“We miss our home, once we start missing our cuisine. I went through it when I visited and stayed in Ahmedabad with my friends, who were studying and working here. The Mallus struggle to find affordable Kerala food in Ahmedabad. So, the idea struck,” says Sree Lakshmi, the name behind “KL11 Café” in Paldi.
She risked the comforts of a secure salaried job and set up the eatery in 2019. Then of course, the pandemic changed the world order. “Business is picking up now and I am happy with the decision,” she adds.
According to the Ahmedabad Kerala Samajam (AKS) there are no official figures about the exact number of Malayalees in Gujarat. “We estimate the number to be about three lakhs, together in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. KL 11 has emerged a connector for us all. For us, it means authentic traditional food at affordable rates,” explains KM Ramachandran from AKS.
The name, interesting as it sounds, is a take-off from the registration number of vehicles in the Kozhikode (Northern Kerala/Malabar) region. KL is the state initial while 11 denotes north Kerala, which is known for its unique way of cooking food.
Stand around the cosy corner and you will be treated to the sights, sound and smell of Kerala. From chetta (brother) to the thick Mallu-accented Hindi and English, enter the café’ and you are in the southern backwaters.
“Our evening snacks and meals are usually ordered from KL11. Puttu (cylindrical rice cake) with a plate of kadala (black chickpeas curry), pappadum and a banana is all we need to overcome that sinking nostalgia,” shared a bunch of students from the nearby National Institute of Design (NID).
For chef Rasin Lal, it is the love and promise of eagerly waiting Mallus, that drives him to toss up magic day after day. As he puts it: “I can see their eyes glitter during the lunch thalis which includes Kerala rice, upperi, pappadam, homemade pickle, veg curry (sambar, moringa leaves, dal coconut curry, pumpkin erissery) with fish fry and nadan chicken curry.”
Sree Lakshmi shares that her father, Jayakaran’s teachings have come in good stead. “As a little girl, I recall my father saying serve food with love. One should aim to fill people’s hearts. Guess that mantra is the reason why people chose to visit us over again. We are also receiving orders for prebooked and customised meals,” she explains when asked to list the secret recipe to success.
Mallus around Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar throng KL11 for its ambience as well. Sipping on Kerala Sulaimani (black tea) with snacks like pazhampori (sweet banana fry), sweet ada in banana leaves, neyyappam, chicken cutlet and parippu vada (dal fried vada) come with the added bonus of regional music in the background.
Meanwhile, for Sree and Chef Lal, their vision to gather the community under one umbrella is work in progress. “Food binds one and all. Dinner is our maximum rush hour with staples such as appam and stew, ghee rice, Kerala chicken stew and chicken kurma being sold out. Our focus remains the students and working professionals who are far from home. But now, we have non-Mallu families also making a beeline for a place at dinner time,” share the duo.
Seems KL 11 surely knows the way to the heart!!