Chef Babu from the Taj Hotel Kozhikode at fish market.

We planned to do our research for Faces, Places and Plates in the off-season. It gave us the chance to access people who would otherwise be too busy to spend time with us. Executive Chef Babu at the Taj Gateway Hotel Beach Road Kozhikode was one of those people. During peak season, his job would be far too demanding.  We were thrilled with the time he devoted to our culinary education in the few days we got to spend in Northern Kerala. 

As an Executive Chef with the Taj Group of Hotels, Chef Babu has travelled to and lived many places. The thing we loved the most about him is – despite all his years in the business – he has not lost his sense of wonder when it comes to the connections between food, culture, and health. 

“Globalization is ruining our health. We used to eat the freshest, local, seasonal foods. Now, even here in Kerala, people expect broccoli, which is native to Italy, on our menus.” When Chef shared this outlook, we knew we’d found a kindred spirit. Local, wherever we are, is what we enjoy most about the global lives we lead. Chef is also a culinary explorer. 

Chef’s Malabar

“From Malappuram, a town just south of Kozhikode, to Kannur, a few hours north here in Kerala, there are things you’ll never see anywhere else. I’ve seen 11 breads that you’ll only find here.” Chef’s eyes spark with delight as he shares what sets this region of Kerala apart. 

“There’s also a red chilli powder that you’ll only find here. It’s made from the Biyagi chilli and has an intense red colour without the heat of most Indian chilli powders. It’s similar to Kashmiri chilli powder. In the rest of Kerala they use green chillies.” Like Goa, Chef shares, “The Portuguese seemed to have had a greater influence here.” 

We spent an intimate afternoon in the kitchens of the Taj making two of Chef Babu’s favourite local delicacies – Kallummakkai (stuffed mussels) and Unnakkai (Cotton Ball dessert) with him and his team. Chef even stayed with us during our photo shoot to make sure we had the best looking pieces of food, plating, and lighting. And, when we shared how much we loved fish and seafood, he invited us to go on his weekly fish buying trip to Kozhikode’s massive fish auction docks. 

We’ll share those two very special recipes in upcoming posts and a look at our private tour of the fish auction but right now we’ll close with a list of chef Babu’s five favourite foodie stops in Kozhikode. The only thing we’d add? Make sure to have a meal at The Taj to try his Kallummakkai (Stuffed Mussels). It’s rare to find something THIS tasty.

Chef Babu’s Top Five Food Stops in Kozhikode

  1. The Bombay Hotel – since 1949, this restaurant (which was the first in the city) has been packed. People line up for their famous “Biryanni Chai” and local snack delicacies like stuffed Pathiris (rice breads), Mutton Cutlets, Elanchi (a pancake stuffed with sugar, coconut, and nuts), Chicken Puff (stuffed maida balls – almost like Mexican corn tamales), Unnakaya (sweet coconut, egg or plantain stuffed dough), Chatti Pathiri, and Elada (gooey rice cakes stuffed with banana, coconut, and nuts). 
  2. Adaminde Chayakada – a fusion of the best of Malabar and other cuisines of the world. Try their famous Chattichoru (wheat berry pudding) or Bamboo Biryani. 
  3. The Paragon – Famous for their Malabar Coastal Cuisine for seven decades – order any of the fish dishes!
  4. Kumari Banana Chips – we love this small banana chip factory and outlet so much, we’ll devote a post to it coming up soon.
  5. Bhaskarettante Kada Milk Sarbath Shop – Truly a local specialty, we watched patrons line up and down this milk and sasparilla drink in a long and satisfying chug-a-lug.

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