kaali chai and deep-fried banana fritters. It is said that there are people who just go for a morning walk solely for the purpose of having this calorific but immensely satisfying quick meal.

The Bombay Hotel near the beach is where you will get a tasty platter of snacks. Though the city is getting updated with changing times, the 60-year-old Bombay Hotel’s snacks remain legendary.

Bombay Hotel, Kozhikode
Photos: Badusha

Those who travel to Kozhikode are advised by friends to try their biryani and vellappams. Really? Are vellappams and fish curry such a huge deal? That would be their counter question! But the minute they taste the soft white vellappams and coconut roasted fish curry at the Paragon Hotel there, all their doubts will be instantly squashed. Pair that with Kozhikode’s own ‘ammayithava’ and your day instantly gets brighter.

“Ammayithava is a Kozhikode specialty. This 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 chillies, tamarind, shallots and tawa fried. And it was so delicious that people would just take a flight from the Middle East to taste it,” says Paragon Hotel’s chief chef Soman.

Chunks of chicken wrapped in fragrant pandanus leaves and deep-fried called Pandanas chicken, white pepper prawns are some of the signature dishes of Chef Soman. Paragon is the go-to-place for some quintessential Kozhikode dishes.

Sarbath, rice and biryani

As you step out of Paragon after a heavy meal, you might spot a long queue of people on the right side. No, there aren’t there to buy their daily pint of liquor but to taste some milk sarbath. By the way, not just any milk Sarbath, it has to be from Bhaskarettan’s shop. Anyone from Kozhikode will vouch for its mind-blowing taste! Some handful of crushed ice first goes into a tall glass, followed by some sarbath and milk and voila, you get your milk sarbath. There is a special rhythm in Bhaskarettan’s hands when he assembles the drink. Kozhikode’s best-kept secret for years, no one knows its recipe than Bhaskarettan. It’s a tiny nondescript shop with no chairs but people keep coming back with friends and family.

Thattukada, Kozhikode

Equally special is Kozhikode’s special plantain leaf fish curry meals. Fluffy white rice is paired with a variety of fried fish. “Though there is sambar, avial and pickle, people still ask for the masala crumbs that come with fried fish. Some days even if rice and curries will be left, there will be a shortage of fish,” informs Amma Mess’s Sanal. For the people of Kozhikode, this mess that has been around for 16 years is the closest to homecooked food they can get.

If you crave some 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,” assures a frequent visitor there.

Suleimani and snacks

It is said that by the time you finish your biryani and Suleimani, the aroma of freshly made snacks would have already caught your nose. It will float in and around Mittayi Theruvu (SM Street) and the Mavoor Road. And wherever you turn, there will be plates loaded with fried snacks inside glass cabinets. From boiled eggs stuffed inside fried chicken called kozhinirachathu, a quaint looking pudding called muttamala, unnakkaya which is a cylindrical shaped snack made with crushed bananas, shredded coconut, sugar and dry fruits or chatti pathiri, which is a rice bread stuffed with meat. You can easily expect at least 5 to 10 snacks at any tea shop in the city. 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 justice to them.

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If you are planning a walk on the beach to burn those calories, you won’t get any respite as even more food surrounds you. Kallumakkayas will be getting 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, jackfruits to apples soaked inside glass jars waiting to be devoured. How can you forget the city’s famous ice candies (water-based frozen confectionary)? Called ice orathi, you will get both salted, sweet and spicy versions.

If there is one thing you can’t escape when you are in this city, then it is their hospitality. Don’t try a visit if you are on a diet (or trying portion controlling). They will keep piling your plates with food and by the time you have retired to bed after a heavy meal, they would already be planning a breakfast of pathiri and beef curry for you.  

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