What took one to the crossroads known after Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre was not the fascination with rockets or space science, but an eatery inside an alleyway. If you knew that Indira chechi’s joint at Kulathur suburb of Thiruvananthapuram is modest, then there could be a surprise at its entry point: well-off youngsters dressed in executive shirts and wearing shiny shoes. Oh yeah, it can only be so! The woman's culinary skill has a lot of fans from the bright employees of the IT Park in the neighbourhood.
On the bench they sit in front of the longish wooden table. The wait for the food as if they await the downloading of an entertaining stuff on the laptop. Then, just as the meals would arrive, each conducts themselves as any average Malayali keen to munch on favourite meals. The tag and the tie slips into pockets and the sleeves of the shirt are rolled up as if bracing up for a friendly bout. What follows is a frenzied round of feasting, exposing the country soul inside each of them.
So unmindful is the eating that it takes a second round for most of them to notice that they hadn’t ordered for anything special.
So what's the highlight of the day's menu? The answer to the happy holler varies. It may be boiled tapioca sunk in a fish curry; it may be a mix of vegetables served as the sticky puzhukku. The rice and accompanying dishes cost Rs 50, while fried fish costs another Rs 20. No extra charge, else, for anything ‘special’.
From the state capital, travel 150 km northwards along the sandy stretch by the Arabian Sea. You reach Alappuzha, another coastal city. The Malayalam dialect may change a bit, but not the warmth of hospitality and taste of dishes at Saraswathi Amma’s restaurant at Sanathanapuram. The outlet has a cute local name: Ammachi Kada.
Translated into English, it means Mom's Shop. If around noon, it requires no effort to locate the place. You need to only follow a queue. At the end of it, Sarawathi Amma awaits you with a toothy smile that has the shine of the afternoon sun.
The boiled rice has the warmth of the shell meat and fried fish the host serves. Want something extra, such as the vegetarian aviyal or thoran dish or pickles? She will happily respond to your ‘chechi’ address, but with a cautionary chuckle: “Not chechi...call me amma.” One is free to get into the kitchen and help oneself serve the needed curry. Only, you might lose your seat back in the drawing room. But then you can also eat, standing.
At the end of it all, what’s the fee for the fun? Just Rs 30!
So when did Ammachi Kada start its service. Saraswathi has no exact idea of it except that she is a good 82 years old and had begun it as a youngster. As if symbolising that passage of time, her house restaurant serves tender mango pickles to the pulissery curry made of the fruit’s ripe variety. What’s more, there house has on its courtyard a benign mango tree with its foliage that spreads cool shades far and wide.
Saraswathi never gave a name for her cottage unit that began much before homemade food became trendy. So, her outlet has no name; it’s people around who began calling it Ammachi Kada.
Fishy fry recipe
Clean half-kg fish. Add to it half-spoons of turmeric powder, chilli powder, ginger, two cloves of garlic, five of red onions, two big spoons of coconut milk, one green chilli, two petals of curry-leaves and salt. Keep it apart for 90 minutes. Then fry them in boiled oil.
The taste of the coconut milk is key to building the taste. The other ingredients act as the masala. Their frying in the oil supplements the relish.