We trace the culinary legacy behind Kochi’s Oriental restaurant scene
The search begins at the new Malaya restaurant at Kaloor
Let’s get one thing straight—not much has changed on Malaya’s five-page menu in the last 27 years. This also applies to their week-old, 60-cover establishment which maintains the brand’s signature taste and humongous portions. So, why are we here? To chart out the evolution of Kochi’s Oriental restaurant scene—while sampling some all-time classics like their zesty Mandarin chicken—because unbeknownst to most Gen-Y foodies the name ‘Malaya’ lies at its heart.
“I’ve watched Kerala’s love for Indo-Chinese cuisine burgeon over the last few decades. It all started with a Chinese immigrant called R J Lee. He opened the state’s first Chinese eatery on Banerjee Road called Malaya,” claims owner John V Joseph, elaborating, “He was also responsible for training (and introducing) many chefs and restauranteurs in Oriental fare. Some of whom, went on to open popular eateries of their own like Chiyang, Kaishek, Chariot etc.”
After Lee passed away, a mixture of college hooliganism and politics egged on by repeated Indo-Sino skirmishes on the North-Eastern front, lead to the eatery’s closure. But by then, most Kochiites had developed a hankering for Chinese chow. So in 1990, John opened New Malaya Restaurant at Palarivattom.
To this day, he’s maintained the legacy with excellent specials like Shanghai-style sweet and sour fish, (marinated in black vinegar and tossed in a delicious sugar-soy mixture) “An aspect that’s always kept our patrons’ happy for three decades are our pork delicacies,” shares the 70-year-old, while serving me a portion of their succulent pepper-soy infused roast pork and appetising mixed fried rice. I raise my chopsticks in homage to Lee and dig in.
Meal for two `600 onwards