Zam Zam Restaurant
Opposite MLA Hostel
Palayam Thiruvananthapuram695034 Kerala
Open 7 days a week, 11.00am – 10.00pm.
When the Lady sits down for lunch with the Queen, what follows is a culinary clash in more ways than one.
THE thing about Kerala is that each of its 33.3 million people always knows best. About everything. The state’s strident women even more so, and the Courtyard Queen is no different.
Which is why it was 4pm by the time we arrived at Zam Zam Restaurant, just outside Thiruvnananthapuram in Kerala, for lunch. Which is why, when I wanted an authentic Keralan taste, I was presented with something Middle Eastern-infused.
Which is why, instead of a pot of delectable Dum Briyani, I found myself ravenously diving into a bowl of Chicken Fried Rice (Rs80/RM4.75).
The Courtyard Queen loved the fried rice, a recent phenomenon in this southern-most Indian state. She thought it delicious and ate her portion with much gusto, the pallu of her sari tucked into her waist so as not to impede her hand-to-mouth movement. However, being used to our local fare, I thought the foreign fried rice rather bland.
It was, however, mixed with generous servings of chicken, carrots, beans, peas and slices of omelette. It looked very good and was more than filling.
The Chappatis (Rs6/30sen each) were insipid, dry and hard once cooled. Unless this wholemeal flat-bread is home-made, it does nothing for me. Unlike the Kerala Paratha (Rs8/50sen), the equivalence of our roti canai, which was outstanding. Light and fluffy balanced with crisp and crunchy just right. The experience was akin to a tasty, flavourful blend of softness and boldness.
The brisk and efficient waiter had earlier confidently recommended the more Keralan dishes for our table of three (which included the young, mobile phone-addicted driver called Stalin).
We ended up with Beef Pepper Masala (Rs70/RM4.20), Mutton Kolapuri (Rs160/RM10), Vegetable Kadai (Rs65/RM4) and Mushroom Nawabi (Rs85/RM5.10) to complement our carbohydrates. The Courtyard Queen cast aside talk about calorie-counting with a dismissive wave, while continuing to enthusiastically agree with the waiter.
While waiting for the main course, we watched the non-stop traffic in the slightly cramped restaurant. Even in the early evening, it was packed. Students from the nearby colleges filed in for fruit punches, milk shakes and ice-creams (the other restaurant specialities, I was proudly informed.) Elderly parents and their middle-aged daughter came in for tea and sweet traditional snacks.
In a corner, a crowded group of tourists dressed in Indian garb were oooh-ing and aaah-ing over every morsel.
Our curries, arriving in four bowls, looked too similar for comfort. Yet the taste of each pot’s contents was subtly discrete.
The beef masala was overflowing with spices, rendering us unable to name each one. But the potent mix carefully balanced the sweet with the savoury and spicy. Although they could have been more generous with the beef, the gravy’s consistency was just right, perfect for the paratha. Another one of the Courtyard Queen’s favourite dishes.
Chunky cubes of carrot and capsicum, together with stretched slivers of long beans, filled the vegetable curry, along with lots of onions and tomatoes. I wish they had exercised the same care with the Mushroom Nawabi, which we found flavourless, probably because of the canned mushrooms and insufficient time for the flavours to seep through.
By contrast, the curry was smooth, with cashew nuts adding a distinctive dash to the taste.
My favourite was definitely the Mutton Kolapuri. Its fiery flare burnt the palate before allowing the blaze to escape through the nose! Delicious. The viscous gravy’s blend of spices did not overpower and, although the mutton was a little fatty and tough in parts, the dish was a winner.
Even the Courtyard Queen, who is a fussy eater and even fussier cook (who usually claims that she can cook better than everyone else), was impressed.
Despite being quite full, we decided to share a dessert, as almost everyone in the restaurant was having home-made ice-cream.
We did consider the Zam Zam Exotica – rich, nut-filled and fruity – and even the Ice Fruits Special, but with stomachs full of spices, carbs and currries, we decided on the simple Italian Delight (Rs60/RM3.60). However, by the time it arrived at our table, it was melting. Still, this refreshingly sweet, creamy concoction blending dollops of banana, strawberry and vanilla ice cream with a dried peel and sprinkled nut topping was a perfect ending.
As we left the restaurant, we saw the chicken – clay oven-roasted Zam Zam Broast special, oven-warmed, in readiness for the crowds to come. The cashier pointed out their skewered chicken in myriad colours and flavours – our speciality!
I may have missed an authentic Keralan feast, but I shall return to Zam Zam to try out the broast. At the invitation of the Courtyard Queen, now converted to the Zam Zam taste. The chef knows best.