Jaywalk down Kozhikode’s busy streets for a feel of the city. Could those great men of yore have left their footprints on these same streets? Did Vasco da Gama and his men amble along a Mittai Theruvu (Sweetmeat Street) of their time? Why did Ibn Battuta come back to Kozhikode again and again? What makes the place tick?
Its plurality of life, cultures and cuisine is what makes Kozhikode fascinating.
Was this why son of the soil S K Pottekkat could not stay away from the place for long? These and a host of other thoughts cross your mind as you walk along and set your gaze upon the great writer’s bust which stands overlooking his favourite haunt, SM Street. There’s a tale to tell at every turn and a history waiting to be revealed.
Where to on a rainy Sunday evening? What to beat the cold with? Ah, for a cup of steaming hot tea! Walk on, enjoy the drizzle and the chill till you cross a railway line and touch base at a small chai shop…our vintage country “chayakkada” - Ashoka Tea Shop. Now for that cup of tea. As you gingerly edge in, careful not to go bump on the low doorway, it’s Pottekkat again on your mind. How many times must he have been here! Could the innumerable nameless, faceless entities who sipped tea here have left their mark on his subconscious?
The minute you step in, you know you’ve been caught in a time warp. Ashoka Tea Shop is 50 years ago…very, very countryish. It’s wooden window bars, narrow wooden desks, wooden chairs and tables and wooden almirah are all so typically “chayakkadaish”. There inside the glass framed almirah sit rows of steaming hot puttu and parotta. If 30 people troop in, the shop will be full. No frills, no nonsense. The tea shop brews life. Its life is its food, unbeaten in taste. Ashoka Tea Shop today is all over social media and has made its way into the list of almost all prominent food websites and is one of the top names for food in Kozhikode. Such is its pull.
The shop was opened 50 years ago by Farook-native Sankaran who named the place after his son Ashokan. It was a foodie paradise for folks from Valyangadi to Mittai Theruvu. For labourers, workers and people from all walks of life, the shop was a blessing in that it served tea and snacks at reasonable rates. And people could trust the place. Food was clean, neat and safe.
Upma then and now has been the tea shop’s USP. Hot uppumavu and tea. Blended with an equal measure of oil and ghee, there’s nothing to match its taste anywhere near. Ashoka’s upma is a visual delight too. It’s not a coagulated lump as served elsewhere. It’s delicious. Just the right pinch of salt with green chillies and carrots finely chopped peeping through the cooked rava.
For the sides, there’s either boiled banana or large pappadam or two spoons of sugar. But the deadliest combination is upma and egg roast. You just sit glued to your desk asking for more and more. The evenings here are jam-packed with diners coming in for a bite of Ashoka’s upma and egg roast along with a glass of hot tea. One bite will not suffice.
There are hotels aplenty in the city, serving style with substance. But when gripped by nostalgia for a time gone by, for those good old days and food that’s mum-cooked, folks come to Ashoka’s old, roof-tiled tea shop.
Pottekkat looks down from his perch. He understands.