There’s a play of sights, sounds and smells to enjoy if you have nothing else to do but potter around Mananchira on a rainy evening. As you amble along, raindrops keep falling on your head and all around making you tinkle with the cold. There are droplets everywhere, in the reservoir close by, where ripple after ripple shakes up the placid waters. You can hear the rain roaring from afar till you take its hits directly. But isn’t there something in the air … something that’s playing with your nasal senses? Surely it’s not the smell of the rain or the earth. It’s a strong aroma wafting across. Something’s cooking! Something’s being fried in coconut oil… the familiar aroma of onions sizzling in boiling coconut oil. And it’s spicy! The aroma is in the air and the only recourse is to follow its trail to the Town Hall road.
It’s vintage Kozhikode, laid back, in no mood for a mad rush as you walk along. The almost hundred-year-old Crown cinema stands near the Town Hall bearing the stories of an old Calicut. The cinema was once an elite show-place for all the finest western classics, where folks got their first peep into Hollywood and its greats… with the brooding Marlon Brando and the suave Sean Connery creeping into the Kozhikodan subconscious. The Crown was the first theatre in the state to have a 70 mm screen. The seventies were the best of times when movies were seen and relished.
Despite the action and tension building up inside, people looked forward to the interval. Clouds of smell, of goodies being fried outside would come streaking in through the not-too-tightly closed doors of the cinema. The smell was irresistible. That was why the interval was looked forward to.
Just outside the walls of the cinema stood a small shop or what looked like a shop. It was in reality an eatery on wheels, a cart carrying crispy vadas, pakka vadas and ullivadas to the accompaniment of piping hot tea with the crowning glory being Kallummakkaya (mussels) fry.
Mussels fry with shells
The walk in the rain has been worthwhile. It’s a pleasure to watch Kunjimohammed dip the batter soaked mussels in boiling coconut oil. The mussels are in their natural form… unshelled. As they sizzle and splutter, the humble chef gives them a gentle prod till the mussels are crisp and ready. The fried shallots, curry leaves and chillies are a perfect match for the mussels. Close by stands Koyakutty, pouring out “long tea” into glasses. What more can one ask for on a cold and damp day?
The cart has not left its habitat in the last 40 years. Its owner, Kunjimohammed, left his native Ramapuram in Mankada, Malappuram, in the late seventies for the commercial clime of Kozhikode. Kallummakkaya fry was a novelty when he introduced it. Nobody had ever visualized its look or taste. His serves were mainly ullivada and parippuvada. The mussels fried with their shells on were a wonder to many till curiosity got the better of them and they decided to go for it. That’s the story of how the name and fame of Kunjimohammed’s kallummakkaya fry spread outside the walls of the Crown cinema.
Wither to, next? To fresh sights and sounds and flavours aplenty!