There’s everything that you want in the food they serve… taste and flavour seasoned with love, thus leaving you with a sense of nostalgia, longing for your mother and the dishes she so happily cooked for the family.
We’re talking about those small wayside hotels that are big on hospitality. Run mostly by women, especially the Kudumbashree collective, these women’s enterprises are conquering hearts and raking in the dividends. Here is a social revolution of sorts as women work, earn and save. They can now afford a bit of luxury and raise their children in more socially acceptable ways.
It was a gamut of emotions that washed over ace Malayalam film actor Joy Mathew as he partook of a meal in one of those wayside havens of comfort recently. He watched in awe as the women there went about their work...cooking, washing, chopping and serving. And the least he could do for them was to bring them to life with a Facebook post titled: 'Pathayorangalile Bandhuveedukal', which in simple words mean "kins' home on the wayside". True to the name, dining in these wayside eateries is akin to having food at one's relative’s house. The ambience is homely. So is the food, reminding you of your mother’s special touch.
Such wayside hotels run exclusively by women line the road from Kasaragod in the north to the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram. And diners swear by the “amma” taste of the food served. What’s this obsessive “amma” taste all about, one wonders? It’s the lingering taste of the food one’s mother cooks. It doesn’t matter whether you have spread your wings and left home or your mother has left you forever. What matters is that, that taste, though long forgotten, springs back to life while dining at the Kudumbashree stalls. That’s the magic of these tiny hotels. Maybe it’s the hospitality that does the trick.
The welcome boards beckoning you to pull up as you drive by are quite amusing… Amma Ruchi, Veettile Oonu, Vanitha Mess and Hotel Amma. Now begins the nostalgic trip with memories of those great coconut curries. Amma never used a mixie, for she knew a mixie would water down the taste. The feel of the coconut off the grinding stone was unmatched. Matching the side dishes was the rice, fresh from the fields.
Well, these are the stuff that’s served in these wayside hotels too and a close scrutiny would reveal that most of them are run by Kusumbashree units. A drive up from Ettumanoor to Kottayam has several such stalls lined up by the wayside serving delicious food… mind you, just the way your mother cooked them.
When it’s the season of jackfruit, the women serve the yummiest of jackfruit delicacies. 'Chakka puzhukk' with red hot 'chammanthi' or spicy fish curry. If it’s 'kappa' that you yearn for, you only have to ask for it.
The women wind up all their household chores by noon and head to their respective hotels with the food cooked. The fare is delicious to say the least. And the bill is easy on the purse. Unbelievable! It’s a far cry from the regular much-hyped restaurants you go to, where the stuff served is tepid and the bill leaves you in tatters.
At the Kudumbashree stalls you get clean, neat and wholesome food. Pure, unadulterated, chemical-free stuff.
There’s another such popular Amma joint in Ernakulam. They serve the very popular and very delicious fish-curry meals here. Folks come back to the place for more, for such is the pull of the place.
The Vanitha Mess that’s started functioning in several parts of the state is quite an ambitious enterprise of Kudumbashree. The project has women from different families meeting up at a common place and putting their plans together to serve the best meals.
A few metres up Koyilandy Kollam Chira, as we go further south, stands a Kundumbashree unit just opposite to the Children’s Park, which has been functioning for the past 18 years.
These units have been a source of succour to so many women. They are no more the weaklings they used to be or were born to be. They now have a say in matters of the family. They have their small income and their tiny luxuries too. They started chipping in once they realised that it would need two to keep the home fires burning.
People are no longer averse to these units. On the contrary, they are much sought-after for the tasty food on offer.
True Joy Mathew kicked up a debate on what makes these women tick. But why are women’s stalls more popular than all other plush eateries and swanky restaurants? Why prefer what women cook when men have established a name and fame for themselves as chefs? The secret lies in that single magical word - Amma. Mother’s food is the best and logically put, Kudumbashree mums’ too, is the best.