The Fayalwan Hotel in Kollam has been going great guns, unopposed in the arena, for 80 long years. It was the dream project of a wrestler.
The hotel, every inch like a fayalwan, or a wrestler or a muscleman, has proved to be as strong as its name in the very competitive business of cuisine. There’s just one secret behind the success of Fayalwan – “Trust and trust only.” The trust and faith reposed in the Fayalwan biryani - the faith that Fayalwan biryani will always be pure, unadulterated stuff. This, precisely, is the hotel’s USP.
The hotel is splattered with images of wrestlers and in the midst rests Muhammed Kunju in a hallowed frame. He began it all, based on the foundation of honesty and trust. He bowed out, but not before handing over the baton to the able hands of his son Ashique Babu.
A jaunt to Fayalwan Hotel to dig into its famous mutton biryani is a drool-worthy experience. One could easily chomp down two plates. They are so appetizing.
It was Muhammed Kunju, once a wrestler, who got the joint going 80 years ago. Folks around were in no way tickled by Muhammed Kunju’s choice of the name Fayalwan for his eatery. Such was his commitment to wrestling and the man had felled many an adversary during his stint in the arena.
Kollam folks sat up in awe and trepidation when big names in Indian wrestling like Imam Bux, Polachira Ramachandran, and Mareech Singh descended on Kollam to have a bite of their old pal’s mutton biryani. That set in the royal mood. Fayalwan’s chairs and dining tables have always been full ever since.
Ashique Babu recalls how his father got the venture going. It was a hotel of modest proportions. By noon the place would fill up and folks would have to hang around for their turn to sit down. Today’s Fayalwan has leap-frogged out of its old confines. Babu took over from his father 22 years ago. Circumstances then forced him to shut down the joint for three years. This hiatus came as an eye-opener to the young man. Folks went on asking when the hotel would open. That a lot of people were looking forward to the rejuvenation of an old Fayalwan was a fact that touched a raw nerve, recalls Babu.
Muhammed Kunju had set up shop when Kollam was changing its profile. It was on the cusp of a transition, when the district was shedding its town image and moving over to city status. The main dishes then were mutton biryani, mutton curry and porotta. But he brought in a welcome change. The mutton was no longer the masala-soaked stuff served everywhere. Fayalwan’s mutton was low on fat and masala. And it looked good too - bright red in color. But the hotel had nothing to do with colouring agents. It used the pure colours of nature. Fresh coriander, red chilly, turmeric, shallots, ginger and garlic were the main ingredients.
Step in and you’ll be welcomed in by pictures of men in rippling muscles. It’s a wall of memories, of fayalmen who used to come to Muhammed Kunju’s hotel for their daily bread - pathiri and mutton curry.
To Kollamites, pathiri in reality used to be the ah-so-soft porotta that melted in their mouth. It was in no way even remotely related to the Kozhikkodan pathiri.
Pattathanam-native Surendran was in charge of the kitchen. After his demise, Noor Muhammed took over the biryani job. The meals are prepared by Muthuraman. Subramanian and Babu are the mutton cooks. And the food is served with love and reverence by Abhilash and Shiva Prasad.
Breakfast is ready by 8. Appam, dosa, idiappam, and porotta top the menu along with potato, Bengal gram, eggs, and mixed vegetable curries. By 11.30 am, the biryani and mutton curries are ready. And the biryani feast stretches up to 3.30 pm.
The main meal gets ready by 12 noon. Rice with thoran, mezhukkupuratti, pickle, pappadam, sambar, pulissery, and a host of other goodies complete the wholesome Kerala meals. Ever since it opened shop, fish curry and fish fry have been Fayalwan’s side specials. It’s almost always tuna for curry and seer fish for fry. Fayalwan’s mutton liver curry and appam are truly culinary specials. Mutton liver roast is another speciality. Even though the hotel chose mutton for its special brand of food, it also serves chicken curry and fry in combination with porotta and meals. It’s a delight to watch grilled chicken being served with onion and curry leaves.
Fayalwan Hotel is easy to locate. You will find it before you turn to the one-way once inside Chamakada market. Fayalwan is not just any hotel. In its history lie the dreams and aspirations of innumerable wrestlers. Make sure to step in if you happen to drive down to Kollam.