“The Portuguese are very friendly. They learned it from us,” Moza tells the tourists who mill around at the beach to hear him sing.
Calicut or Kozhikode is known for its friendly people, from tuk-tuk drivers who become your tour guide, the moment you step into their ride to the salesmen at SM Street who call you into the shops and make your try their sweets, for free.
When Vasco Da Gama first landed in India on the shores of Calicut, he paved a path through which Arabs, the English, the Dutch and the French came. The spice trade got them what they sought, but somehow, they missed the food of Calicut.
Unsurprisingly, Calicut's cuisine has been influenced by Arabian tastes - check out the mix of local spices and cooking techniques which formed the Moplah (Malayalam-speaking Muslim community) cuisine. Today, after centuries, Calicut is still sought after by tourists, not for spices but for the mouth-watering authentic cuisine of Malabar.
Here's how to do a food trail in Kerala's foodie hub.
Fish for Breakfast
Breakfast is a very serious business for Malabar people. They flow into eateries here as early as 7am. Hotel Paragon beneath the UH Flyover on Kannur road is a popular joint whch serves hot steamy breakfast food without a wait. The iconic restaurant has been operating since 1939 and their Fish Mango Curry is the star of the show. Prepared with coconut milk, the smooth creamy fish curry features raw mango slices. Pair the dish with Velleppam, a type of pancake made with rice batter, for the perfect Malabar breakfast. Tea is almost an unavoidable part of breakfast in Kerala. Have a glass of Podi-Chaya (unfiltered tea) to finish off the meal.
Opposite Hotel Paragon lies Bhaskarettante Kada. This half-a-decade old joint serves a unique drink, the Milk Sharbat. The long glass of milk mixed with sugar syrup and essence of the sarsaparilla plant along with crushed ice is a refreshing drink, unique to the streets of Calicut. Walk across the street to Market Road after that and explore the busy and stringy lane hosting age-old buildings that tell tales of the trade routes. Walk around, click pictures of the architectural relics and soon. it’s time for lunch.
Halwa for Dessert
Hotel Rehmath on AG Road, established in 1961, is the connoisseur of the Malabar Dum Biryani. It is prepared with a special variety of rice called Jeerakasala, small-grained rice known for its delicious aroma and taste and made with with dum in large handis sealed with dough to trap the steam, which then cooks the meat or rice until tender. You must have the kada (quail) biryani, though their mutton version is something special. Served with dates chutney, raita, and lemon pickle, the biryani experience here is unparalleled.
At a walking distance from the hotel, lies SM Street or Sweet Meat Street as the British named it. However, the locals know it by ‘Mittayi Therivu’, which translates to 'sweet street'. The street is jampacked with bakers selling the same thing – the Calicut halwa. Tender and rich with taste, the flavours of the halwa on offer here range from coconut and jaggery to mango and chilli. Just enter any of the shops here and the customer is free to try any of the halwas for free, that’s quite an offer.
Beach Biryani and Chai
Evening strolls at the Calicut beach is magical. Apart from the long shoreline and endless waves, the beach hosts small tea stalls who serve some lip-smacking evening snacks. Kaada Mutta, chilli-coated boiled quail eggs, and Ari Kadukka, fried mussels with a rice coating served with the shell, are the local favourites along with the black tea Sulaimani. The mobile stall vendors serve a variety of fruits kept in brine. However, for a more authentic and unique evening tea, one can head to Adaminte Chayakada or Adam’s teashop.
The place is comparatively new yet flaunts the Portuguese heritage property it is set up in. The ‘dancing tea’ aka biryani chai is the crowd favourite. Served with distinctive layers of tea, milk, and foam on a glass, the tea tastes as fancy as it looks. Mutta Mala, meaning ‘egg garlands’, is another dish to try. Made entirely of eggs and sugar syrup, it is believed to be brought to Calicut by the Portuguese. Mashed boil bananas stuffed with grated coconut called Unnakaya and different varieties of pathiri, a stuffed bread, are other popuar options.
The Local Pancake
Calicut is filled with eateries. Newer ones tend to serve real Arabic dishes, prepared by Gulf-returned chefs. However, no food pilgrimage of Calicut is complete without trying the paper-soft Ari-Pathiri, a flat bread made of rice flour. Almost all eateries here have the dish on the menu, however, the Bombay Hotel located at Silk Street leads the popularity charts. The decades-old restaurant serves the puffy and smooth dish along with chicken, mutton, or fish. One better than the other, the chicken fry is a local go-to. While in Calicut, eat like a Malabari. Finish off the dinner with a black tea prepared with cardamom, ginger, and lemon, known as Sulaimani. Grab a packet of fresh, crispy banana chips from a near bakery and the food trail is complete.