To those of us who grew up in Kerala, ‘Pothichoru’ is nostalgia wrapped in a plaintain leaf. It was the simplest way a meal could be packed in the olden days – wrapped in a wilted banana leaf and secured with a coarse string. Rice, chammanthi (chutney), pickle, thoran, fried fish or omelette – everything was unmistakably branded with the singular flavour of the wilted banana leaf. Spartan as the spread was, most of us would choose it over a full course dinner any day.
Unwrap a ‘pothichoru’ at Travancore Aramana restaurant in Vanross Junction, Palayam and out tumbles the goodies and an appetizing dose of nostalgia. The restaurant, which earned a reputation for serving ‘pothichoru’ in Dubai where it first opened shop ten years ago, has obviously got the recipe right. Each packet has eight curries to go with the much favoured kuthari rice (Kerala matta) – omelette, payar mezhukkupuratti (long beans stir fry), avail, meen peera (dry fish dish cooked with shredded coconut), fried dry fish, chammanthi (chutney), pickle, and thairu mulaku (sun-dried green chilli marianated with curd).
‘Pothichoru’ has turned out to be a runaway hit in Trivandrum too, says Sibili Sulaiman, who owns the hotel group and whose idea it was to introduce the dish in Dubai. “A lot of our customers love the fact that they get ‘pothichoru’ as take away meals,” he says. Chef Anish, who picks and chooses each item that goes into the making of ‘pothichoru’ ensures that it tastes just like the old meals. He is careful about making the packets secure enough to be carried along while travelling; for he understands that there’s nothing like the joy of relishing a homely meal wrapped in banana leaf in the middle of a grueling day at work.
The hotel has a variety of ‘nadan’ dishes on its menu. What is known in local parlance as ‘shaap curry’ (the spicy versions of local cuisine available at toddy shops), appears prominently on the list with its many tantalizing prefixes. ‘Kaari shaap curry’ is a spicy and tangy central Travancore fish recipe. Fried kaari or cat fish also has many takers at the hotel.
Karimeen (pearl spot), specially brought from Kuttanad, is used to prepare another hot favourite at Aramana – steamed Karimeen wrapped in banana leaf. This is a recipe popular in Alappuzha and its surrounding areas, says Chef Anish.
Fans of meat dishes are not to be disheartened. The beef coconut fry is sure to bowl you over with the right blend of buttery soft meat and crunchy coconut shreds. Sibiliy, who hails from Thodupuzha, has apparently ensured that the spicy recipes of Central Kerala are followed to a tee in his restaurant.
Beef curry and kadala curry (channa) served with either appam, chappathi or puttu are the breakfast combinations at Aramana. Regulars at the restaurant swear by the mouthwatering beef roast. Duck roast, varal tawa fry, neymeen masala and Aachi’s fish roast are the special dishes served with lunch, if you want to go a la carte and give ‘pothichoru’ the skip.