It's time to open the vessel in which the biriyani has been cooking slowly. The smell of cashew nuts and onions tossed in ghee fills the air. We are in the kitchen of one of the oldest restaurants in Kollam, the Fayalwan Hotel. Situated near Chamakada, this hotel is not one of the classiest addresses in town. But what makes Fayalwan special is the sumptuous food and the loyal following that it has built up over the last eighty years.
A flashback. Long long ago, wrestling used to be a popular sport in this part of town. Wrestlers from far and wide used to arrive here and Jonakappuram Kaithavila Puthenveettil Muhammed Kunj, a wrestler himself, decided to start a hotel which could cater to these wrestlers among others. 'These wrestlers were called 'fayalwans' and the name just stuck', says Ashiq, who now runs the restaurant.
The old restaurant used to be a proper working man's diner. The walls had pictures of those old wrestlers who used to patronise the place. It had benches and desks. When times changed, they decided to renovate the place. The restaurant, which threw open its doors to the diners after renovation last November, is now more spacious than it used to be. The pictures are still there – enlarged, and the interiors done up to suit the ambiance.
The must try out dish here, obviously, is the biriyani. Mutton and Chicken biriyanis have many takers. What makes it special here is the fact that coconut oil and pearl onions are used for the cooking. Onions, garlic and ginger are sautéed and mutton pieces are added to it and cooked. The secret of the taste is in the seasoning. Curry leaves, garlic and chilli powder are sautéed in oil and added to the curry before cooking. The mutton pieces cook while simmering in boiling oil, wrapped in thickening chili gravy, exuding the aroma of pearl onions.
The kitchen springs to life, thanks to the deft stewardship of chef Noor Muhammed and Muthu. It has been twenty five years since Tamil Nadu native Muthu joined Fayalwan. The restaurant’s owner Ashiq says that the taste has not changed one bit even if the plantain leaves have given way to plates as the carriers of the delicious dishes.
Main Road, Chamakkada, Kollam