Kerala, ‘God’s Own Country’, has an immense amount to offer — food, culture, heritage, travel destinations, and so much more. Its people and the communities that have formed are some examples of the cultural diversity of this wonderful state. Much of its traditional presence conveys a certain history, but of all the contributors to its endless charm, the people are at the top of the list.
In Kozhikode in Kerala, however, there exists an unexpected community - one of the Gujaratis. Trade has always been a part of the community and they were perhaps the ones who introduced the traders in Kerala to it. It is believed that even when Vasco de Gama reached the coast of Kerala at the Kappad Beach in Kozhikode in 1498, he first met a Gujarati merchant and a local one from Kerala later on. In the presence of Ibn Battuta, too, Kozhikode came across as a busy trading town. Additionally, some believe that Gujaratis along with the Chinese and the Arabs gave the Malayali trading community the tools to grow.
With traders came their families and the influences of Gujarati culture. Mainly based in northern Kerala around the coast at Valiyangadi, the settlement lives in narrow lanes with houses no different to those of the region. Most of the families are now Keralites at heart and continue to live their daily lives in a manner that is as Malayali as it gets.
At one point in time, the streets were peppered with Pandikasalas, or warehouses, owned by Gujaratis. Atop these warehouses, or rather on their top floors were living quarters for those who owned them. The warehouse and their home existed together — giving off much of a trade-passionate presence. They also worked with coffee as well as spices such as ginger which were exported to parts of Europe.
Now, the main influence that remains (along with members of the community) is that of food. Giving Kozhikode its dose of North Indian food including chaat and chhole bhature, Gujarati street is a food lover’s paradise. The most popular restaurant is one called Dilbar. It lives up to its Bollywood-inspired name and stands proudly in all the glorious colours and its straight-out-of-film-city appearance. Its pakodas, aloo-puri, aloo-chhole, and kachoris are said to be the best of the lot.
Kozhikode, like other Indian cities, is a culmination of its historical influences. But it is the unexpected ones that make for interesting stories - and the Gujarati influence in Kozhikode is one of them. It almost seems like a mismatch but nothing about people accepting each other and embracing new cultures is ever completely straightforward. For proof, head to Kozhikode’s Gujarati street!
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