If Augustine Kurian, Chef Regi Mathew and John Paul manage to get the nitty-gritty right, food lovers could soon have the opportunity to book a ‘toddy shop’ tour of Kerala. The toddy-shop gig will be primarily focused on Alleppey and its surrounding areas, and visitors can expect not only fresh toddy, but also a deep dive into the cuisine of Kerala’s famous toddy shops.
The toddy-shop idea is just one of the many the trio has been playing around with ever since they launched Kappa Chakka Kandhari, a boutique food-discovery platform in October last year. Kappa Chaka Kandhari (KCK; named after tapioca, jackfruit and kandhari chilli) was born out of an intense longing for some good Mallu food. “We love and miss authentic Mallu food as much as the next Malayalee, and so John Paul and I decided to something about it,” says Chennai-based Kurian, who is into events. Paul, a furniture businessman, and Kurian then contacted Chef Mathew, of Bangalore’s Ente Keralam fame, and soon KCK began to take shape.
“We travelled across Kerala, staying away from commercial establishments and connecting with home cooks in Palakkad, Malabar, and Alleppey among others in search of recipes and inspiration. We would head to Kerala every weekend, and after the end of 14 such trips, we had got in touch and ‘discovered’ over a 100 such cooks,” says Kurien. The trio whittled that number down to 30, and then to seven before they held their first pop-up Kerala food-focused pop-up in Bangalore this January.
Over 7500 people turned up at the event, says Kurian, to sample, among others, dried fish curry with tapioca, jackfruit fry, and the puzukkus of Kerala. “We got chefs and almost all ingredients from Kerala. It made a big difference,” says Kurian.
Encouraged by the response, Kurian and co. held another pop-up last weekend in Chennai, and that, too, was a sell-out. “We basically took one module — food from toddy shops — and built an event around it. Again, we got chefs from several of Kerala’s toddy shops and even fish, including karimeen, from there. The fish in the Bay of Bengal taste different from the fish in the Arabia Sea,” says Kurian. The menu included the iconic puttu steamed in coconut shells, toddy-shop-style tapioca, duck curry, deep-fried quail and Chinese potatoes, raw jackfruit cooked to well-done and served with coconut chutney, among others.
“The reason food served in toddy shops is such a big draw is because it is robust, fiery food made with simple, freshly ground masalas, and the catch of the day. All the ingredients are fresh. It has to be since every toddy shop has its regular customers, and plus, these places have no refrigerators. They sell what they cook, and shut shop by 8pm. Across Kerala, each toddy shop has a dish it does best. So, if we are talking about Kuttanad, shops there do duck mappas extremely well,” says Mathew who visited over 60 toddy shops across the state to research the sub-cuisine.
According to Kurian, Kappa Chakka Kandhari has already started enquiries from other cities about similar events. “We are looking to do more events in Bangalore and Chennai and other cities in the coming months, and, hopefully, in the Middle East and Canada as well.”