But for the name board in Malayalam placed disproportionately high amidst a spider-web of power lines, this light pink, rusty-roofed, nondescript property can pass off as an agraharam. As I amble across the doorway of Pulisserykkada: Homely Hotel at Thakaraparambu in Thiruvananthapuram at the stroke of noon, 84-year-old Gopalakrishnan Nair greets me from his seat. An oil lamp burns on his table, as radiant as the unassuming octogenarian’s smile.
Inside, it is narrow, with only a row of tables and stools lining a wall. I find out later that a ‘family room’ is open by the kitchen behind. A few customers are already seated, as the staff ladle out rice and curry on plantain leaves. There is no ‘menu card’ and no ritual of placing orders. The choice is between vegetarian meals and vegetarian meals with fish fry (the variety variable depending on availability). With elementary décor, Pulisserykkada at first glance is a far cry from anything fanciful, but it has never been short of dedicated patrons.
What’s in a name?
“We have been preparing food in the traditional way using traditional ingredients since the beginning. Maybe it’s the homely taste that brings back our regular customers,” says Gopalakrishnan, who started the place in 1974. But it didn’t bear a name then. For years, it was simply referred to as ‘that hotel at Thakaraparambu’. But a re-registration with the Corporation a decade ago mandated a proper name and, Gopalakrishnan says, it was his clientèle themselves who endorsed ‘Pulisserykkada’, fittingly after the spiced buttermilk and coconut paste-based dish the place is known for. The small eatery is equally famous for its scrumptiously spicy fish fry, always served hot.
The meals, at a modest ₹60, are more or less akin to a sadhya (traditional Kerala feast) sans payasam (dessert) and banana. Apart from sambar and parippu (lentil curry), the repast includes at least four thottu curries (side dishes) such as mixed thoran (coconut-based dish), kichadi, pachadi, thenga chammanthi (coconut chutney), one variety of pickle — chiefly lemon, mango or gooseberry, prepared in-house — and a piece of roasted salted chilli. The repast is topped by its iconic pineapple-sweetened pulissery, rasam and moru (buttermilk).
Though fish curry is not on the menu, the meal comes with a small bowl of complimentary fish gravy, whereas the meals with fish fry option, at ₹100, serves you dollops of mashed tapioca as well.
Though you can inevitably find Gopalakrishnan on his seat as the de facto cashier on every working day, he has long before handed the reins over to his sons, Ani and Thampy.
The two now look after the day-to-day business. They know they have a storied culinary legacy to keep up. “My brother and I grew up in the very same place and imbibed the values our father strove to uphold. Many have urged us to change with the times and diversify our menu or expand. But we know the value of retaining our core identity,” says Ani, before picking up a steel pail of sambar to oblige a customer.
So, what makes the pulissery at Pulisserykkada so special? “Indubitably the pineapple, complemented by tender cucumber,” explains Ani, adding that they have attempted to maintain the consistency of the dish all through the years. Pulisserykkada also opens for breakfast, with a minimal menu of dosa and appam with egg and potato curry on offer.
A stickler for tradition, Gopalakrishnan, a few years ago, attempted to ‘ban’ speaking on mobiles phones at the eatery, of course, in good humour. But the ‘experiment’ only proved short-lived. “The idea was to remind our customers of the importance of solely enjoying one’s food without the distractions of modern life. Needless to say, I eventually succumbed to public pressure,” he says with a laugh.
Gopalakrishnan looks back at the salad days, when the place used to be a hot favourite among local politicians and cine personalities. But the name and legacy has endured, and he admits to still catering to some who continue to be regulars at the place, reeling off names excitedly.
In this fortnightly column, we take a peek at some of the country’s most iconic restaurants