Kerala has the privilege of being Gods Own Country and the dubious distinction of having the most number of toddy shops across India as well. For anyone who has tried toddy, the fermented buttermilk-like-drink is no connoisseurs poison of choice, but it sure is the cheapest way to end the day on a ‘high’ note. For people like me however, the highs are linked to the very unique food that is ubiquitous of Toddy Shops in the state. Considering women are rarely never encouraged to go to toddy shops, I’m beyond thrilled that Ente Keralam has bought the toddy shop experience to me. Just one downer – Karnataka doesn’t let establishments sell Toddy in the state (without a special toddy license), so we’ll just have to make do with the food!
The good folks at Ente Keralam run food festivals every quarter and this time toddy shops caught their fancy. These shops are so entwined in the culture of Kerala that I’m surprised they didn’t chance upon the idea sooner. The menu for the festival comes in the form of a “Andhipatram” or evening newspaper which occupies a central theme in toddy shops everywhere. You will see men from different walks of life congregate to discuss politics and the day’s events at the shop. The paper serves as a way for strangers to connect and share a quick drink and meal before heading out to their homes. If there is an Indian version of an after work watering hole – I’m sure it originated here!
Since Toddy shops cater to the masses there are a few mandatory requirements – the menu is rotational as it makes use of seasonal and local ingredients, the food needs to be finger licking good (If not for anything else but to dilute the taste of the harsh toddy on the palate), and it needs to be cheap and hearty. It’s almost impossible to replicate the taste in a restaurant or home if you don’t have the masters. So Ente Keralam brings in experts from the shops itself, people like Radhakrishnan and Suresh who have been cooking this type of food for decades. They also ensure they source the fish and ingredients directly from Kerala every two days to give you an authentic Toddy shop experience.
Note: This festival is exclusively targeted at the non-vegetarians and the only thing that vegetarians can order off the festival menu are starches – so please spare yourself and the restaurant the agony and order their sadya instead.
Soups and Starters are not mainstays of a Toddy Shop experience, but you will still find some interesting items on the festival menu that call out to you. I tried the Prawn Pepper Soup which was a light peppery broth capable of clearing the sinuses. The Konju Kurumulagitthathu is a generous portion of medium prawns marinated with a mix of heady coarsely ground spices and pepper and deep fried – legs, tail et al. A very cosmopolitan Chemmeen cutlet (Prawn cutlet) finds it’s way to the menu and might be a more popular choice with kids at the table. The sauce that accompanies it looks like ketchup but is actually a beetroot sauce. I’m not sure I’m thrilled by the switch.
The Meen Peera (the executive chefs favourite) is an interesting preparation of pounded whole silver bait (Nethili) with a fresh coconut and tamarind mixture. It almost looks like an innocent vegetable stir fry, but the fun starts when you eat a spoonful and you find bits of crunchy bone in it! The Kakka Erachi easily won the top spot with a delicious masala that enveloped pre-shelled backwater clams. There’s something about that coconut and onion paste that makes this quite addictive.
The Curries are of course the highlight of this festival and I was amazed at the variety of fish on offer. (Most of the Toddy shops use River fish and the restaurant gets it’s catch flown in fresh). A very special Vaala Mugagitta Curry had Knife Fish/ Wallago in a masala made of red chilly powder, ginger, shallots and tamarind. This thin curry packs in a firey punch and is not for the faint hearted. The Mud Crab Roast was impossible to resist and we savored juicy crab meat in a masala of roasted onions and green chillies. My favourite curry of the day was a Chempally Varutharacha Curry – river Red Snapper cooked in a roasted ground coconut masala generously peppered with soft onion slivers.
You can choose to have the curries with Kallappam (ground rice, coconut and jeera based flatbread) or Chiratta Puttu (Fresh coconut and ground rice steamed cylinders). The local favorite however is the Kappa (Tapioca) – Meen (Fish) Curry combinations. The current craze for Yuca/ Tapioca is fueled by its low GI value and diabetic friendly qualities but Kappa was always considered to be ‘poor man’s food’ – a starchy substitute for those who could not afford rice. Toddy shops to this day continue to favour Kappa over rice and that’s what Ente Keralam has on their menu as well. Choose the Kappa Vevichathu which is steamed tapioca with ground coconut tempered with shallots and curry leaves or the hardcore Unakka Kappa which is a dehydrated tapioca preparation to go with your fiery curries.
Dessert at Toddy shops is another glass of toddy! However, the festival still offers a rare preparation that’s very difficult to find outside of Kerala – the Edanayappam. Cooked Jackfruit and jaggery are mixed with rice and wrapped in a fresh bayleaf in the shape of a cone and steamed. It might not allude to everyone’s idea of dessert but order it for the novelty at least.
Go for a unique experience and fabulously fresh seafood – the likes of which are hard to find in the Bangalore market. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and attentive, so don’t shy away from asking for recommendations. The festival was originally supposed to run till the 20th of this month, though the restaurant has plans of extending it for another week.
12/1, Ulsoor Road,
Ulsoor, Bangalore 560008.
Phone : +91 80 324211002
Cost : INR 1500/++ for a meal for two.
Valet Parking available.