The first thought that captures the mind when Kottayam is mentioned is of Kumarakom and the boat rides on the Vembanad Lake. The city of Kottayam has not got its due on the travel and tourism map of Kerala and basically serves as a transit towards its more renowned neighbourhood of Alappuzha made famous by the picture perfect backwater cruises.
But Kottayam – a land of Letters, Latex and Lakes, has a lot more to offer. There are short excursions to the hill stations of scenic Vagamon and Ayurvedic treats for which Kerala is now so popular. For the religiously inclined, there are the Vikom, Ettumanoor and Thirunakkara Mahadeva temples (Shiva temples) and Bharananganam (Saint Alphonsa pilgrim centre) which is gaining world-wide popularity amongst other places of worship. It is also the nearest railway station en-route to the Shabarimala temple where thousands of devotees get down to make their way to Pamba and Erumeli during the Shabarimala pilgrimage season from November to January.
Hailing from Kottayam and a foodie at heart, I find that the city has a real good potential to promote gourmet tourism and is known for its Christian style of cooking which spells divinity for the non-vegetarians. Though it does not have an equal for Malabar briyani, it sure assimilates some good tastes within its plethora of good eateries scattered around the town. There are some real old institutions like ‘Hotel Kumarakom’, Arya Bhavan and some comparatively newer entrants like ‘Thali’ and Meenachil on the block which constitute the dining scene today in Kottayam. You would find the “Meals Ready” board put right in front of the entrance of many upcoming restaurants while walking past the Thirunakkara Grounds which is a visual treat and so is the ‘Toddy’ shop signs (called the Kallu Shaap) which are now taking the dining scene in Kerala by storm. The typical Kallu Shaap menu of ‘kappa and meen curry’ (Tapioca and fish curry) are a rage throughout the state.
If you fancy a vegetarian fare, head to Arya Bhawan and enjoy the south Indian spread of masala dosas, poori-masala (fried bread with potato curry) and vadas (lentil dumplings) along with some nice smelling sweets. Further down the road, there is a very famous biriyani serving restaurant named Punjabi Corner. They are so famous for their biriyani that you have to make your way to the table before noon or else you will run short of luck. Happened to me a couple of times! Well, that happens to be the case with most of the busy eateries in the state – the lunch time is almost fixed in these parts – punctuality seems to be the keyword here too perhaps!
Just down the lane is another age old bakery – Bestotel. A bakery and restaurant combined which offers you Kerala meals with delectable fish fry. Their parotta and chicken curry is also worth a try. Then of course, there are the sweets from the bakery to round off your meal on a sweet note. There are numerous bakeries dotting the city offering the most delicious cutlets and varieties of ‘pupps’(meat or veg stuffed patties), dilkhush (a sweet pastry) and other such fancy names on the menu.
Walk towards the ‘Manorama’ office and opposite to it you find Meenachil and Thali restaurants. Meenachil is a pretty nice restaurant offering a range of select items and a personal favourite is its Chinese section – with fried rice and ‘chilli gopi’ (a cauliflower dish) being the star attractions. The south Indian touch surely lends it the extra taste.
But the best that Kottayam has to offer and comes high on recommendation is a great restaurant – Karimpumkala – tucked away from the city centre in Pallom, MC Road on the Kottayam- Changanacherry route. This is by far the best that Kottayam has to offer. Initially a toddy shop, it is now a full fledged family restaurant. The food here is lip-smacking good. The Karimeen pollichadu (pearl spot fish) wrapped in banana leaf is to die for. You can also enjoy the kappa and fish curry or duck roast or go for a lavish ‘meals’. The meals are unlimited so you can enjoy it to your heart’s content. The small hut structured enclosures in front add a nice charm to the place.
So Kottayam is not merely a transit city for tourism or pilgrimage, it has a vibrancy of its own. The next time you are headed to Kerala, remember to halt at Kottayam and enjoy a scrumptious southern treat at least.