“When people come to know that our freshly baked bread has a shelf life of only two days, they actually think it’s not of the best quality!” chuckles Shameel, one of the OWNERS of PALAARAM.
Palaaram, a cozy eatery located on Airport Seaport Road has a warm air of welcome right from when you enter. The décor will have you wonder what minimalist modernism has in common with vivacious Malabar cuisine. The answer hits you when you sit and observe for just a little while. Your eyes rove over the bakery like set up at the end of the room with a delectable array of pastries, homemade goodies, rows and rows of jars filled with much loved malayali evening snacks. It just brings to mind how accommodating Malabari cuisine is when it comes to a grand mix of tradition with a modern twist.
I had the pleasure of catching up with the three owners of Palaaram; SHAMEEL, SHAHEEN and HIMA. We chat enthusiastically about how food and related trends have evolved drastically over time. “Nowadays people are very conscious. They know what they want to eat. There are many choices available to them and many consumers are aware of what they like and dislike” shares Hima. A lot of time and effort was thus spent on market research to understand what it is that the consumer is looking for. “We have ensured that the food we provide is clean, hygienic and of top quality. Home cooked food with good quality ingredients always wins hearts (and tummies) over” says Shameel.
The success that Palaaram enjoys can be credited to Umma, mother of Shameel and Shaheen, the woman behind the recipes that have food connoisseurs across Kerala buzzing nonstop about the eartery. Umma is a food icon when it comes to traditional fare and has been in the catering business for over 25 years. Flanking her are Shamla Salama, her sister Arifa Synudheen and Hiba, Shameel’s wife.
With their roots in Parvoor, Palaaram started the first of their restaurant outlets in the same compound as their residence, dishing out platters of freshly made Kozhi Pidi, Kunji Pathiri and several other delectable delights. I love the fact that their central kitchen is accessible to the diners with tours on request. The food gets prepared fresh every day at Parvoor and is then transported to their two outlets.
“The kozhi pidi and kunji pathiri that are in high demand were initially part of the special menu that we have every day. With the increase in demand, we made it part of our permanent menu. They are our biggest sellers!”
When asked about the décor, the idea of a mix between the English and Naadan emerged. Hiba and Shameel were initially in London running a catering business there as well. Coming back to India the family delved headlong into the food business along with Umma (who did her catering locally) and thus Palaaram was born. Palaaram enjoys a throng of customers around lunch time consisting of families and IT professionals, besides the 35 seater area located below the main restaurant catering to small parties and get togethers. Palaaram also does home deliveries.
The owners did face some issues in terms of imparting an understanding of the cuisine they serve. Most of the customers who came in, ordered only dishes they were familiar with. One on one interaction with the customers helped customer start experimenting with the variety of dishes and drinks Palaaram had on offer. Word of mouth played a major role in bringing in customers and very soon, Palaaram was one of the most talked about eatery in Cochin.
Apart from the selection of sweet and savory dishes, Palaaram also has packaged spices, home made pickles, chutney powders, tea time sweets and salty snacks giving the impression of a charming little bakery from yore. Almost all customers who dine in have remarked on the freshness of the food. “Customers are extremely happy when they are served delicious food that tastes fresh. A unique food preference we have noticed is that youngsters and children try traditional dishes such as Ney Chor or Shaap Curry whilst our older set of customers prefer cold coffee and burgers. We really respect the fact that the youth are embracing tradition when it comes to food.” Says Hima.
Palaaram boasts of a variety of Pidis, frozen snacks such as samosas, cutlets, spring rolls, Unakya and others. Christmas and special festivals host several types of Mappas, Tharavu Varuthu Arachathu and many more! “We also make to order for functions and snacks. So many customers are interested in seeing how these special snacks are made and we are happy to let them visit our kitchen any time. We do make other cuisines too but it will definitely have a palaaram touch” says Shaheen
Without further ado, I was brought an amazing spread of goodies for me to sample; starting with the MUNTHIRI VEVICHATHU: a pure, pulpy concoction of boiled down grape boats of a rich earthy flavor and a beautiful deep maroon that is absolutely seductive!
This was followed by a drink of NARUNENDI with COUS COUS. This drink was sweet and delicious and had a lovely cooling effect. The Narunendi root is in fact boiled for over 6 hours and the syrup is then used to make the drink.
My absolute favorite drink however was the PAAL SARBATH! Oh my good lord! I could drink this by the gallon!
The cold milk mixed in with a base of narunendi syrup just hit all the check marks in my book! To go to Palaaram and not order the Paal Sarbath would be sin my dear foodies!
What followed the glass of cool paal sarbath was a plate of KUNJI PATHIRI- BEEF, cute little soft handmade morsels, the creaminess of which paired beautifully with the spicy pieces of beef.
I was also served the DRAGON CHICKEN, which was super fresh, sans ajinomoto with perfectly cooked chicken strips sautéed with ginger-garlic, pepper and a variety of sauces.
I tasted the KOZHI PIDI, which was rich and mild with a creamy coconut milk base.
The tasting session was rounded off with THAVA FRIED PRAWNS which were fantastic! The prawns tasted as fresh as ever, fried to perfection and the masala, simply stunning.
“We started discussions two and a half years back and on April 18th, 2015, our Parvoor outlet was set up followed by the seaport-airport road on March 23rd2016 and the Aluva outlet on Nov 23rd, 2016. We are very happy that we have done what we set out to do. Expansion will be slow but steady and we hope to spread the love for Malabar Cuisine across Kerala!”