When I am free — and that means all day these days – I try and recall some old food stories. Take a dish called Chicken 65. I think I was introduced to it sometime in the early 1990s by a great cook called Mr Suryanarayan, who used to work for Andhra Bhavan and then started his own food business. I remember asking him – and several other chefs thereafter – how the dish got its name. The more chefs I asked, the more number of explanations I received.
Some said the name came about because it was started and popularised by Chennai’s Buhari Hotel in 1965; a few others claimed that the dish had to be prepared with a chicken that was 65 days old. And then there were others who insisted it was cooked with 65 different spices. I like all these stories, but I like the dish even more. It is hot and spicy, and leaves you asking for more (and for numerous glasses of cold water, if not a fire extinguisher).
That is why, when I was going through the menu of a restaurant called Kerala Café the other day, I decided that I had to order in their chicken 65. It was one of those evenings when we wanted to eat something different. The choices are limited these days, but we had heard from our friend Jayan that Kerala Café, in Mayur Vihar Phase 1, had moved to a new place in the same neighbourhood. I called them up (9650696710) and found that they were delivering through Swiggy and Zomato. So we asked for a plate of Chicken 65 (₹220), Kadala Curry (₹120), Parottas (₹30 for one), Chicken Biryani (₹200) and Set Dosa (₹120).
And what a meal we had! The Chicken 65 was a dish of fiery looking stir-fried chicken (succulent, and not the least bit dry), and the parottas were flaky and crispy. I had them both with the Kadala Curry on the side. The small black chana dish came in a thick and tart gravy, and I enjoyed it immensely. The biryani was different – and much appreciated. The rice was light and fragrant, and even mildly sweet. The chicken in it was enveloped in thick gravy — so together, the light rice and rich chicken did quite a nice tango.
We saved the set dosa —three round and soft dosas — for breakfast. The next morning we had the dosa with the light, onion-and-tomato-flavoured sambar that it had come with. It was quite a heavenly breakfast.
It was nice to have Kerala food after a long time. The menu includes fish curry, egg curry, and chicken curry, as well as chicken roast and egg roast. Then there are utthapams, puttu, and egg dosas. The prices vary between ₹120 and ₹230, except for the prawn curry which is ₹300. There was a time when I used to regularly pick up food from the small Kerala eateries in INA Market. Those days seem like the golden age now. I find myself humming Mary Hopkins, “Those were the days, my friend; we thought that they’d never end”. That is why the wise say: seize the day.
The writer is a seasoned food critic