The next fried-chicken craze?
As rain lashed Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the Indian state of Kerala, I hurried past one of its most well-known landmarks, the Padmanabhaswamy temple, in the direction of the bustling Chalai market. Wading via ankle-deep water, I entered a slender alley and finally noticed the unobtrusive signboard for the other landmark I turned into seeking: Hotel Rahmaniya, home to the great fried hen inside the state. Relief and the highly spiced aroma of masala wafted over me.
For more than 70 years, this tiny restaurant, not a lodge, as its name implies has been dishing out appropriate finger-licking meals to generations of diners, from pinnacle authorities officers, movie stars, and celebrities to locals and university college students. Keralites playfully call it Kethel’s fried fowl (KFC), however, it is in which any similarities stop. This is a definitively Kerala dish, with a highly Kerala story that dates back long before the global speedy-food chain arrived right here. It’s even been trademarked as Kethel’s Chicken Fry, to avoid any confusion.
Fried hen is a popular dish in Kerala wherein it is called chook fry and is nearly constantly highly spiced and fiery. Many variations are presented in thattukadas (avenue stalls), toddy shop spots promoting an alcoholic drink crafted from the coconut palm, and restaurants. It comes roasted, broasted broiled and roasted, grilled or deep-fried, and each person has a personal favored version.
But Kethel’s is specific. Whereas maximum restaurants use a mature hen, Kethel’s makes use of the best spring chickens, now not older than 45 days and weighing between 400g and 450g, for their leaner meat and more tender bones. Only the legs and wings, the meatiest pieces of the in any other case small fowl, are taken for the fry. The relaxation is chopped to make a gravy. A fiery masala is hand-pounded and then hand ground, after which the bird pieces are marinated in this unique spice blend and deep-fried in coconut oil on a wood-fired range. The leftover masala is also deep-fried, and when the fowl is served, the delectable bits, called the body, are located on the pinnacle. They’re tiny flavor bombs with fried specks of chili flakes that have absorbed the coconut oil and different spices.
Keel’s as a logo is synonymous with the smooth chicken fry, stated food blogger Anjana Gopakumar, meals and beverage representative who is additionally an admin of the popular Facebook group Eat at Trivandrum. For Thiruvananthapuram parents, it’s far an iconic call, and people come from some distance and wide to consume it.
Hotel Rahmaniya changed into based by using Muhammed Abdul Khader greater than seven many years ago. In the 1940s, whilst political protesters and activists were collecting in the city’s Putharikandam Maithanam grounds, annoying that the Princely State of Travancore is a part of the Indian Union, Khader commenced serving tea at those rallies. He has become so popular that he was nicknamed Kettle Sahib Kettle Sir because he became always spotted with his kettle, and that morphed into Kethel Sahib. In the subsequent decade, Khader cashed in on his acclaim and opened Hotel Rahmaniya.
His quickly-to-be-famous bird evolved in the mid-Nineteen Seventies. Khader’s son Maheen said they first experimented with us of a hen unfastened-variety hen, however that failed to supply them the favored consistency whilst deep-fried. That’s when they struck upon the concept of the usage of a spring bird. To this present day, Maheen who has been running the restaurant given that his father handed it away in 1993 has spring chickens added in daily from their trusted supply in Namakkal, Tamil Nadu, the hen capital of India. All the elements are clean, and the chickens are slaughtered on the day they are served there are not any freezers, nor a refrigerator to shop for any leftovers either.
The day starts early in the restaurant. One of the people, Basheer, kilos spices in a large stone mortar with an Alaska lengthy pestle. Dried crimson chilies, chili flakes, rock salt, fennel seeds, and other spices are ground coarsely, the rhythmic beat calming in the busy kitchen. Once he gets the right consistency, he provides hot water and grinds it to a thick paste with the use of a shorter, heavier pestle. The masala is then rubbed into the chook portions, which marinate for 1/2 an hour.
The eating place is small and primary, with just sufficient area to deal with five communal tables and benches. When I arrived, smells from the kitchen wafted thru the room, and I sat all the way down to proportion a bench with strangers – all focussed on taking part in the food, hardly interacting.
I become ready to consume too, and another worker, Siddique, laid out the eating place’s eco-friendly plate a freshly washed banana leaf in front of me. Since the Eighties, the eating place serves the simplest chicken fry and an unmarried alternative to chicken-liver fry. Siddique positioned lime pickle a have fun with limes, chilies, garlic, and salt and a saucer of fowl gravy on my leaf. Next got here hand-squeezed lime juice and small, oil-free chapatis. Siddique then served the hen fry, cautiously deciding on pieces from a huge stainless steel bowl he includes for each diner: two legs, two thighs, two drumettes, and two wingettes. He then scooped some of the podi and served it on a pinnacle of the fowl. I asked for extra.
I dug into the chook first, picking up a bit with my palms and savoring the juicy meat, the hit of spice, and the bones that are so gentle you could bite through them. I observed it up with a sip of cooling lime juice. After that, I turned to the chapati, breaking off a bit, dunking it in the gravy, and gently touching the lime pickle. Then it was returned to the bird.
Keel’s chook fry stands proud as their own signature dish which nobody can imitate, stated Lekshmi Nair, celebrity culinary expert and host of popular TV suggests which include Magic Oven and Flavours of India. Though many have tried: There are dozens of YouTube videos via domestic chefs and expert chefs claiming to have perfected the dish.
Even if the recipe of the masala is thought, many different factors come into play: the time the bird is rested after its miles slaughtered, the duration of the marination technique, and the frying under-fried however not underneath-cooked method, stated Maheen, assured that nobody can re-create the unique.
According to Nair, the distinction in Kethel’s version is the spring fowl, and the unique masala is coarsely ground, which adds depths of flavor and texture to the dish. Another thing I observed is they followed the traditional fashion of the use of firewood stoves for frying the chicken, she added.
As I finished the last piece of chicken, I remembered a story I’d heard approximately Kethel Sahib supposedly giving a discount to those who ate more. When I asked Maheen about it, he spoke back with a twinkle in his eye: There is no billing device right here. The waiter tells us the amount, and we collect the money. Some days it’s so crowded and mistakes occur. So maybe the person who ate extra got to pay lesser!
He then added with a grin My father did not like all of us who ate little. He would curtly tell them now not to come again here again.
Despite Maheen’s anecdote, it’s well known that Khader was all coronary heart. Renowned for his generosity and benevolence, he gave loose food to people who could not find the money to pay.
B Jeyamohan, a famous cutting-edge writer and literary critic, immortalized Kethel Sahib in Aram Stories of the True, a 2011 collection of quick tales about people who encourage others thru acts of kindness. In the tale Sottru Kannakku The Meal Tally, he portrays Kethel Sahib as a jinn a spirit who feeds the hungry without waiting for any charge in return.
Khader’s top notch-grandson Abdul Rawoof showed that human beings nonetheless tell him tales approximately how his terrific-grandfather helped them in so many ways.
Maheen includes that benevolent baton ahead. There is even a bit charity box at the entrance wherein customers can drop any contribution. Maheen allows such a lot of human beings. He does it quietly. If a terrible person comes looking for help with wedding ceremony expenses, he helps them, from time to time even giving gold. He allows with hospital bills, too, said Bijus Sailabdeen, content material writer and meals blogger, who’s a regular consumer.
He introduced, His personnel admire him. He looks after them well. Many of them have labored right here for decades.
Many purchasers have eaten right here for years, too. Even those who circulate away carry the reminiscence with them as they relocate to special elements of the world, and when they arrive home to Kerala, they go to Hotel Rahmaniya with their circle of relatives and pals.
Nina Cherian, an ex-pat living in Dubai said, Kethel’s fried fowl stands testament to the truth that easy components make the exceptional dish a delicious spice rub on gentle chicken fried in coconut oil heaven on a plate.
Today, there are five branches throughout the state, and the more recent outposts are as busy because of the flagship. Keel’s Chicken has been trademarked, however, that doesn’t deter copycat eating places from bobbing up in Kerala and the Middle East, which has a huge ex-pat Keralite population, and affixing Kethel to their name.
But as Beethoven stated, Only the natural coronary heart can make an awesome soup. The equal applies to a terrific chook fry. And Kethel’s fried fowl is the real deal: fresh, gentle chicken pieces marinated with sincere elements, fried to perfection, and served with a pure heart.
BBC Travel’s Asia Fast Food shines a light on the cherished circle of relatives’ recipes and favorite road food stalls, where dishes are imbued with cultural significance and flavored with a sprinkling of tales.