In the Kerala of my childhood, before my people succumbed to the invasion of ‘cafes’, ‘restaurants’ and ‘bistros’ selling everything from bel puri to kebabs to malayalified Chinese, we of the old ate at chayakkadas (tea shops).
Many chayakkadas were small, family affairs, with a few wooden tables and benches, and a glass shelf to display food in the front. Typically the father served as the waiter-cum-cashier, sometimes helped by his offsprings, while the mother prepared mouthwatering mallu delicacies over a wood-fire in the back. The chayakkadas were our public spaces, the agoras of our villages, where serious public discourse occurred over delicious parippuvada, uzhunnuvada, ullivada, bonda, pazhampori and sughiyan.
Now bakeries sell mass-produced, soulless versions of these; the chayakkadas of my childhood have all but disappeared. In the last few years, every time I went home, I had tried long and hard to find a place that still survived the assault of modernity. I have visited many places that looked the part, only to return disheartened.
This time I struck gold. My friend Jerry drove me to a hidden gem not far from my place, where things were done the way they should be done. Thampan, the proprietor of ‘Ashwati’, has been in this business for 27 years. No yeast in his vadas, no gas fire, no shortcuts. He makes 200-250 pieces every day. Afternoon servings begin from 3pm and by 6pm, everything is gone.
I had two ullivadas, two uzhunnuvadas, two bondas, one pazhampori, and two chais. As luck would have it, they had not made parippuvadas that day.