Skip to main content

Noodling the Commies


Food
Restaurant Malaya’s Red Chilly chicken, one can say, brought about the chilly chicken revolution in Kerala.

The first Chinese restaurant in Kerala known as the Malaya Restaurant was downtown Kochi. Now shut down. I still remember as a college kid the Mixed Fried Noodles @ fifteen bucks was a tummy filling mouth-watering dream. We were fed with a hostel fare of Curry and Rice and for a change Rice and Curry, and twice a week we were treated to the irresistible meat curry floating with cubed tapiocas (making tapioca pieces pretend to be potato was the most devious hostel trick to be ever employed). The fare, needless to say, suffused us with perpetual gastronomic dreams. So once in a hungry while, we used to walk all the way to Malaya and order one plate each of Mixed Fried Noodles and devour it with pourings of tomato sauce. The sauce was free so it was with an extra helping of relish that we set about finishing the bottle on the table. One plate is a little too much for even a very greedy person but we stuffed ourselves right down to the last noodle. (My mouth waters at the memory.)

“Two Minutes” History of the Noodle in Kerala.

Forty- five years ago, the general public in this strip of land was tuned into Communist China: From the intellectuals right down to the workers and peasants knew exactly what Mao Tse Tung and the other Chinese Comrades pontificated. Their liturgy was the chant of the Communists here. What is really interesting is that, in such a time, as when Chinese Communist following was at its pinnacle here, many in Kerala were pretty much out of the loop as to what the Chinese were Putting into their mouths. The first Chinese restaurant in Kerala nearly packed up even before it started for the people here said In the China Restaurant they serve white worms called Noodles.” (Last line told by Mary Lee)

The man named H.J.Lee and the China Restaurant

H.J.Lee left China during the Second World War and came down to Madras where he started out as a cloth vendor selling Chinese Silk to English Ladies. Lee, who was good with the wok, then journeyed to Kochi in search of greener pastures. (Maybe he knew about the Communist Kerala’s leanings.) And Lee got married to Mary Lee. In the Year of The Rat (1960), Lee started the China Restaurant in Kochi. He encountered a couple of big hurdles because the people here were quite clueless about Chinese food. The other was during the Indo-China War- the China Restaurant was pelted with patriotic stones. H.J Lee was quick to react; he just renamed his restaurant as Malaya and slowly won the masses over. He used no propaganda or pamphlets and but with the bewitching smells emanating from his great kitchen he made the rice and fish curry loving people long to eat Chopsuey and Chilly chicken. Soon people came in droves, and the stars of yesteryears Prem Nazir, Umer, Sharada, Madhu and the evergreen Mammooty frequented the restaurant. And Lee was known to spoil his customers- the quantity was large and the food delicious. (My mouth still waters.)

Lee’s Red Chilly Chicken was a variation that infused the local flavour and it was a Clucking success. The chilly chicken became the rage in Kerala- kind of a chilly chicken revolution that took the exotic flavours to the masses. (A lot of bird blood was spilt of course!) By the way today if you go near Padma Junction, Kochi at night, the street food served there is great Chinese stuff- noodles and all. Now you know what I mean.

In 1996 Malaya closed down and in 2001 H.J.Lee passed away.

Comments

Ravi John said…
It was at Malaya that I first learnt that beer could be served in a tea pot and drunk from tea cups ! I remember going to Malaya with my folks and some of their friends and Mr. Lee serving them beer in tea pots.

Aaah....Indian ingenuity is an amazing thing...but Indo-Chinese ingenuity is still better..

Popular posts from this blog

The Suryanelli Girl: Her Story

Suryanelli: The place of no sun. 
  Roofs weighed down by rock bags to keep the wind from blowing them away
Off the Kerala state highway that connect the small, brash towns giddy with foreign remittances, sits an unassuming, modest home that goes by the name: Lovedale. A septuagenarian couple, a retired postmaster and a retired nurse, live here with their younger daughter and, a ghoulish past that continues to taunt every waking moment of their lives. The 33-year-old daughter smiles shyly revealing an innocence frozen in time. 17 years ago, the daughter, then a 16-year-old girl, had left home wearing a skirt and a blouse to go to school and returned sexually violated and terribly traumatized: her transformation from a carefree school girl to a bloated individual was violently shocking. The girl had been kept captive, fed sedatives and alcohol, traded for sex and raped by 42 men in a span of 40 days in the months of January and February 1996. The family’s tryst with rapists, the police, …

Free Masons: All about them

Free masonry- the 'spiritual society' of sacred brotherhood with its origins in antiquity has always been shrouded in mystery. Their initiation rites, rituals, symbolisms, secret signs and code of conduct have further enhanced the aura of mysteriousness. Is Free Masonry a remnant of an ancient religion that worshipped the Sun or is it just an exclusive, elitist boy's club that indulges in secret charity missions?
In 1961 the Grand Lodge of India, which is an off -shoot of the Grand Lodges of Scotland, England and Ireland was constituted. The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of India Mr.Arun Chintopanth was recently here in Kochi to preside over the meeting of the Regional Grand Lodge of Southern India. In an exclusive interview with the Grand Master sought to demystify the Masonic Lodge. Arun Chintopanth in full regalia. Dont miss the apron. What is Free Masonry? It is not a service organisation. It is not a religious group. It is not a mutual benefit society but it is a combi…

Book Review: An Autobiography Of A Sex Worker by Nalini Jameela

I am 51 years old. And I would like to continue to be a sex worker.” This is how the candid and defiant opening statement in Nalini Jameela’s autobiography in Malayalam, Oru Lymgika-thozhilaliyude Atmakadha, goes. It at once throws a challenge at society’s double standards — harsh on prostitutes and soft on the clients. Nalini Jameela, who is the coordinator of the Kerala Sex Workers’ Forum, reveals her sordid story with no trace of compunction.
Nalini was a 24-year-old widow when she entered the profession to feed her two children. At that time she did not think about the repercussions of her act. She writes, “I was earning Rs 4.50 at a tile factory near Trissur. My mother-in-law served me with an ultimatum to either give her five rupees a day to look after my children or leave the house. I recounted my woes to a friend, who introduced me to Rosechechi. Rosechechi promised me Rs 50 if I spent time with a man. The first thought that came to my mind was that my children would be looked…