We were on our way back to Palakkad after attending a function at Thrissur (via Ottapalam) when my sister-in-law told us about a hotel (read thattukada/dhaba) on our way that serves really tasty food. After hearing her description, I couldn’t wait any longer and convinced my folks to stop at this hotel. Although we were too full after the sadya (feast) at Thrissur, we could at least have tea and coffee. The group that got down just for tea and coffee ended up having uzhunnu (medu) vada, kesari, and poori masala!
Hotel Sree Sakthi Vilas is a roadside dhaba at Edathara en route Palakkad-Thrissur road when you go via Ottapalam. There are lots of such dhabas lining the road, many serving very tasty traditional Kerala food. Apart from the taste, what makes this one unique is Madhavan Nair, the owner. Aged 100 (he does not look a day older than 80, see for yourself!), he still works at the hotel ensuring that every customer is served well and is happy. The experiences of a long life have not dulled him one bit. When a customer walks in, he rings the bell to alert the waiters inside, smiles, folds his hands and greets every customer. His smile so warm and genuine, it instantly makes you feel good. He is as enthusiastic as a young boy.
Sree Sakthi Vilas hotel has a truly rustic ambience and is more like a house modified into a hotel. As you enter there is a small room and towards your right sits the ever smiling Madhavan Nair, greeting you. There is a sweets and savory counter also in this room. Then you enter into the main sitting area where there are about 6-7 benches and desks, dhaba style, where people can sit and eat. Food is served in banana leaf. A picture of Mahatma Gandhi with a message highlighting the importance of customer service hangs on the wall. My uncle who worked with Citibank mentioned that usually banks and financial institutions hang this message on their walls. But the message truly reflects Mr. Nair’s ideologies. There is also a poster that says “Ela Edukkanam,” which means “Dispose the banana leaf.”
The menu at Sree Sakthi Vilas is typical of such dhabas. For breakfast you get idli, dosa, poori with masala, vada, upma, and so on. Thali lunch is served at noon. For evening snacks, you get dosa and savory items like lentil vada (parippu vada). Being a die-hard dosa fan, I wanted to try their dosa but unfortunately the batter was not ready then. So we settled in to try medu vada. Some of us ordered poori masala which I heard was very tasty. We also had Kesari bath which was excellent, melting in the mouth with just the right amount of ghee and sugar. Although too full to eat anything, I could not stop at a few bites. No spoons or fancy cutlery at Sree Sakthi Vilas. Just dig in, scoop off, and lick – best way to enjoy tasty food! :)
Even at 4 in the evening, I noticed people eating thali meals. When I say thali meals, please do not expect a plate full of small katoris with different curries. All items are served in banana leaf. My cousin’s 8-year-old daughter certified that the sambhar here is fabulous and even walked up to Mr. Nair and complimented him and team on the taste of sambhar.
Madhavan Nair is quite famous and has been featured on some Malayalam TV channels. Recently he celebrated his 100th birthday along with his large extended family that includes the seventh generation grandchild. He lives in a house just few feet away from the hotel. His day at the hotel begins at 4 in the morning and ends at 8 in the evening. Apart from the time when he takes a small afternoon nap, he is always at the hotel to oversee things and welcome his customers.
When we finished eating, we walked up to Mr. Nair and complimented him and expressed our good wishes to him. He was deeply grateful and he just kept smiling and gave us toffees. It is difficult to express how we felt at seeing this man who is so genuine and wants to please all his customers. It is amazing to see his enthusiasm to run the hotel even at this age. I am making retirement plans even as I am in my 30s. But here is a man who works even at 100! I am quite sure he must have started young too, and it is not as if he is completely healthy. Arthritic pains must be bothering him. Yet there he was, trying to make others happy. Times have changed so much since his youth – wars fought, independence regained, people have come and gone – yet Madhavan Nair’s zest for life remains intact. There is so much to learn from a person like Mr. Nair.
As we got out, two cars full of people, possibly on their way to Thrissur, entered Sree Sakthi Vilas. Time for Mr. Nair to ring the bell and greet his customers. While my aunt was buying some papad that was being sold at the shop next door, the rest of us huddled around behind our van. We could not stop exclaiming what a nice experience it was. Madhavan Nair continued to smile at us with his hands folded. May he be happy and healthy.