Beypore is soaked in history. A walk down its rugged roads is like a time-travel into a hoary past. It’s a port town flanked by the Chaliyar and the vast expanse of Arabian Sea. Though geographically small, it has a glorious history of trade and commerce, of locally-built urus (fat wooden ships) sailing off to Arabian lands, of an influx of flavours from all over the world, especially from Persia, and of Vaikom Mohammad Basheer, the Sultan of Beypore, who loved to languish under the mangosteen tree in his armchair, soaking in his favourite Hindustani ghazals.
And today, there’s Eettikka and his finger-lickin’ biryani!
Beypore still retains its romance with history. The streets are narrow and the buildings, small. It’s a small bazaar. The air is heavy with the smell of sea and the raisin rubbed onto the urus. All roads lead ultimately to the banks of either the Chaliyar or the sands of the sea.
One can walk for miles along the sea shore. The road to the left opens out to the harbour and the right takes you to Pulimuttu, the almost 1-km-long bridge made of stones that stretches out into the sea. Walk up to its end and turn back. The sight is spectacular. The foamy sea hitting the rocks and the stones is a sight for always. The local folks say you can even spot dolphins from here if you are lucky.
With the trawling ban in force, the beach is packed with rows of boats. There’s a stillness everywhere, broken only by the quiet sounds of a few fisher folk busy fixing boats, doing repairs, and stitching up torn nets. The urus are also still. The harbour is in slumber. The only vibrant sign of life is the junkar service from Beypore to Chaliyam. Yonder lies the lighthouse on the bank opposite. The sight lingers. But the best is yet to come - Eettikkan’s biryanikada!
There it is, Eettikkan’s biryani joint bang opposite to the Beypore bus stand. A T Biryani Centre is the favorite haunt of foodies. The biryani shop stands next to a hotel called A T Palace. The A T Biryani Centre can easily be missed, for the name board is hardly visible from a distance.
There are tables and chairs arranged inside, and the biryani, steaming hot, comes in a jiffy. The very native-flavoured biryani comes along with curd-based salad and spicy pickle. Serving the food with love is Beypore’s A T Ashraf, or Eettikka, as he’s fondly called.
Eeettikka is to Beypore what Kayikka is to Kochi. Alunkal Thazethodi Ashraf has been serving biryani to thousands of people for the past 30 years. Beypore’s biryani man was just 18 when a friend taught him how to make this most popular Arabian dish. He opened his shop when he turned 24. Eetikka charges Rs 100 for a full biryani. With chicken, beef and eggs, it’s a full meal, lip-smackingly delicious. Work gets going by 11 am and goes on non-stop till the shutters are down by 11 pm.
The seafarers who set out from the harbour are A T’s regulars. They not only dine, but also pack up biryani for the next couple of days. The seamen vouch for the joy of enjoying biryani while bobbing up and down the high waves.
Eettikkaa’s biryani is made with Kaima rice and cooked the traditional way. The quality and flavour of the biryani lies in the texture of rice. If the rice is not up to the mark, the biryani takes the hit, says Ashraf. It’s not just the cook who needs to be lauded. The taste of the dish lies in the deft hands of the man who serves it. Only the right mix of rice, the masalas and the meat makes a biryani tasty. And these have to be served with some artistry, says Ashraf.
Eettikka is not to be mistaken for a small-time food-maker. He’s into big-time biryani business with his A T Dum Biryani Centre in Mangalapuram doing brisk business and a posh new hotel coming up in Farook. Though friends and well-wishers have suggested catchy names like “Silver Spoon” and “Red Pepper” for the new joint, Ashraf will have it only as “Eettikkante Hotel”. He is sentimentally attached to the name “Eettikka” which people around have bestowed on him so lovingly.
Beypore harbour was once a stronghold of maritime trade around Kozhikode. Somewhere in the volumes of history lies the story of the wise King Solomon’s connection with Beypore. That was the time when there was much activity around the urus. Trade was booming and life was good. It’s been recorded that the entrance to the city of Jerusalem was crafted in Malabar teak brought from Beypore. The ancient civilization of Sumeria also had clear and distinct ties with that of Kozhikode, with urus sailing regularly from Beypore harbour to Sumeria. The urus-making also had direct links with the Silk Route trade, says historical records.
History once again records that Cheraman Perumal, the last link in the famous Chera dynasty, set sail for Mecca to embrace Islam 1300 years ago. He took to the high seas in Beypore’s urus.
The history of the Parappanad feudal state of Malabar is also linked with the invasion of Hyder Ali and his son Tippu Sultan and the lordship of the Zamorins. The Parappanad kings had two feudal states – one in Beypore, Kozhikode, and the other in Parappanangadi, Malappuram. The Beypore branch was known as North Parappanad.
The Karippa kovilakam, which once ruled over Beypore, had the wharf, the ship breaking yard, fishing harbour, coast guard station and other subjects of maritime interest under its direct control.
The Parappanad Kovilakam suffered heavy losses due to Tippu’s Sultan’s onslaught. Fearing for their lives, several princes and princesses of kovilakam sought refuge in the Travancore Royal kingdom.
The King of Travancore built four kovilakams for the princesses who sought refuge with him – Mavelikkara, Haripad, Changanassery and Kilimanoor. The complete artist Raja Ravi Varma, great men of letters like Kerala Varma Valiya Koyi Thampuran and A R Raja Raja Varma, are all descendants of this Parappanad royal lineage.
Of particular interest is another historical fact. The first train in Malabar ran its first service from Beypore to Tirur.
Dig up the past, dine on Eettikkan’s biryani and look up the urus, where the past merges with the present in Beypore.