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Friday, April 24, 2015

Fantastic Meals and Where You Can Find them (In Calicut, ie)

The days leading to marriage, I have painfully realized, can leave you with very little time at hand. A couple of my friends know that this article was originally intended to be a much larger piece -a glimpse of the past and present of Calicut. After about 20 days and more than 3000 words, I quietly accepted failure and decided to move on. So, what you are reading now is a much shorter version, covering just the most prominent aspect of Calicut - its food.

Now, if you know Calicut well, you know that you are spoiled for choice. There are too many good restaurants, and too many good dishes in each of them. Each place has its own band of loyal supporters ready to strike down any argument against their patronage. I can easily imagine someone coming up to me and questioning every word I've written below. Therefore, let me say this: What you read is purely my perspective, with slight regard for public opinion. I have avoided places that serve food that is too generic, too pricey or too pretentious. Hence, you will not find the likes of  Mezban, Hyson, Taj and Garlic routes here. I am also not paying much attention to ambience. Otherwise, Sea queen and Beach hotel would surely be on this list. What you have here instead, are restaurants fully loyal to Malabari and Kerala cuisine, some of them open minded enough to try fusion. 

1. Paragon

If you have one single meal in Calicut, this is the place you should visit. Although almost everything they make is good, where Paragon reigns supreme is in fish curries and fries. I suggest buying non veg meals and a fish fry as side dish. Avoli Tawa fry should be the first choice; ask for small fish of the day if you are ordering a second dish. Dates pickle is usually served only with Biriyani, but the staff will be happy to let you try if you ask for it.
They also have the practice of introducing exotic dishes regularly, although Thai chicken will mostly taste like Thalassery chicken here. Which is not such a bad thing after all, if you know Thalassery.
Paragon has its own interesting history. You can read more here.

Suggested meal: Lunch (before 2 pm)
Dishes to try : Non veg Meals (thali), Avoli Tawa fry, Chicken Biriyani, Appam, Dates pickle
Directions here 

2. Sarbathkada

It is hard to imagine an establishment that's more unenterprising and unassuming than Bhaskarettan's Sarbathkada. There are no seats or even a shade to escape the sun. The menu is quite short and has remained mostly unchanged since inception. To top everything, it doesn't even have a name! It's like someone put a bench by the road and started selling drinks. Except that it started almost 30 years back and serves a sarbath (corruption of sherbet) every minute for 8-9 hours. That must tell you how good they are. 
Bhaskarettan's is right opposite Paragon, and is recommended for a drink after lunch. It can get heavy, mind you. 

Suggested meal: Drink
Dishes to try : Milk Sarbath, Soda Sarbath
Directions here

3. Zains

I had to convince myself to put Zains on this list. Personally, I have not found them to be worth the hype they generate. However, I do know of many loyalists whose judgment I trust. I believe some of the love for Zains is actually disguised admiration for its owner, Zainu thatha, a women entrepreneur who has been running the restaurant single handedly for several decades now. If Malabar chicken biriyani can be split into two types - Thalassery and Tirur- named after places to the north and south of Calicut- Zains biriyani will probably fall into the latter, while Paragon comfortably sits in the former.
A word of caution - Fish biriyani and milk shakes are probably not their best efforts.

Suggested meal: Lunch/Dinner
Dishes to try : Chicken Biriyani, Kadukka(mussels) fry, Fish fry
Directions here

4. Rahmath

Rahmath hotel, till very recently was like that stubborn old man who simply refused to see the world change around him. Good thing that, because age-old muslim food traditions got preserved. A few years back, the place underwent renovation - seats were added and ample parking space was bought. The owners were smart enough to keep the food untouched. Which continues to make Rahmath the best place in Calicut for beef.

Suggested meal: Early Dinner
Dishes to try : Beef biriyani, Porotta and Beef
Directions here

5. Sagar

There was a time when Sagar served the best chicken and fish biriyani in Calicut. We even used to have healthy arguments over which Sagar - there are two branches- served the best fish biriyani, or if they were actually the same. This was about 10 years ago, before Paragon's rapid surge in quality and popularity.
Sagar didnt quite stand up to its rival, but sadly we didn't even see it try much. Biriyani is still quite good, but I want you to try Porotta and Meen mulakittath (chilli fish curry) with some black tea.

Suggested meal: Extra Late lunch/ Evening snack
Dishes to try : Porotta with fish,fish biriyani
Directions here 

6. Topform

To the perennial question of who serves the best biriyani in Calicut, Top form is still the answer for many. For several years, this place stood in the middle of everywhere, ie - SM street, and in the shadows of Paragon and Sagar. After they took over Plaza hotel in Mavoor Road, they seem to have finally come on their own. I recommend a late lunch of Porotta and Beef roast/fry, with copious amounts of black tea. Almost the only place that serves prawn biriyani, although purists would hate the idea.

Suggested meal: Extra Late lunch/ Evening snack
Dishes to try : Porotta, beef roast, beef fry, black tea
Directions here

7. Bombay hotel

Remember what I said about going to Paragon if you only have one meal in Calicut? Well, if you can squeeze in another meal, I'd like you to visit this place. If you have already had lunch, head down to Bombay for evening snacks. There are way too many of them for me to list down here - try as many as you can, with black tea. I recommend trying the sweet ones along with Mussels/ fish fry for spice.

Suggested meal: Snacks
Dishes to try : Pazham nira, Unnakkaya, Samoosa, Mussels fry, black tea.
Directions here

8. Jinan

One of the failings of this list is that it does not make any mention of street food in Calicut. There are several unnamed tuck shops on the road side, serving excellent breakfast and non veg meals. Only last november, one such place on the Kannur road opened my mind towards river fish - something I stayed away from till then. I will perhaps do more asking around and list such joints. For now, you have Jinan.
Jinan hardly qualifies as street food, but it comes pretty close. Try Kaada (quail) fry at midnight.

Suggested meal: Midnight snacks
Dishes to try : Puttu with Kaada fry
Directions here

9. Amma

Amma mess offers very little in terms of ambience and menu. They serve only lunch, for 3 hours a day. You are forced to wait it out during peak hours, and then have a meal sitting on a bench in a thatched hut with questionable air circulation. But they do get a few things right - hassle free service and good food at reasonable prices. Amma serves the best fish fry in all of Calicut. In a city that has Paragon, that's saying a lot. Also, look out for Kanji vellam (rice broth) replacing  water for lunch. If you cannot stand the humidity, I recommend takeaways.

Suggested meal : Lunch
Dishes to try : Fish fry - Avoli
Directions here

The ones which almost made it:

Salkara and McGrill are owned by Paragon and serve good quality food, like their parent. Sea queen and Beach hotel are both beach facing and naturally give you the best ambience in the city. On the beach are several street vendors selling arikkadukka ( stuffed mussels - see image) and pickled fruits. Downtown Cafe can be visited for inadvertently starting off the Kiss of Love movement, although food is hardly anything to write home about. You might also run into a few 'freakers' or 'chunck brois' and get entertained. On the MM Ali road is an unnamed thattukada serving good dosa and Duck egg omlettes on alternate days.

Suggested meal combinations:

Heavy : Lunch at Paragon, Milk Sarbath, Evening snacks at Bombay Hotel, Dinner at Rahmath
Medium : Lunch at Zains, Evening snacks at Sagar/Topform, Dinner at Paragon
Light: Lunch at Amma, Tea at Bombay Hotel, midnight dinner at Jinan

If this interests you, I recommend you watch Ustad Hotel if you havent already. Subtitles available in English.