I might not visit Thiruvananthapuram as often as I visit Kochi, yet both these cities are comfort zones filled with happy memories from summer vacations when I was back in school. Joseph Fernandez, my schoolmate, is also a keen observer of Thiruvananthapuram's food scene. The last time we met, most of our discussion centred around food bloggers in Kerala and their stellar efforts in showcasing the state's rich culinary treasures through scores of well-produced and informative videos. Thiruvananthapuram might be more laidback than Kochi but the city's growing IT workforce has played a big part in shaping the city's food scene.
I've run multiple cross-cultural training sessions at Technopark, the city's IT hub, and have always looked forward to my lunch breaks at the food courts here. It's here that I enjoyed one of the most scrumptious versions of Kappa biryani and the ubiquitous Travancore chicken. Thiruvananthapuram and chicken are almost intertwined but there's more than just one version of Travancore chicken.
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Reshma Soman N is a lawyer and an assistant professor at Kerala Law Academy. She's also a culinary enthusiast and a Thiruvananthapuram-based YouTuber who honed her skills under Lekshmi Nair – a celebrity blogger and home chef. She breaks down one of the most popular food trends in the city. Thattukada might translate to a food cart (from Malayalam) but for most Malayalis, it is an emotion and a byword for tasty, unpretentious food. The Thattu kada chicken fry (see recipe) is now a popular evening snack across the city. Reshma tells me that most stalls and food trucks in neighbourhoods like Vellayambalam roll up their shutters just after sunset, in time to catch tech workers and other office executives on their way back home. This is a simple deep-fried chicken recipe that's rich in flavours (and calories!). It's the city's own version of KFC-fried chicken except the ingredients are not a closely guarded secret like the proprietary 11-spice KFC recipe.
While the Thattu kada chicken fry might be the most popular chicken dish in the city, there's another legendary chicken dish that I will recommend that all visitors to the state's capital must try. Vinay Sivadas is one of the architects of Eat at Tvm, a popular online food community in the city; our last conversation centred around one of the city's fascinating food stories that go back to 1975. Mohammed Abdul Khader started Hotel Rahmnaniya in 1949 in the city's busy Chala bazaar area; his son - A Maheen, is credited with introducing what has become one of Kerala's most popular chicken dishes.
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Kethel's chicken is marinated in chilli and their trademark masala before being deep-fried with pepper and a garnish of chilli seeds. Yes, this is as fiery as chicken gets. It's why the restaurant serves the Kethel's chicken with chapatis and a refreshing lime juice that doubles up as a fire extinguisher. According to Vinay, it's the tender pieces of young chicken or baby chicken that sets this dish apart. It's not easy to source this chicken at your local supermarket, one reason why diners keep coming back to restaurants like Rahmnaniya for their Kethel's chicken fix. The origin of this dish is also a local legend. Vinay tells me that it was named after a British visitor who shared the recipe with the restaurant. While that might be open for debate, there's no argument around how delicious this dish is.
Before you plan your next trip to Thiruvananthapuram, you can try making the Thattu Kada chicken at home. It's relatively simple. The main trick according to Reshma is the frying technique. She suggests frying it on a high flame as soon as you dunk the chicken in the oil and then reducing the flame and then again taking it back to a high flame before you remove it from the frying pan.
Travancore Thattu Kada Fry Recipe | Easy Travancore Chicken Recipe
Recipe courtesy - Reshma Soman N
- 1.5 kg chicken (cut into 14-20 pieces)
- 1.5 tablespoon ginger paste
- 1.5 tablespoon garlic paste
- Half tsp turmeric
- Kashmiri chilli powder: 2 tbsp
- Salt: to taste
- Lime juice: 1.5 tbsp
- Garam masala: 1 tbsp
- Crushed dried chillies: 4 tbsp
- Fennel seeds: 1 tbsp
- For the binding: 1 whole egg
- Rice powder (or cornflour): 2 tbsp
- Curry leaves: a few sprigs
- Marinate for 2 hours or overnight in the fridge with all the ingredients
- Deep fry. You will need about 1 kg coconut oil.
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.