Mariya Family Restaurant Bakery and Ice Cream is a favourite roadside cafe in Kerala. It’s located in Pullapara on Highway 183. This road leads from the coast near Kottayam to Periyar in the hills and depending on which way you are headed it seems to be ever-ascending or descending.
It’s a hairpin turn infested snake of a road that has undoubtedly inspired many a roller coaster. Still, it’s totally worth enduring the drive because of the scenery you’ll take in along the way and the beautiful destinations on either end.
You’ll pass by rubber tree plantations with their spindly trunks towering over the mossy undergrowth. There will be bright, shiny green bushes of coffee glistening from the frequent rains. And, there’ll be tea plantations with pickers looking up from their picking to wave. Passing by busy little towns you’ll see locals going about their day. Despite all the sights, taking a break is always a good idea – especially if there’s delicious food to look forward to.
Mariya is the place to stop.
The cafe doesn’t look like much from the road but your first clue that it’s worthy is the cars and trucks parked pel mel around it. Again, once inside, it might just seem like just another dusty tourist gift shop. There are snacks, candies, tea, books, DVDs and postcards piled high and crammed in everywhere.
Go deeper. You need to wade through all this to get to the cafe. It’s tucked away at the back and for a good reason.
Follow the servers. They’ll be carrying trays of chai and banana fritters through a wide door. Take the step down and out behind them and you’ll be gob-smacked to find yourself on a narrow deck over-hanging a cliff and facing a deep mile-wide gorge of lushness.
For as far as your eyes will take you, there’s nothing but verdant jungle. You’ll find you are quite happy to sit and rest in the cool air to soak up this view. Squeeze in at a table with some locals and order what they are having.
Before you know it, your table will be covered with cups of creamy cardamom scented chai, Kerala’s famous flaky handkerchief style paratha bread and this black chana (chickpea) curry called Kadala. You’ll start to question how your life was complete before eating it. And, if you are like Pauli-Ann and me, you simply must stop here each and every time you are passing by.
Notes on the recipe:
When testing this recipe, we tried using a pressure cooker and an Instant Pot to cut down the cooking time of the black chickpeas. We also tried various different soaking times.
We could not get the water to bean ratio right for the pressure cooker; they wanted to burn. Same for the Instant Pot. At least the latter stopped them from burning but would not cook them through. We also tried cooking them in a slow cooker but the exposure to acidic tomato seemed to halt their softening.
Because black chickpeas are so dense, we had the greatest success in achieving a favourable texture by soaking them a long time (two to three days actually!!) and simmering them for two to three hours. This recipe may not be a spontaneous one, but the flavour is worth the effort involved.