Food and travel are Shiyas Kareem's twin passions with the model-cum-actor plumping for "homely" and traditional food. With his tingling taste buds, he almost always remembers the places from where he’s had the best stuff. However, there's one particular place which stands out and it was en route a holiday in Goa.
Enjoying the thrill of a solo, impromptu motorcycle ride, Shiyas had crossed over to Mangalore and was riding to Bhatkal when the bike was hit by a snag. Night had already fallen and the road was almost deserted but for an occasional lorry which drove past him. He parked the vehicle by the road and was looking around when he spotted what looked like a light quite a distance away, down a slope. Mustering his courage, he went down the slope in the hope of getting help. As he walked on he realized that the light was from a small hut. A closer look revealed a man, quite an impoverished one at that, sitting by the rag-tag hut.
Shiyas spoke in Hindi and told him what he was looking for. He needed help. The man asked him to step in and take a seat.
Shiyas remembers that his tummy had started rumbling, for he hadn’t had a morsel in a long time. He looked around and it was apparent that the family was all set to have the last meal of the day when the stranger stepped in. Shiyas, realizing that the family, the man, his wife, and his two children had food only just enough for themselves, chose to keep quiet. But he was in for a shock when the impoverished host offered him a “portion” of their meal – two chappatis and some masala curry. They were not chappatis, but big rotis baked in an earthen oven.
"I've never had such tasty food," gushes Shiyas. He also remembers how close he was to tears as he chewed down his food. There were hardly any dishes there and he says he was given his share after one of them had eaten and the plate washed. His host almost apologetically said they never had visitors or guests coming their way.
That night, Shiyas and his host slept in the verandah. There was no power supply, no small comforts, no mercies. So pathetic was their livelihood. It looked like a scene out of a movie.
Shiyas remembers waking up to a steaming hot cup of tea brewed in thick milk. It was no ordinary tea, says the actor. The thick, fresh milk came from the goats they were rearing. The tea’s enhanced flavor came from the family's "secret" masala mix. Along with it came a dish of pulses flavored with the masala. That was the family's breakfast.
"I've never had such delicious food," says Shiyas. The food was tinged with their love, hospitality, and generosity, which perhaps were the finest ingredients that went into it. Though he never asked for anything, that family realized his needs and gave him their all. So large-hearted were they, he says.
Shiyas was left wondering about the place he had landed in. It looked like the back of beyond. No mobile network coverage either. To this day, that man from nowhere, his family, and the food they served are fresh in his memory.
If you ask him for the food he loves most, he has a ready reply: His Umma's food, of course! "My Umma's poot and fish curry or her beef curry are my favourites ….any day, any time."
Another hot item is his friend Bunaya's beef biriyani which he serves in his eatery, New Sagar Hotel in Perumbavoor. The flavor of Bunaya’s biriyani is a class apart, adds Shiyas.