The 96-year-old Gopi Hotel in Ambakkadan Junction is the oldest of its kind in Thrissur. Vada and dosa are the highlights here.
It was Mookkath Narayanan Nair who set up the hotel on St Thomas College Road. What today's Gopi Hotel was “Narayanan Nair’s kaappikkada” in those days when style and ambience were least expected to take over familiar, back slapping camaraderie. The venerable tea shop owner ever got a granite slab erected for those who were weary and heavy laden. They could set down their headloads, relax over a cup of tea perhaps, and then move on. The place was indeed a haven of comfort for innumerable traders who were headed to the rice markets on their bullock carts. The shop was later handed over to his son Madhavan Nair and then on to his children.
When the kappikkada was opened, only dosa, vada and unniappam were served. Soon, uzhunnuvada joined the snacks and unniappam bowed out. The tea shop got its name “Gopi” 56 years ago and to this day, the hotties sold here are dosa and vada. However, the latest menu cards show the entry of puttu, chappathy and upma. While puttu and upma make their exit by 11 am, dosa and vada can be had 24x7.
So what’s the secret behind Hotel Gopi’s wonder dosa?
Everything lies in the quality of the rice and urud dal, plus the consistency of the batter and the way it’s ground, explains, Gopalakrishnan, one of the owners. The way rice and dal are ground does matter. A lot of expertise is called for to reach the right consistency. The next secret lies in the way the dosa is spread out on the hot tawa. Skill again, he says. Work on the dosa begins from 6 am and winds up only by 9 pm. Today, the hotel is perhaps the only place in Thrissur where simple, plain dosas can be had. Only a particular brand of urud dal and two varieties of rice go into the making of Hotel Gopi’s dosas. The cooks never experiment with different varieties.
Down memory lane with dosa
Cries of “treat”, treat” that might have rent the air years ago surely had their fruition in the old kappikkada where students of St Thomas College would flock to, to give their peers the best treat of the day… dosa. The hotel's dosas were the mainstay for generations who never thought of going elsewhere. In later years, when entrance coaching classes run by Prof PC Thomas sprang up, there were countless students making a beeline for the hotel.
Doctors around town make a halt here for dosa-vada takeaways.
In fact, it was the hotel’s dosas that gave kids the much-needed relief during their hectic, nerve-wracking coaching class days.
Though the early days specialized only in parippu vada, the uzhunnu vada soon took over. The taste of the vada depends on several factors. Even the boiling point of the oil determines how the vadas will ultimately turn out to be. Everything here is surgically precise, which is why the taste is consistent and the clientele bulging by the day. There’s a certainty about the dosas and the vadas.
The batter is ground just once for the whole day’s making. If by night, there’s an excess of it, it’s just dumped. There’s no question of setting it aside for the next day. On the contrary, if the batter runs short, that's it. There’s no more mixing and grinding. Nothing extra is added to get the vadas crispy and fluffy; it’s only expertise that counts. The crispy bite of the vada depends on the precise moment it’s dunked in the hot, boiling oil and the right time it’s drained out. A moment’s casualness and the vada loses its signature taste.
The hotel was Education Minister C Raveendranath’s haunt while he was teaching in St Thomas College. While he came cycling to college in those days shorn of glamour, today, the minister who zips round in his official car, however, stops by at the hotel for a couple of dosas and vadas and a light tea. This is the minister’s regular order. Another exalted guest is playback singer Jayachandran who comes in for his brand of dosa. It’s a marvel that people troop down in droves when there’s no standing room outside or even a patch to park a cycle around. Then that’s the pull of the place… taste!