We recently embarked on a 24 hours food tour to Calicut with the first set of friends I ever made, i.e my cousins. Calicut happens to be my hometown and the one place we religiously went to every summer vacation during my school days. I am no outsider to Calicut but I had never experienced my hometown as a tourist till my mad hatter cousins came up with a plan to take a weekend road trip from Bangalore to Calicut with the noble purpose of hogging. Bangalore to Calicut via road takes around 7-8 hours via the scenic western ghats and a national forest reserve. The route goes through the city of Mysore, Bandipur, Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad and down to Calicut. The scenery also transitions from the concrete city of Bangalore, to thick forests where animals play peekaboo, to tea laden mountains and down to the land of coconut trees. Calicut or Kozhikode like the rest of Kerala has a staple diet of rice and fish with a accompaniment of varied vegetables with a sprinkling of coconut. Kozhikode has a rich history of being an important port city on the old trade routes and also has the distinction of being the city where the first European ship (Vasco da Gama) arrived from the sea route. Every corner of Kozhikode has reminders of its forgotten past but the one aspect where Calicut’s vibrant trading past comes to the fore is in its food. Kozhikoden food has strong Arab influence. One can see it in the biriyani, the halwa at Sweet Meat Street or the various snacks and savories. The middle-east still influences Kozhikode with the shawarma and kubus being the latest entrant in Kozhikode’s palate.
Our first stop on our food tour was this small tea shop on the mountains of Wayanad. Most tea shops in Kerala have snacks and small eats such as appam and curry along with tea and ofcourse.. bournvita (a chocolate drink)!
Tea gardens are in plenty in Wayanad and it is a beautiful small hill station with waterfalls and lakes. There are many resorts in Wayanad adjacent to tea gardens that are open for tourists. Wayanad also has the hand paintings made by cave men at Edakkal which for an interesting trip by itself. Wayanad which lies adjacent to coastal Calicut is very different in landscape and climate because of the altitude,mists and luscious tea gardens.
We reached Calicut by afternoon and in time for lunch.The hotel we selected for lunch was a mappilla establishment called Zain’s. Zain’s has a limited menu of arab or traditional mappilla fare of biriyani, ghee rice with chicken roast, mussels fry and other such goodies straight out of a non vegetarians paradise. Zain’s is run by a mother daughter duo who are hands on into their restaurant. Another popular food joint for biriyani in Calicut is Hotel Paragon where the menu is more vast and includes a lot of more of Kerala and its food.
Calicut coast overlooks the Arabian sea and has had a long meaningful relationship with this piece of the ocean since time immemorial. Calicut beach is a bustling scene for locals and is a great spot to observe and participate in the lives of people in Calicut.
The beach here has a number of interesting and innovative snacks. There are pickled vegetables and raw mango that has been a constant favourite. Ice achar is an innovative snack that is found exclusively near the beach. It is a sweet and spicy preparation made of ice shavings and pickled mango.
Fried snacks suchs as Ari Kaduka which is fried mussles coated with rice flour are found near the beach. Hotels in Kerala have decent hygiene component but for indulging in the fare at the beach one might need a stronger stomach. Another favorite aspect of Kerala for me is that the food bill is always within means, no matter how much or how many of us hog.
Calicut is famous for its banana chips in Kerala and across India. Picking up a few packets of crispy and hot banana chips should be on everyone’s itinerary. The chips are made fresh and hot in small bakeries in Calicut. Some of the popular ones are Calicut bakery and Shobha bakery. Spices are what bought many traders and conquerors to Calicut. Spices such as pepper, cloves, red chilly, bay leaves can be found in wholesale at Velliangadi in Calicut, the literal translation of Velliangadi is big bazaar.
Calicut halwa is a must for first timers to Calicut. The halwa is unique in taste and must be a descendent of its Arab ancestor. These sweet meats can be found in most bakeries or at the aptly named Sweet Meat street or SM Street. Other popular tourist destinations in and around Calicut are Beypore beach where one can see the ships (Uru) of olden times being made and also pick up a souvenir of a ship in a bottle. Also Kappad beach is another quaint and rocky beach that was made famous by Vasco da Gama accidentally landing there when his Spanish ships missed the port of Beypore. A little ways away is the city of Mahi which is part of the union territory of Pondicherry and has old french vestiges. Calicut should be an interesting stop on your next trip to Kerala and in case you are looking for a place to stay, leave a comment. I might be able to give you some good recommendations.