Kozhikode residents, familiar with traditional Malabar biriyani for years, were taken on an offbeat gastronomical journey at a new restaurant that opened in 1949 – Bombay Hotel. Foodies heading to this Kerala city have always rushed to Bombay Hotel, which became synonymous with dum biriyani, and it has been their first port of call ever since. The improvised snacks offered made the restaurant a favourite among local people too. After nearly 70 years, Bombay Hotel is a favourite among the new generation also.
Starter: Tea and snacks
Patrons reach the restaurant, situated near the beach on the corner of the road that leads from Corporation Office to Big Bazaar, from early morning. Narrow steps lead to the serving area. The place is a favourite among morning walkers on the beach. Youngsters arriving on the beach for a game of football also make it a point to reach Bombay Hotel for a ‘tea and bite’. There are also auto drivers and traders heading to Big Bazaar to open their shops. The menu is tea, sukhiyan and tea cake.
Bombay Hotel was the realisation of the dream of Edakkad Kunhahammed, an expert chef hailing from Thalasseri, to open his own restaurant. During its launch in 1949, it flaunted the latest architectural style. It had white-painted windows, tile-roofed upper storey and other attractions. Recently, Bombay Hotel received a makeover, along with change of guard. A new generation of owners, Kunhahammed’s son Muhammed Najib and siblings,took over.
Everyone is curious how a restaurant in Kozhikode got the name ‘Bombay’. Najib explains, “At that time, naming restaurants and hotels after other cities was the trend. Rangoon Hotel, Paris restaurant, Colombo Hotel and other similar outlets came up along with Bombay Hotel. Right next to our restaurant there was ‘Madras cafe. When baapa (father) opened his restaurant, he preferred ‘Bombay.’”
By 10 am, the supply of tea and snacks peters out and the kitchen comes alive with preparations for dum - one that is cooked with steam. The ingredients, the method and the dedication have remained the same all these years. Sweet scent of chicken biriyani spreads from the kitchen to all around.
Lunch: Biriyani time
It’s nothing but biriyani for lunch - that is the policy for customers reaching Bombay Hotel from noon. Chicken biriyani is the favourite of all. Local residents as well as travellers have been served the same taste all these years, but they have never felt bored. There is also fish biriyani and mutton. But beef is missing. “Bombay Hotel has never served beef; for that you have to go to the Rahmath Hotel,” says Najib.
“Patrons will rush in if good food is served whole-heartedly. There is no need to compete with other restaurants or open several branches," he explains.
Another fast-moving item is ghee rice and kozhi kutty, which is a combo of ghee rice and spring chicken. Many people order chicken curry as a side dish.
Bombay Hotel draws repeat customers with the taste of the food, cleanliness as well as its customer-friendliness. The hotel has attracted a faithful clientele who attest to their faith in the food outlet. Vijayan is one among them. “I have been visiting this place for the last 37 years. Mutton biriyani is my favourite. I have never felt that the taste should change and feel the same thrill I felt savouring it for the first time,” he says.
“Kunhahammed, the founder of the hotel, had once refused to serve biriyani when he felt the scent while opening the dum was different. Such is the trust the hotel has developed,” he adds.
Vijayan and family reach Bombay Hotel at least once a month.
Evening: A feast of snacks
By around 3 pm, the biriyani ‘festival’ come to a close and a feast of snacks awaits visitors.
While the restaurant offered a thin menu in the morning, it will be a tough task in the evenings to choose the best from the snacks available. In fact, it is during this time that Bombay Hotel witnesses the biggest crowd. The most favourite item is 'chattippathiri'. Masala chattippathiri is made by blending chicken and onion; and wrapping it with chapattis. Ordinary chattippathiri comes with egg and raisins in place of chicken.
Another snack much in demand is elanchi. It is prepared using banana, coconut, sugar and raisins as ingredients. Along with black tea, it makes a good combination.
Najib describes the USP of the snacks, “We are offering the same taste for the last several decades. Hassan ikka (brother) of Kakkodi was in charge of making the snacks for over 40 years. He passed on his knowledge to another person, who taught the same method to yet another chef.”
Many people order mutton cutlet too. The dish is different from the cutlets served in other hotels. In Bombay Hotel, mutton cutlet is served along with the white of the egg.
“By 8 pm, the snacks will be sold out. Several people come here seeking parcels, but we don’t accept too many parcel orders. Our first preference is the customers who come to have food from here,” says Salim while serving the tables.
The evening rush is such that there is hardly space to move around in Bombay Hotel. Borrowing a dialogue from a Mammootty movie, one can say, “Kozhikode may not be the old Kozhikode, but Bombay Hotel is still the old Bombay Hotel.”