Although it is drizzling, a little curbside Kudumbasree outlet, almost opposite Akashwani on the DPI-Poojapura Road in Thiruvananthapuram, is surrounded by customers. The aroma of ginger, green chilli and masala and the sting of chopped onion fill the air even as a stocky man steadily keeps adding to the heap of chopped onion on a makeshift table.
Finally, he lifts his head up and smiles. Quite a talkative man, K Sreekumaran leaves the onion to talk to me about the food and what is special about the outlet. I ask him if I could speak to the owner. Pointing to a man doling out hot mutton curry into a steel dabba, he says I should speak to him. “His name is Balachandran,” he adds.
In the meantime, three customers wait patiently for the signature dish of the outlet – spicy, piping hot mutton soup. Sold at ₹70 per cup, the soup has put this no-frills place on the food map of Thiruvananthapuram.
Once Balachandran T has served his customers, he tells me that his wife, Bindhu KV, will soon be here. Started more than nine years ago as a stall selling vegetables under Kudumbashree, a poverty eradication and women empowerment programme, Bindhu switched to selling tea and snacks when demonetisation put her business in the red.
While I survey the dishes kept in steel and aluminum containers, Bindhu arrives on her two-wheeler. She is all smiles when she talks about the space that has become a landmark of sorts even while it is flanked by upmarket cafes.
“I began with dosa, chutney, vada and snacks and gradually expanded the menu with thattu dosa, chicken, beef and pork. We looked up recipes on YouTube and learnt to perfect what we cook here. Mutton was added about two years ago,” she says. She named the outlet RL cafe after her two daughters, Reshma and Lekshmi.
Initially, Bindu’s mother, Devayani, used to help her. Once her husband joined her, he pitched in to help her with sales and buying of ingredients. Thanks to the couple’s diligence and hard work, RL cafe managed to attract loyal customers. About two years ago, Balachandran tried experimenting with different ingredients to make a mutton soup that would appeal to local palates. “I tried making it with tomatoes, then with a Chinese flavour and so on. Finally, it was this recipe that clicked with customers. Now, I follow this diligently,” says Balachandran, who is in charge of cooking the soup.
He says some of the ingredients that go into his flavoursome soup are ginger, garlic, coriander powder, pepper and coriander leaves. Reluctant to disclose the exact number of cups of soup that are sold in a day, he says that he makes about three to four pots of soup on some days. “Social media came to our rescue and made us popular,” adds Bindhu. The stall opens at 9 am and by 1pm, the soup is ready. “We buy fresh mutton from Connemara market at Palayam. We also have mutton curry and mutton liver fry. In addition to chicken roast, chilli chicken and fry, on some days, there is pork and beef as well. The pork gets sold out quickly.” she says.
The menu includes thattu dosa, rice and wheat puttu, parotta, rasavada, pazham pori (banana fritters) tapioca and fish curry. Hot, milk tea is also sold here.
RL café closes at 11.30 pm. “This place now puts our meals on our table. Since everything is made with care and sold at reasonable rates, we have customers from all over the city. Even those visiting the city from Kollam and Ernakulam come here to taste our soup,” says Bindhu, before rushing inside to make the chutney for the thattu dosa.