Mani’s Mess on Third Puthen Street wears an unassuming quietude during the short intervals through the day. None of the buzz that grips the place around the time of breakfast, lunch and dinner, is betrayed in these hours of repose. Mani is seen getting the place tidied up for the next serving while his sister Thankam is busy in the kitchen.
Soon, the street would resound with the whir of two-wheelers headed to Mani’s Mess and the small house would fill with people, the lucky ones seated at the tables invariably outnumbered by the crowd waiting for their turns in the front room and often spilling out on to the street.
The lunch-time menu would be a scrumptious surprise for first-timers. The parippu vada on the platter makes for a delightful crunchy bite between mouthfuls of rice and curries. Dipped in the bowl of curd, the vada tastes all the more yummy.
“The curries are different on each day. If we have thoran and erissery one day, there will be avial and olan the next day. Sambar, rasam, moru and pickles make up the meal spread,” says Mani.
Customers can walk in as early as 6.45 am for breakfast and can choose from poori-masala, idli-sambar, dosa-chutney and pongal. Breakfast will be served till 10.30 am and the hotel closes for a break till 12.30 pm. Lunch time is the busiest and the next interval is at 4 pm. The place comes alive again in the evening at around 6.45 pm when employees of the Secrateriat and Thiruvananthapuram airport would drop in for a quick bite before heading home.
The hotel used to be known as ‘Mami’s Mess’ after Mani’s mother B Krishnammal, who started the venture as a household business almost 30 years ago.
By the time she passed away in 1999, the hotel was eight years old and had shifted residence from 1st Puthen Street to the 3rd street. It is also where Mani lives with his wife Ananthy and two children. Thankam lives close by and reaches the hotel at 5.30 every morning. “She is the one who has inherited the magic touch that made my mother’s cooking so special,” says Mani.
He has clear memories of dropping off idli packets at households in time for breakfast during the early days of the business. His mother would get them ready quite early in the morning, neatly wrapping the chutney in pieces of plantain leaf and placing it alongside the idlis. His three sisters would help their mother do the packing. The five paise they earned for each packet was the sale income of the family after Mani’s father passed away.
‘Mami’s Mess’ soon corrected itself to ‘Mani’s Mess’ after Krishnammal’s death. His official name, S Krishnamurthy, has never really been of significance, says Mani.
As dusk falls, Mani lights the lamp in the front room. The fragrance of jasmine gets mixed with the appetising aroma of oothappam, ulli vada, rasa vada, parippu vada, chappathi and dosa cooking in the kitchen.