A visit to a foodie’s paradise can never deny me from a visit. As George Bernard Shaw rightfully said, to me “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
This small place lies just 6 kilometers of the bustling city centre Vytilla, in Cochin, Kerala. The open air toddy shop gives you a perfect ambience. It is situated on the banks of the Chambakkara Kayal and has a natural ceiling of tall coconut trees. This is one of the oldest and the famous toddy shop of nettoor
This would have brought thoughts of aversion for people, who would think this is a shady place to visit with a family, but no, the crowd over here is ever welcoming and the hospitality provided by Ashok chettan is wonderful. This man speaks out the menu to you much like the centrefruit advertisment that we see on the TV.
It was a lazy Sunday afternoon that I had decided to visit the place. Although the place and the people are no strangers to me, I was a little reluctant to take my friend along, who was not a toddy lover.
An empty table was arranged next to the flowing backwaters and we were seated comfortably. Upon the centrefruit advertisement moments of Ashok Chettan, we decided to order 1 litre of toddy, shrimps fry, red snapper curry and 2 puttus.
Much to my friend’s surprise, the toddy arrived in a bottle of Cutty Sark and he was taken aback. At once, he felt like he was in one of the prestigious bars in Bangalore. The bottle was given with a strainer to avoid any residues from falling into the glass. Thus we poured our first drink of the fermented, sweet, milky white coconut liquor to our glasses. It was a sip from heaven and he did not expect many more bottles to come. The food arrived and we started taking our first bites from the shrimps fry.
This was a well marinated dry preparation of shrimps, fried along with thinly cut slices of coconut, and yes in coconut oil. The dish was spicy; the meat was tender and was an amazing companion with the toddy.
The Puttu was eaten along with the red snapper curry. The food prepared here is generally spicy as it complements the sweet taste of the toddy very well, however, I would not suggest non spice lovers to visit this as they may not be able to handle this. The food cannot be custom prepared as they are prepared in bulk, like a banquet function, mainly to avoid service delays. Ashok Chettan is the only person who serves food for the 10 tables that are placed perfectly under each of the coconut trees.
We did however enjoy the piece of red snapper and it was perfectly cut with a single bone in the middle, with great spices added like pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, red chillies, cumin, fresh ginger, garlic and coconut oil, each of them standing out distinctively. The combination was perfect, however, we decided to have more food and toddy when we requested for Ashok Chettan.
We received our next round of toddy in a teachers’ highland cream bottle. Along with that came Pomfret curry (2 Pomfrets in a plate) and another round of shrimp fry.
The Pomfret curry had 2 black Pomfrets and this was again a spicy dish. The gravy was similar to the one of the red snapper; however, the spice level was higher. Upon speaking to Ashok chettan as to why, he told us that the fishermen and the boatmen generally had this at their place and it was prepared to suite their tastes. They wanted to keep all of them happy providing their choice of food cooked their style.
My friend started to get more adventurous. He wanted to have duck meat and hence we ordered the same with another 2 bottles of toddy this time. We were getting a little deep into eating all that was available there. The toddy was again presented in one the most premium Whisky bottle and the duck looked amazingly delicious.
Well, this was a perfectly cooked, large chunk of duck breast, with a single bone and tasted so tender when served. It had mild masala coated gravy and was not as spicy as our taste buds had gotten adjusted to the Pomfret curry. We relished each part of the dish, such that we even started licking our fingers. The duck was cooked in gravy which did have the spices, but with coconut milk making it mild and amazingly relish able. We ordered one more round of Duck curry with 2 more puttus.
Well, we have not eaten much, when Ashok chettan had briefly interrupted us to check if everything was okay.
We did have almost an hour long conversation with Ashok chettan about the place, the people, and the clientele just when we saw that a convoy of Mercedes and BMW’s parked in the open space besides. His only answer to the second part was there it is… all kind of people came here. With regards to the location, there was litigation in process to identify the true owner. Some said that the Malayalam film star, Mohanlal, had a share in the ownership, some said a business tycoon owned the place. We did have conversation as to how and where he was from and how he landed here, just to learn that he stayed a few kilometers from my hometown, Karunagapally.
My friend wanted to end the evening with another round of sweet toddy and this time, wanted to experiment with his taste buds, ordered crab. This was the best part of the evening. The crab was well cooked, less spicy, it had a strong flavour of the curry leaves with which, it was cooked, and coconut was abundant in the dish and seasoning, perfect. In all, it was another amazing dish we had here. It was in mild red gravy that the dish had been cooked. We did have to do a little bit of hard work to break the crab shells as we never had claws, forks or spoons to help us with. Our teeth were the best equipment available. Ashok did help us to break a few crab shells to make things easy for us.
We finished off our meal with a final bottle of toddy. We did notice that it was getting late, but little did we realize that we spent 6 hours eating, enjoying the weather, watching boats go up and down the backwaters, talking to colleagues over the phone and making them jealous for not joining us.
When we requested for the bill, it was the most surprising moment. Ashok chettan came with a chalk piece, wrote what all that we had ordered on the table and gave us a figure of little less than Rs 1200/-.
What? Was that all for all this delicacy and hospitality? I did make it a point to visit Nettoor and Ashok Chettan, every time I went home to Cochin.
FYI- “I am not a glutton – I am an explorer of food”- as rightly said by Erma Bombeck
Reviwed & written by:
Hospitality Consultant , 361 Degrees Hospitality