Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Grand weekend in Ernakulam - Part 2

6th August, 2012

Grand Hotel is not for the discerning if creature comforts are on top of your list. You'll be better off staying elsewhere and visiting the restaurant in time for the famous "Fish Curry Meals" & "Karimeen" fry, (of which follows later in this post).

The chill woke me before my alarm went off. The air conditioner had a remote with temperature control but pressing the buttons did not make any difference. I like rooms to have a fan, besides the air conditioner. I prefer to cool the room and then let the fan take over from the A/c, but I did not have a choice here because the ceiling was bereft of the three bladed appliance.

Grand has a neat bathroom and they have a card placed strategically to remind you to save water. One instruction was to collect water in the sink while ........ but there was no rubber bung (the one that is usually suspended with a chain) to close the hole!

The other instruction is to use a mug of water while shaving but I failed to see any mug in my immediate vicinity. Perhaps my vision was failing or the housekeeping is not reaching the bathroom!

We went down for breakfast but I guess complimentary breakfasts are always a weakness in many hotels. Grand was no exception. They have a rather  limited menu and it suffices to say that it wasn't "grand". If you want a good south Indian breakfast the Woodlands next door, or Dwaraka a little further up near the Medical Trust Hospital junction and the Bharat Hotel (BTH) on Durbar hall road are better options.

My talk was at 9 AM so I did not have the time to go to get our crisp dosas for breakfast and we drove off to the venue. My son was playing on my laptop while my session was on but as time wore on and my laptop battery started running low he started getting fidgety. We excused ourselves and went in search of the Renault showroom. It was open but there weren't anyone to give us a test drive. It was a Sunday after all. We satisfied ourselves inspecting the SUV inside out and returned to the Grand.

12 noon is a little early for lunch so we went up to the room thinking of getting into something less formal. Unfortunately for us housekeeping was in the middle of their chores. The aroma of frying fish was wafting around the lounge outside the restaurant so we decided an early lunch was in order. After all the breakfast was a disappointment.

The restaurant  is the centerpiece of the Grand Hotel. It is famous for its "Fish Curry Meals" & "Karimeen fry". I remember when my sister was a student of the St.Teresa's college my father used to travel to Ernakulam very frequently. It was breakfast in BTH (because we always stayed there as it was next to the harbour and we could watch the ships from our room!), lunch in the Grand and dinner at the Oberoi restaurant at the Madhava Pharmacy end of the M.G road.

They had cubicles in those days so we could stuff ourselves without attracting attention! It was always the fish curry meals for my parents with 'karimeen' (Pearl spot) and fried prawns. My sister being a staunch 'chickiterian' would never take even a nibble from the seafood. Now, I should not forget to mention here that my father never ate seafood outside of the Grand Hotel. He loved the fish and prawns served in the Grand because they never carried the typical 'fishy' odour of seafood!

The cubicles are long gone but the restaurant itself hasn't changed much. The furniture is old fashioned and comfortable; unchanged after all these long years. After all,  no one eats in a hurry in the Grand. You don't want to spend a fortune at the doctor's to dig up a little fish bone from the back of your throat after a lovely meal! There are also some interesting water colour paintings about the pearl spot.

My son ordered his regular menu of kulchas & paneer. (I wonder when he'll get bored of it because I have to finish it for him and frankly paneer is not in my list of the best foodstuff to consume!). I ordered my father's menu.

The restaurant was empty except for a young man next to us behind a pillar and a couple sitting a little further away. He was determined to stuff himself with all the seafood that he could consume. He had ordered a 'karimeen fry' and had followed it up with some crab. My tummy was starting to protest but a waiter appeared and dropped off a basket of freshly fried 'papadums'.

It helps you pass time till your fish and prawns get fried, and it settles unobtrusively into a corner of your tummy so you won't feel full and not enjoy the rest of what follows. Half an hour later as the waiter started laying the plates I realized the 'a table for two' was a little small for both of us and a full fish curry meal!

There was the fish curry, the prawns fry, the karimeen fry, the thorans, sambar, puliserry, rasam, buttermilk and a collection of 'chammandis', pickle and 'injipuli'. There was no place for the plate with the last three items mentioned! Of course you don't see any more pictures of the spread because we were tucking into it without further delay.

Half past twelve the crowd was building up. Mostly families of three or four generations, from granddads to little babies. By 1 PM all the tables were taken.

Most of the clientele were traditional Malayalee families. The older men were mostly in their hallmark 'mundus'. Karimeens appeared in a variety of forms and sizes and each table fell into silence as jaws got working on the lovely fare laid out. 

If you are tempted to try out this colourful meal keep these points in memory.
  1. Karimeen fry is available throughout the day as fresh stocks come in batches.
  2. The karimeen is priced according to size. (The one I got was Rs.380/-)
  3. Fish curry meals are premium stuff so they have make it in limited numbers
  4. They plan for 100 plates for walk in clients and another 50 for hotel guests and telephone orders. A total of 300 plates between lunch and dinner!
  5. The fish curry meal will not be served in the rooms (obviously) 
The disappointment of the morning faded and we packed our bags to check out to take a boat trip in the lagoon.

Watch this space......

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Grand weekend in Ernakulam - Part 1

As a health professional attending conferences as a delegate or a speaker is a welcome diversion. A chance to catch up with friends from college days or colleagues from the profession. Most of the conferences are confined to big cities because the are better connected or have great venues with excellent facilities. That is reason I avoid many of them even if they are interesting. I hate cities. I love open spaces and cities cramp me. Traffic snarls annoy me sufficiently to make me want to scream.

Unfortunately, if I get invited to speak at one of these conferences I have little choice to pack my bags with some formal stuff. My jungle greens and earth browns have to stay on the shelves!

4th August, 2012. Destination Ernakulam.
I started off at a quarter past three in the afternoon with the express agenda of dropping in at the Renault showroom and wangle a test ride in the Duster. I had got on the Palakkad - Shornur road to avoid the NH 47, but I was rudely reminded that the "best laid plans of men and mice...." are always at best plans. It seemed the whole world had decided to use that road that evening and by the time I got onto the NH 47 after Thrissur it was 5.30 PM. Two hours for a little under 80 kilometers!

I thought four lane roads were designed to save time but I guess Kerala needs eight lanes. The two kilometers through Angamaly took me 15 minutes. I was restraining myself from spewing expletives at the inconsiderate drivers because my son was sitting next to me. So, when I finally rolled onto the Edapally-Vytilla bypass it was almost 7.30 PM. The Renault showroom would have been closed anyway and besides, in the wonderful mood I was in, taking a test drive in a SUV in maddening traffic would have been a recipe for disaster. We decided that Duster could wait.

I got to the reception of the Grand Hotel at 7.45 PM and the mood was beginning to lift. I've seen Ernakulam change over the last three decades but here was a place seemed to be caught in a time warp though it was located in the heart of M.G road!  Not yet hungry, we left our bags in the room an drove out. Marine drive at 8.15 PM looked deserted which was a surprise for me. In Kerala's most happening city, nothing was happening on a Saturday evening. Rainbow bridge lacked colour.

Perhaps the threat of rain was a deterrent, or maybe the raids on the eateries after food poisoning instances in the Shawarma stalls.

The tide had gone out and the boats were half floating on the muddy bottom of the lagoon. The lights on the distant wharves looked inviting but there was no boatman in sight to take us on ride. Enrica Lexie would have had a hand in the matter.

We came back to the comforting warmth of the hotel as a light drizzle started making an outdoor jaunt a little risky. I had a talk to deliver next day and I didn't want to end up with a non-performing throat!

The restaurant was packed, as always. Grand Hotel is a little older than me and it is not a place that attracts it's guests through advertisements. It's fame is more from word of mouth and most people come back to its restaurant for the seafood.

If you want to enjoy a meal here be prepared to wait. The food comes slowly. No one pushes you or hurries you. Eat slowly, soak in the atmosphere and inhale the aroma of beautifully prepared sea food. If you are looking for traditional Kerala cuisine you can be assured that your tummy will gurgle in delight.

We found ourselves a table and for the next hour we were lost in the delicate tickling of our taste buds by Grand's chefs. My son and I love our food and that helps us sleep well. We retired to our room walking though narrow corridors lined with coir matting, not exotic carpeting!

There are about 15 rooms to a floor. The road facing rooms are a little larger and spacious and the corner rooms (the suites) have balcony that over looks the gate and the M.G road. Once you are inside your room you feel you are transported back in time because the TV is still the one with the CRT type picture tube, the furniture and fixtures are old and the floors are wooden and un-carpeted.

We settled for the night comfortably. The next day's tale is for the morrow!