If you’ve ever visited Kerala, then you would have had the honour of driving past numerous toddy shops in the state. Every bit of the state, anywhere you go, has a toddy shop. These are iconic spots along the drive to anywhere in the state. As a tourist, if you’re visiting Kerala, one of the important things that the locals will insist you experience is the toddy shop food. It’s usually seafood and spicy and when paired with the local toddy, it is the best Malayalee meal you could ever get your hands on. To most, food from Kerala is very basic and also includes the infamous Syrian Beef Fry, but this kind of experience makes you realise that there is so much more to the food and the cuisine than most people are aware of. Unless you’ve grown up in Kerala, you’re not going to be aware of the delicacies that lie in the local style of cooking.
Ente Keralam, your gateway to everything Kerala in Chennai, is hosting a Toddy Festival. Unfortunately, there is no toddy being served with the food, but it’s not even something that you’re going to miss that much because the food is so good you could almost ignore the fact that you’re missing the most important element of the “toddy experience”. The food is spicy, delicious and the seafood is fresh and brought straight from the Kerala coast, making it the complete experience in every way.
The food festival started on March 10th and is going to go on until next weekend, so if you’re upset that you’re missing out, don’t worry, you’ve still got an entire weekend to get your fill. We stopped by on a warm Friday afternoon and as a Malayalee, this was the closest I could get to the food that I enjoy when I visit my grandparents in Kerala. So I went with an empty stomach and open arms and ready to scarf down everything that was placed in front of me.
The menu is crafted especially for the food festival by Radha Krishnan and Omana, who have come all the way from Kerala to make the food festival a complete success.
First, we had the starters. Spicy food is the USP of every toddy shop because the toddy balances out the flavours of the food. So each mouthful can be washed down by a sip of toddy, just to get the full flavour of the food. The starters are packed with famous Kerala flavours and spices and everything is so perfectly familiar, that nobody is going to have a tough time choosing what they want to enjoy.
To start off, we had the Prawn Pepper Soup, this is the best way to get your tastebuds started, because the soup is nice and hot and thick with flavours. Then, we had the Prawn Thenga Kothu Peralan which has fresh prawns cooked in coconut and spices. We also the Mutton Liver Fry, which might sound a little strange, but just know that it is actually delicious in every way and when the liver is nicely cooked, you can’t even tell what it is. And finally, we had the Kakka Erachi, which is a speciality in the toddy shops. It’s a mussels based dish, where the mussels are cooked with a very special Kerala masala. You can eat them separately, or if you wish to eat it with something else, you can call for it.
Also available in the starters is the infamous Karimeen Pollichathu. If you’ve never tried it before and you’ve never enjoyed it the way we have, then it’s definitely something you need to be trying on the menu.
Moving on to the main course, we deviated a little from all the seafood we’re eating to try something new. We had the Kozhi Kurumulakuitta Curry, the chicken dish on the menu and nicely sauteed in an onion pepper paste and Kerala spices. This goes really well with the Kallappam, which you must eat as much of as possible. Now for the hero of the meal and one that is most popular at toddy shops around Kerala – Kappa and Meen. It’s a combination that is made and served in homes, but the way they make it at the toddy shop is usually the one that everyone talks about. The Unakka Kappa was enjoyed thoroughly with the Kalanchy Curry, which was another combination for the ages.
We ended all of this with a helping of the Edanayappam – jaggery and jackfruit cooked nicely, then steamed in a bayleaf wrap and served.
The Toddy Festival is on at both Ente Keralam outlets (Poes Garden & Anna Nagar) till Sunday, March 26th and available for lunch and dinner.