Siblings K.V. Kabeer and R.V. Rahmat are busy; they are serving denizens in the city a taste of Malabar
K.V. Kabeer and R.V. Rahmat complement each other. While one specialises in biriyanis and the dishes that accompany a typical Malabar wedding, the other’s pathiris and traditional Malabar sweets, are the toast of Kozhikode. The duo is in the city to enlighten denizens about the richness of Malabari cuisine. The sibling team, both without any fancy degrees from any culinary institutes, believes in serving food that is ethnic and authentically Malabari.
Kabeer, who is better known as ‘Biriyani Kabeer’, is not a stranger to the natives of Kozhikode, and neither is his sister, Rahmat. “I run Naval Caterers, a wedding catering unit in Kozhikode town and Rahmat runs a home unit selling ethnic Malabari treats in Kuttichara. We team up when there are major events like this,” says Kabeer, the more extrovert of the two.
While Kabeer learnt the art of making the perfect biriyani by apprenticing in a restaurant kitchen, Rahmat learnt how to make traditional Malabari treats from her mother.
Kabeer’s journey to ‘chefdom’ began when he left home at the age of 11 for Kolkata and landed helping out in a restaurant kitchen. “The restaurant specialised in making Thalassery biriyani. I guess my affair with biriyanis took root there.”
He left after two years and returned to Kozhikode. He then started interning with V.P.M. Koya, a renowned Malabar biriyani maker in Kozhikode. At the age of 16, he started handling catering orders on his own. An encounter with a chef in the Taj group of hotels landed him a job as a chef at the Kozhikode branch of the hotel. “Even there, biriyani was my speciality,” says Kabeer who began Naval Caterers and started freelancing three years ago.
According to Kabeer, no celebration in Kozhikode is complete without biriyani, and that too ‘dum biriyani’.
So, what makes the Malabar biriyani stand out from other biriyanis?
“The primary difference is the type of rice we use for the biriyani. While in almost all other regions, the long grained rice, mostly basmati is used, here we use Kaima, a short grained rice, for biriyanis. In fact, Malabaris turn their noses up at dishes cooked with the long grained rice. Also we cook the rice and the marinated meat together in a dum so that the flavours infuse with each other.”
If there is another dish that is quintessentially Malabar, it is the pathiri, says Kabeer. The wafer-thin pancake comes in all forms – fried, steamed, roasted and baked and is made with different flours. “There are starters, main dishes and desserts from pathiri. Not many know that,” he adds. Stuffing is also a common culinary practice in Malabar, says his sister, Rahmat. “We stuff everything from chicken to bananas. For weddings, we stuff mutton with chicken and eggs,” she says.
Food, says the brother-sister duo, is a passion for Malabaris. “They believe in the dictum that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” says Rahmat, who conducts classes in Malabari cooking. She cites an example. “When a groom is visiting the bride’s house the mother-in- law’s foremost task is to entertain her new son-in-law with food. And it is usually new dishes each day.”
Kabeer adds: “In Malabar, it’s the women who generally specialise in making pathiris and sweet dishes such as ‘kozhi ada’, which, unlike its name, is not stuffed with chicken but with rice and coconut; ‘kaipola’, which consists of banana bits, cashew nuts, egg, sugar and ghee and ‘muttamala’, a signature dessert of Malabar – egg whites and yolks are dealt with separately to make this sweet. It is because such dishes are time consuming and require a lot of attention while making.”
Although there are various restaurants serving other cuisines in Kozhikode, the locals still stay true to their traditional food. “They might try out the dishes at these restaurants but end up returning to the Malabari kitchen,” says the duo, pride thick in their voices. And with the aromas and the rich flavours from the dishes, the reason why, is crystal clear.