Eating food from a Kerala Thattukada is allowing yourself to freely mingle and blend with the Kerala food culture although you may not want to try it if you suffer a sensitive stomach. For us foodies, years of experimenting with food has immunized us enough to be able to try street food almost anywhere in India. And in Kerala, true local flavors at the cheapest prices are mostly available at these roadside carts that are locally referred to as thattukadas.
A thattu kada is usually a covered cart parked by a roadside selling local street food of Kerala. It is mostly frequented by local men folk in the vicinity but good, spicy food can call out to anyone- from laborers to influential men who sometimes choose to hide their identity behind the local attire and lingo. So if you are a woman, try going along with a male friend or guide to avoid feeling out of place. But the main objective of a thattukada is that you can get cheap and affordable food in Kerala steeped in true local flavors, all at one stop.
Most thattukadas start their business early in the morning by around 7 am just in time for breakfast. They sometimes close shop after lunch and then begin again late in the evening for dinner. Some stay open the entire day and offer tea time snacks as well. A thattukada may have one person preparing the local dishes and another assisting in serving or washing up dishes. He has in the cart a few cooking implements, frying pans and a large shallow kadai (Frying Pan). All this is operated on a gas grill. The menu is simple with a few dishes but that helps to concentrate on the flavors and standardize recipes. Since only one person owns the thattukada, the dishes are mostly standardized since he prepares the base of the curries/gravies at home and only the finishing touches are possible on site before serving.
The Thattukadas Menu
Some thattukadas offer only tea/coffee and few fried snacks like wadas (donut shaped,made from a fermented batter of rice flour and gram mixed with onions and green chillies and deep fried), pazham pori (batter fried plantains), fried pathiris made from rice flour, shaped into flat roundels and deep fried, bondas (potato mix coated with flour and deep fried), samosas (boiled potato, onions and peas mix stuffed into a flour dough and deep fried) and savala bhaji (onion rings bound in a mixture of flour, shaped into donuts and fried).
There are other thattukadas that may offer more of a variety that may include spicy chicken fry, chicken and beef curry served with rice pathiris (thin, flat, rice pancakes similar to doshas) or melt in the mouth, hot Kerala parottas, fish fry and fish curry, omlettes, egg masala/curry with thattu doshas which is a thicker version of a regular dosha (it is only the Malayalees I have noticed who pronounce it as ‘dosha’ as compared to the rest of India which calls it ‘dosa’).
There is a thattukada located in Cheralai in the Mattancherry district near Fort Kochi which is a Hindu dominated area and hence there is no service of beef. They prepare an alternative to the chicken and beef curry served with Kerala porotta, which is a wada curry consisting of bits of wada soaked in delicious gravy that is just as flavorsome as the chicken curry at the other thattukadas.
A popular thattukada as is obvious, is flocked by people throughout the day. The scene includes some sitting on the roadside pavements, platforms while others stand and eat. Since food is cheap how much you eat largely depends on your appetite. The locals finally wash down everything with a hot glass of local chaya (tea). It is a better alternative to the glass of water you may get, the source of which mostly remains unknown. I still have not developed innards tough enough to experiment with drinking water. You may choose to BYOB (bring your own bottle) to wash down the spices and masalas that will definitely beckon you on your next visit here.
Bon appétit or as they express at the thattukada…burrrrp!