Iconic Restaurant | Food

Kochi’s Grand Hotel is the perfect spot for a serving of legacy

It is Friday night at Kochi’s Grand Hotel. As the week ends, there is a subdued buzz hanging over Pavilion, the restaurant of the 55-year-old hotel. As glasses clink and pappadums crumble, staff in smart black-and-white uniforms go about their work — a hello here, a nod there, as regulars are welcomed like old friends.

Food enthusiast/restaurateur Oneal Sabu remembers a time in the 1990s when a trip to Grand was aspirational. “For NRIs on vacation, Grand was a status symbol. Grand’s naadan lunch invokes nostalgia, it is an authentic Kerala food place.” The cream-coloured three-storey building on the busy MG Road stirs nostalgia in other ways too — the interiors, solid wood furniture, even the burly, smiling doorman who opens the heavy door, letting people into a different world.

Kochi’s Grand Hotel is the perfect spot for a serving of legacy

Old friends meet, families get together and new bonds are forged here over a drink or karimeen pollichathu. The hotel is also credited with being the first to introduce karimeen pollichathu to the city.

Grand, opened in 1963, is known for its seafood. The hotel continues to source seafood locally, as Joseph Kottooran, the founder did, during his time. Even the spices and the rice used are locally grown. The fish, especially karimeen (pearlspot), continues to be sourced locally, either from Vaikom or Manjaly near Kochi, says Joseph KA, executive chef of more than 30 years. The kitchen sends out 90-100 orders for karimeen daily, of which 60% is pollichathu.

Kochi’s Grand Hotel is the perfect spot for a serving of legacy

Opening the slightly-browned, wilted and moist banana leaf is like unravelling a suspenseful tale. Steam, mingled with a spicy fragrance, rises from the perfectly-done, melt-in-the-mouth fish. As a fresher out of college, Chef Joseph worked here, briefly, for six months in 1977. “There were no official titles in those days, ‘cooks’ ran the kitchen. There was not much space, so while one section handled continental and Kerala cuisine, the other looked after Chinese, Indian, tandoori, and so on. Neither was the menu as extensive as it is today,” he recalls. One thing regulars vouch for is the consistency in the taste of the food here, probably because the staff comprises old-timers, trained by those before them.

On any given day, more so on weekends, Pavilion at lunch time is full; it is a flurry of activity as sambar, avial, thoran, fish curry/fry are rushed to tables even as people wait in the lobby, for their turn. Expectation and anticipation arrive on white, porcelain plates that are placed on the table. Every table, irrespective of the meal or meal time, gets a basket of hard-to-resist crisp, pale yellow pappadums; making the wait easier. “It is like home food, like how grandmothers would cook. Grand caters to the Malayali’s nostalgia for a drink, naadan food and fresh seafood,” says Oneal. The typically Kerala home-styled oonu (lunch comprising rice and curries) has many fans.

Kochi’s Grand Hotel is the perfect spot for a serving of legacy

The piece de resistance is the variety of seafood chutneys (made of dried fish) that accompany the oonu. “At lunch time, only oonu will do and our guests who come from far off places need to have that filling meal,” says the executive chef. Kaalan (gravy made from curds), theeyal, mezhukkupuratti, payasam... everything tastes like home.

“My grandfather, Joseph Kottooran, chose his staff carefully, he brought cooks from Vaikom,” says KJ Joseph. Running a hotel was unheard of when Kottooran, an agriculturist, opened Grand. “It was an unusual choice. He oversaw the construction of the building,” Joseph adds. His grandmother may have had a say in the menu, he guesses. A Hotel Management graduate, he runs the hotel with six partners.

Stories abound about how and why Grand came to be and the juiciest one of all has acquired the status of a legend — that Joseph Kottooran was denied a room in another hotel and he responded with a hotel of his own right next to it. The family, however, politely, refuses to go into it.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 4:26:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/kochis-grand-hotel-is-the-perfect-spot-for-a-serving-of-legacy/article26672951.ece

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