The Naadan Kitchen delivers Kerala food in Delhi-NCR

Two entrepreneurial lads have brought us the joy of Kerala food to Delhi, with coconut, chillies, and more than a whiff of home

A photograph of a food-laden table — gleefully forwarded by the partaker of the meal — kept me busy for a few hours last week. The food, I was told, had come from a new Kerala delivery service called The Naadan Kitchen, based in Ghaziabad. I asked for the number (7042255534, 81530384084, 0120-4348258), called them up — and was happy with the first information report: They had various kinds of Kerala dishes, including all kinds of meat; and they were willing to deliver to my neighbourhood.

I was happier still with the food — which I had over two glorious days. We asked for some Malabari parottas, pothu fry, duck curry, and a vegetable thhali, which consisted of red rice, aviyal, thoran, sambar, moru curry, pickle and payasam. I paid a total of ₹1,300 for all this.

The next day, Nadaan’s founder, a young man called Elvin Joseph, insisted that I try out a small portion of his fried pork and chicken biryani.

But let me start at the beginning. The Naadan Kitchen (thenaadankitchen.com) emerged out of a conversation that two friends were having one day, a couple of months ago. One of them was a chef, who had come to Delhi before the lockdown to visit his family, and then stayed back, as his restaurant in Bengaluru shut shop. The other was a marketing executive. They talked about food, and then suddenly thought: Hey, why not start delivering food?

So they created a logo — a picturesque image of a Kerala boat and a coconut tree — and then drew up the menu. They started the service on August 15. Elvin looks after marketing while Bejoi Chemparathy takes care of the kitchen. The food has the authentic flavours of Kerala cuisine, so much so that a young man we know said he was reminded of his childhood in Kerala when he had the food.

Duck curry at The Naadan Kitchen

Thankfully, it didn’t remind me of my childhood in Muzaffarnagar, but it gave me great joy. The pothu – buffalo meat (₹500 for half a kilo) – had been fried with peppercorns, curry leaves, and a few spices and garnished with fried coconut. I enjoyed it immensely for the meat had soaked in all the flavours of the spices, but wasn’t red chilli hot. The parotta (₹15 for one) was soft, warm and flaky.

I enjoyed the thhali — especially the aviyal, a combination of juicy vegetables in southern spices, and the fragrant sambar, which I had with the red rice. Best of all was the payasam, the ada pradhaman, which was creamy and had been cooked with rice flakes. We shared this with friends who had come for lunch and quietly kept the duck for dinner.

The duck mappas (₹500 for a quarter) was divine. It had been cooked with small onions, ginger, garlic,

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Surrey’s Kerala Kitchen dishes up authentic, super-spicy, and flavourful fish curry

When James Barber used to write food reviews for the Georgia Straight in the 1980s and 1990s, he enjoyed visiting small family restaurants to educate readers about food from other countries.

In that spirit, I recently travelled to North Surrey to check out the cuisine of Kerala, a state on the southwestern Malabar Coast of India.

Kerala is home to Indian elephants and plenty of coconut trees, but it’s perhaps best known to Vancouverites as the childhood home of Indian writer Arundhati Roy. Her Man Booker Prize–winning The God of Small Things was set in a fishing village in the state.

In fact, fish curry is the heart and soul of Kerala. It’s to Kerala what beef bourguignon is to France.

So when I arrived at Kerala Kitchen, a casual eatery at 103–9386 120 Street, it would have been sacrilegious not to order it.

The chef-owner, Sujith Rajasekharan, told the Straight that he’s created his own recipe that includes turmeric, chili powder, asafoetida, ginger, garlic, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, tomato, coconut milk, and water.

The fish was incredibly tender and the sauce was super-spicy. In fact, this Kerala fish curry was a flavour bomb, exploding with a combination of tangy, super-hot, and slightly sweet sensations. And it’s unlike the fish curry found in any local Malaysian, Thai, or Indian restaurants in Metro Vancouver.

Chicken 65 is a spicy dish commonly served in South India and Sri Lanka.
Charlie Smith

In fact, Kerala Kitchen’s fish curry ranks up there among the hottest dishes I’ve ever eaten, nearly setting my mouth on fire. That’s the South Indian way—and it’s advisable to order a Coca-Cola or some other cooling beverage in advance.

In comparison, the delicious Chicken 65 dish, which I also ordered, was less spicy, as was the dry-fried Beef Ularthiyathu.

“When people come here, they feel like they’re having something similar to home,” Rajasekharan said.

When asked about the difference between the cuisine of Kerala and food from other parts of South India, Rajasekharan mentioned the extensive use of coconut. In addition, Keralans tend to eat a lot of seafood, like residents of many coastal regions.

Rice is the main staple, and it’s not unusual for people from this part of India to consume this grain three times a day. And rice paddies are a common sight. That’s why naan and roti aren’t as common in Keralan eateries than in North Indian establishments.

Kerala Kitchen is one of many South Asian restaurants along 120th Street in Surrey.
Charlie Smith

Kerala Kitchen and Kairali Village Restaurant (108–12414 82 Avenue, Surrey) are two Keralan dining establishments in Metro Vancouver.

According to Rajasekharan, there are no purely Keralan restaurants in Vancouver, though it’s possible to find South Indian dishes at many locations in the city.

Rajasekharan previously worked for Fairmont hotels before opening Kerala Kitchen nearly three years ago. He hails from the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, which is near the southern tip of India.

Long ruled by Marxists, Kerala’s literacy rate stood at 96.2

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This cactus collector from Kerala loves to adorn his garden with thorny beauties

Sexagenarian E Balakrishnan from Kozhikode maintains over 2,500 individual plants comprising more than 200 different species, many of which are imported ones

Four years ago, E Balakrishnan planted a few cacti in his terrace garden among other common house-plants. But little did the sexagenarian from Kozhikode in Kerala know that the thorny beauties would captivate him. He started potting cuttings of cacti varieties gathered from local sources. Gradually, his collection grew. Today, his cactus garden boasts over 2,500 individual plants comprising more than 200 different species, many of which are imported ones.

“There is something about cacti that fascinates me. This enthusiasm was fired up once I started learning more about the plant to beautify my garden,” says Balakrishnan who runs a printing press.

He maintains the plants on the terrace of his house and press. While Mammillaria, a bulbous ornamental variety that is a popular house-plant, are aplenty, rarer ones such as Euphorbia abdelkuri damask, Copiapoa and Euphorbia trigona (also known as African milk tree) find pride of place on his terrace. Balakrishnan, a native of Thiruthiyad, says he sourced many of the imported varieties through eBay from nurseries afar.

E Balakrishnan’s cacti garden

“For instance, I brought in the pinkish-bodied Euphorbia from Brazil, while the small-sized Copiapoa came from New Zealand. I collected many other species from Thailand, Japan, and Indonesia. It’s a rather expensive hobby,” he says with a laugh. A few “crested” varieties of the thorny plant too adorn his garden.

Balakrishnan acknowledges the goodwill of other gardeners in his hometown who have been happy to contribute to his collection. He propagates the plants himself through grafting, while some species are easily grown from stem cuttings. “I rarely use seeds for propagation since seed development is not conducive in this blow-hot-and-cold Kerala climate, which otherwise facilitates good growth,” he says.

Some exotic varieties in his garden

  • Astrophytum, Gymnocalycium, Rebutia, Copiopoa, Sulcorebutia rauschii, Moon Cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii), Euphorbia, Echinopsis

Balakrishnan says it is helpful that cacti demand less attention, unlike many other ornamental plants. “I water them only once a week or so. Cacti are quite resilient. Though they need less water, it is important to ensure that there is no water retention or stagnation in the pot, which may damage the plant,” he points out. He has also erected a rain shelter on the terrace.

The 65-year-old, however, checks on them every day, mainly for worms. “I water the plants only after the medium or surface is dry. Cacti need a bit of sunlight but overexposure is not advisable. Depending on the growth, I prune them once in a while. In any case, cacti do not tend to grow too large,” he says, adding that he uses cow dung powder as fertiliser. Balakrishnan says sometimes maintenance of the garden become a family affair, with his wife, Devi, and sons Rahul and Gokul, lending a helping hand.

 

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