Kadala Curry and Paratha.

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.

Kadala Curry Recipe

6 - 8 servings


For the Keralan Garam Masala:
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 – 3 single strands of whole mace
1 1-inch piece of Sri Lankan (true) cinnamon bark
3 whole cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the curry:
1 cup dried black chickpeas (aka Kadala or Kala Chana)
4 cups water for soaking and that again for cooking plus more as needed
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon Indian chilli powder
½ teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder
½ cup chopped onion
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon coconut oil – divided
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 sprig fresh curry leaves (20 – 30 leaves)
2 dried red chilies (goondu milagai or cascabels)
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Keralan Garam Masala*
1 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt – or to taste


For the Keralan Garam Masala:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300F.
  2. Place the fennel seeds, mace, cinnamon bark and cloves on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes.
  3. Let cool and pulse in a spice grinder until they become a smooth powder.
  4. Grate the nutmeg into the mixture, stir and store in a glass jar away from light.

For the curry:

  1. Soak dried black chickpeas in enough water to cover them for 24 to 72 hours, changing the water several times as the chick  peas crack and swell. (They will double in size and end up being 2 cups)
  2. Drain, rinse and transfer the chickpeas to a saucepan with 4 cups of water (you may need to add more water as they cook to keep the chickpeas covered and prevent burning) and turmeric and chili powders. Simmer for 60 to 120 minutes. When done, the chana should be fork tender and still covered in water. Set them aside.
  3. Place the chopped onion and tomato in a food processor and pulse until pureed. Set aside.
  4. Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan on medium heat until melted and then add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and dried chilies. When the mustard seeds start to pop and splutter, stir in the tomato-onion puree and cook until thickened.
  5. Add the coriander, Keralan Garam Masala followed by the coconut milk and salt and cook 5 minutes more.
  6. Stir in the cooked chick peas with their gravy and simmer 5 to 10 minutes to let the flavours meld.
  7. Enjoy as a chai time snack with fresh paratha or with puttu or appams at breakfast.


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