Kindness and a cup of Sulaimani tea

Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan
In 2012's Malayalam movie 'Ustad Hotel', we follow a young disillusioned lad Faisal who goes against his dad's wishes and wants to be a chef in Switzerland. As the father-son relation gets worse, he is forced to postpone his dreams and return to the idyllic city of Calicut and work as a cook in his aging grandfather's small restaurant. The clash of generations and lifestyles between the NRI child and the religious Sufi grandfather gives way with time as Faisal begins to see the good his grandfather does for the poor via his restaurant, feeding the hungry from his own savings, if need be.

When an opportunity arises for Faisal to leave abroad once more and fulfill his dream of being an international chef, he is still eager to take it up. Unable to stop him, his grandfather asks him to meet an old friend of his in Madhurai one last time and spend a day with him before he leaves.
The man Faisal meets is an ex-chef named Narayanan Krishnan and the day Faisal spends in Madhurai with him changes his outlook on life forever.

Sulaimani tea Kerala

An absolutely brilliant film, Ustad Hotel was that rare movie that pleased both the critics and the masses alike and would eventually go on to win 3 National Awards in 2012, including Best Popular Film, Best Dialogues (that amazing woman Anjali Menon who followed it up with the even more brilliantly scripted Bangalore Days) and a special mention for the late Thilakan who played the role of the grandfather. The movie caught the nuances of the food culture of Calicut / Kozhikode perfectly while also effortlessly weaving it into the theme of poverty and how so many do not even get to eat a single meal in a day.

The character of Narayanan Krishnan in the movie has barely a 10 minute role at the end of the film and yet, in the end when you think about it, the whole movie was building up to his story. For those of you who don't know who he is, Narayanan Krishnan is not just a character from the movie.

The actual Narayanan Krishnan is an award winning chef from Bangalore's Taj Hotel group, who like Faisal in the movie, was shortlisted for an elite job in Switzerland. It was while waiting in traffic one day that he saw an scene that left him totally shocked and disillusioned with his life and what he was doing.

He quit his job the very next day and began feeding the homeless people in his town, personally providing haircuts and shaves to the destitute as well. With the help of the trust he started, the Akshaya Trust, he feeds three meals a day to the homeless in Madhurai. In 2010, CNN chose him as one of the 'Top 10 Heroes' of the world for his endeavour.

What does Sulaimani tea have to do with this?
Well, everything and nothing.
In the movie, Faisal and his grandfather bond over a cup of Sulaimani tea as they watch the sun rise. Faisal learns to appreciate the smaller things in life and also the value of humanity as he watches his grandfather slave over a stove.

Inspired by the theme of the movie, the District Administration & Kerala Hotel and Restaurants Association launched a programme in 2015 in Kozhikode called Operation Sulaimani. The aim was quite simple - to provide quality food to those who could not pay for it. Taking note of similar movements abroad such as the "Food on the Wall" and "Coffee on the Wall" initiatives wherein people pay in advance at restaurants for food to be served to the poor and homeless when the latter arrive, Operation Sulaimani is the first of its kind in India and looks to avoid wastage by serving up good food in a dignified manner, aiming to feed up to 1000 people a day.
You can read more about it here. It is perhaps fitting that Anjali Menon, who wrote the script of Ustad Hotel that inspired this chain of thought leading to Operation Sulaimani, inaugurated the event.

Coming to the drink itself, Sulaimani is a black (more golden-brown actually!) tea popular to the Malabar coast of Kerala. With roots from the Arabian countries, this tea is usually served after a heavy meal (biryani, anyone?) to help in digestion.
It is actually quite simple to prepare. This is how we do it at home.

Black tea powder 1 tsp
Cardamom 2-3
Lemon 1
Water 2 cups

RECIPE: (Serves two)
Boil two cups of water. Add a little less than 1 teaspoon of black tea powder. Powder 1-2 pieces of cardamom and add it. Now add sugar as per taste. Allow it to heat for 3 minutes, closing the lid and then turn the flame off. Strain the tea and squeeze half a lemon into the drink. Serve hot.

In different variations, people choose to add ginger (2 tablespoon grated) and cinnamom (1 small stick powdered). Try the different permutations and combinations and see what works for you.

Sulaimani tea Kerala
Click the image to convert it to its full size and download the recipe

Have a great day. And do remember to do one act of kindness in the coming week for someone less fortunate than you. It might not mean much to you to make a small effort but it may be the world to somebody else. You really don't know who you may inspire, simply by being kind.

Authors note:
This post finds its origins from BlogaRhythm's word prompt: Kindness.
I am participating in NaBloPoMo. You can read more about it here and join in the fun yourself, adding your posts here.
I am also participating in EverydayGyaan's September Blogging Challenge and Bailey Jean's Blog-Tember challenge. Do check them all out. So many inspiring themes to get you writing.
Over the course of the rest of this month, expect to see many more such dishes (ranging from seafood, desserts, starters and tea time snacks) - all prepared by my mother from recipes she has collected as far back as the 1980's - with some unique to Kerala cuisine and some variations of international dishes. 
Since the goal is to share, I will be looking to make all the recipes into easy downloadable single images so that you can save them on to your mobile/device and use them offline. Of course, if you do try them out, it would be awesome if you gave me (and her) feedback here on what you thought of the dish.

For the list of all the recipes so far (including seafood, egg dishes, sweets, twists on traditional dishes et al), click here:

For more food posts,  click here.

Brave Love Blog

September 2015

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Let me know what you think.

  1. Operation Sulaimani is such a fab initiative and so very much needed too. Hope it spreads to other parts of the country too. After commenting on this post, Sulaimani Tea... sounds very interesting. Is it made from regular tea leaves or there's a special variety of tea that's used for it?

  2. Aditi KaushivaOctober 08, 2015

    I've heard about Akshaya Trust and the man behind it but didn't know there was a movie inspired by it too! Beautiful post! Operation Sulaimani is a wonderful initiative and hope that other cities follow soon !

  3. I really wish more cities would take up this venture. I can't imagine why it is so hard

  4. Regular black tea leaves work just fine. The final kick comes with the freshly squeezed lime just before serving which imparts a golden brown colour to it

  5. Very inspirational read! Will try that tea recipe also:-)

  6. It's a simple enough recipe... Hope you like it.

  7. obsessivemomOctober 08, 2015

    What a great story - and how wonderful that it inspired a real life initiative. The recipe sounds interesting too. We make iced tea loke this, except this one is hot. Is black tea powder different from our regular packaged tea?

  8. Francene StanleyOctober 08, 2015

    What a great story, and even better because it's based on real life.
    I appreciate the recipe for Sulaimani tea. Sounds interesting.

  9. Vishal BheerooOctober 08, 2015

    I've read about it and we need such people to spread change in society. A simple cup of tea can alter lives:)

  10. In a world where we are surrounded by bad news, it's important to showcase the good things that are happening too, I always feel

  11. I honestly had not heard of it earlier... when I found out, I knew I had to incorporate Sulaimani tea into the list of dishes for the month

  12. manjulika pramodOctober 08, 2015

    This post proves I know so little about tea... never knew about Sulaimani tea..

  13. It is a simple enough one but quite famous... you will find it a lot in Kerala as well as in most Arab countries too

  14. manjulika pramodOctober 08, 2015

    Been to four Arabic countries and Kerala too and yet I hardly know.. :-(

  15. This is such a beautiful post. I love the picture too. Reminds me of the Sulaimani I had after a rather large breakfast today morning ;) I liked the picturisation of Ustad Hotel. The only sadness I felt when I watched it was knowing that Thilakan had passed away and this was probably his last movie. Brilliant actor. Great post as always, Roshan. Stay blessed :)

  16. I remember reading about this incredible person when I think he was nominated for the CNN awards? Very inspiring, indeed. I think if we all did things because we want to instead of have to, the focus will shift, gradually and definitely towards a better life. What we attract we experience. Have found that to be especially true of blogging and now, writing. The more I write because I want to, instead of have to, I find the voice coming through. Something which I ALWAYS find in your posts, Roshan. Many many Kudos to you for that. You bring life into your posts, as only you can. Life, depth and sincerity.

    Also, moved to Disqus comments? Since when?

  17. I too had heard of him years ago but did not know of the CNN heroes thing (that came up while researching this article). And yes, when we write because we want to, we do get the best results... most of my best posts from earlier years were directly from the heart... it was the way I would speak in real life.

    As for Disqus, finally gave up on Google plus. That thing was so restricting. To be frank, I honestly regret ever shifting to it. Got sucked in with their description but it was so stifling. Only if you have a G+ account and all. Sadly, can't even integrate their comments into Disqus or any other format so lost the better part of 1000 comments from the last year.

  18. True. was just talking about this with a fellow anaesthetist less than half an hour ago. Thilakan was a talent that you cannot get again in this lifetime.. the versatility and intensity he brought to the roles was amazing.

  19. Sigma PadmanandanOctober 08, 2015

    Sulaimani has always been my fav... n yeah my favourite variant is the cinnamon one...

  20. Back when we were kids in the Gulf, I remember how Dad would ask for one after lunch. I always imagined it was some big thing made with some secret powder :D

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