"Oro Sulaimanilum oru ithiri Mohabbat venam. Adhu Kudikumbol, logam ingene padhukazhai vanu nikenam"- Kareem Ikka (portrayed by Actor Thilakan in a National Award winning performance) dialogue in Anwar Rashid's brilliant Malayalam film 'Ustad Hotel' (2012) is now part of popular culture and I dare say folklore in Kerala. This dialogue is probably the ultimate tribute to the Sulaimani tea where he says every cup or glass of Sulaimani needs a smidgen of 'Mohabbat' or love and adds that the whole world comes to a standstill when you sit back and enjoy a glass of Kozhikode's favourite brew. These lines rang in my head as I savoured a Sulaimani at Paragon hotel, in Kozhikode during my last visit. It was the perfect finish to a meal that included the establishment's legendary Malabari biryani crafted with small grain Kaima rice (also known as Jeerakasala rice).
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Black teas and teas flavoured with spices have long been a tradition in the Arab world. It's not uncommon for Arabs to savour these black teas with dates. It's also a big part of Arab hospitality (just like tea is in most parts of India) and business etiquette. If you've done your share of pounding the pavements in Sales and Marketing in India (like I have), one of the first lessons is to never reject tea when it's offered at the offices of clients and business associates. It's the same in much of the Arab world.
Kozhikode (formerly Calicut) was for long a focal point along the fabled spice route, where Vasco da Gama's Indian adventure began centuries ago. The city's unique culinary heritage has been influenced not just by local flavours but also the intermingling of Arab culture and interactions with the Middle East. Almost everyone in the city is a foodie; while my friends in Kochi might disagree, Kozhikode might well be Kerala's unofficial food capital.
The sulaimani is a great example of this intermingling of cultures. The Arab word sulaiaman translates to 'man of peace'. You will hear this legend in Kozhikode and other origin stories that suggest that the sulaimani is the local adaptation of the ghava, a hot beverage that is referred to in Islamic historical texts. This refreshing tea combines spices and a hint of lemon with tea powder. It's not just the taste that caught my attention the first time I tried it, it's also the golden brown or orange hues that always reminds me of a magical sunset along the Malabar coast.
The sulaimani is not just a popular afternoon beverage but is also served after heavy meals and celebratory meals at functions and weddings for its digestive properties. It is the perfect alcohol-free digestif, it's why you will find many locals wrap up their restaurant meals with a glass of sulaimani. But for most locals this is more than just a beverage, it's almost an cultural icon. To quote Kareem Ikka yet again "Anyone can fill a stomach, but only a good cook can fill the heart as well". In a city where most meals border on emotional experiences, the sulaimani is the fitting finale
How To Make Sulaimani Tea | Sulaimani Recipe:
The Sulaimani is probably my favourite black tea. This is a recipe I picked up during all my food trails in Kozhikode and conversations with random strangers and passionate food lovers in the city. The usage of spices and ginger (which is not used in some homes) varies from one home to the other.
Ingredients: (Serves 2-3 glasses of 100-150 ml)
- 2 pods of crushed cardamom (with skin)
- half inch ginger - grated or finely chopped. (Optional)
- 1 inch cinnamon (pounded)
- 1 or 2 pods of cloves
- 3-4 teaspoons of sugar (you can also use jaggery)
- 1 teaspoons of lemon juice
- 2-3 teaspoons of tea powder
1. Bring the spices to boil. Add the sugar and then the tea powder and let it boil on a low flame.
2. Turn off the flame, add the lemon juice and cover the pan with a lid for a minute.
3. Strain the ingredients with a tea strainer. Some homes serve it with a garnish of a mint leaf (like a Moroccan tea)
4. Serve hot, especially after a heavy lunch or biryani meal.
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.