As you travel through the towns, cities and neighborhoods of Kerala, it is quite common to see tiny little bakeries dotting these places. The ubiquitous bakeries serve an array of savory and sweet baked items apart from commercial snacks, chips and juices. And it is seldom that you find one that lies empty and devoid of customers except maybe during the ‘siesta’ hours. There are said to be almost 50000 bakeries in the state of Kerala with 600-700 bakeries concentrated in Kozhikode and Kannur districts.
Kerala Baking Tradition
The tradition of baking cakes began all the way back in the 1880’s. The Mambilly Bakery in Thalassery city in the Kannur District was one of the first bakers in Kerala and India to begin the tradition of baking cakes. As the story goes, in the December of 1883, a British planter, Mr. Brown, who owned a large cinnamon plantation asked Mambilly Baputti to bake him a Christmas cake and shared the recipe with him. The baker agreed and what resulted was one of the finest tasting Christmas cakes Mr. Brown had eaten. After that, the trend spread like wild fire and bakeries competed against each other to make the best cakes and savory items. The Mambilly bakery had earlier started the Mambilly Royal Biscuits factory in 1800 which served almost 40 different varieties of biscuits, rusks, breads and buns. The Britishers were their chief patrons. In fact, the bread dough was made by crushing wheat in crude stone grinders and using local toddy for fermenting the dough until the Britishers imported yeast into the country. The bakery also used to export their handmade delicacies to Egypt, Mesopotamia and Myanmar. From then on, bakeries spread all over Kerala and diversified in their products. The popular chains of bakeries in Kerala include Best Bakers, Anne Bakeries, Cochin Bakers, etc. But Thalassery still retains the title of being the first bakery town in Kerala.
So what do these bakeries serve? Well, the smaller ones would have cakes and a variety of salted and sweet biscuits and some local Kerala snacks like pazham pori (banana fritters), parippu vadas ( a mildly spiced savory fried item made from lentils and rice), pathiri (a savory snack made from rice powder),ada (a steamed sweet made from a mix of jackfruit and coconut wrapped in leaves), etc. Some of these bakeries may have a proper sit down café serving tea, coffee and juices with savory and sweet items out of their displays.
The Kerala breads come in different varieties like milk bread, sweet bread, fruit bread, brown and plain bread. A sweet slice of buttered bread or a plate of pazham pori with a cup of tea can be a welcome snack to the average malayalee (term used for the locals of Kerala) getting back after a long hard day’s labor. The other savory items include samosas (triangular shaped Indian savory with usually a potato and pea filling wrapped in a sheet of flour and deep fried), chicken or vegetable (coleslaw) sandwiches, vegetable or chicken burgers, locally made pizzas, chicken, egg, vegetable and mutton puffs made from puff pastry with a sizeable filling, chicken or mutton rolls, chilli chicken sandwiches, mutton, chicken and vegetable cutlets, sandwiches with a spicy dry Kerala chicken preparation filling that can go by many names like the bakery I used to frequent which called it ‘Booster chicken sandwich’, locally made quiches, etc. The Western interpretations like pizzas and burgers have more of a local Kerala touch but taste good anyway.
Local Kerala sweets served in these bakeries include kozhukatta (steamed ball of rice flour with a jaggery and coconut filling), uniyappams (brown fried balls made of coconut, jaggery and flour), adas, Indian sweets like laddoos (a round ball sized sweet made from a combination of ingredients and held together in clarified butter or ghee), jalebis (made from flour, fried and steeped and sugar syrup), gulab jamuns (made from milk solids, fried and served in sugar syrup), cakes with a range of flavorings are served like grape cakes, date and walnut cakes, nougat cakes, clarified butter (ghee)cakes and cakes with soft and hard icing for all occasions like weddings, anniversaries, office parties, birthdays, shaped cakes etc.
Several people of all ages frequent these bakeries especially during the evenings. Office folk pick up some goodies while returning back from work to take a snack back home to the family that awaits them, college students stop by for a lunch break combined with a soft drink or fresh juices or cold coffee and milk shakes, couples and families come in the evenings to eye the mouth watering displays and sit down for an evening together. Many small time business meetings may happen here to avoid the loud and expensive interiors of five star hotels. Whatever the occasion, the bakeries in Kerala are unlike any other that you would see in South India. As famous as the sweet shops are in Delhi and Kolkata or the local savory chaat and paav bhaji (local bread called paav with a fried potato or chilli bonda filling) shops in Mumbai or for that matter the famous London fish and chips found around the city, the Kerala bakeries are an essential part of life here whether you are a local or a tourist. You just can’t miss the snacking experience at one while you visit the state.