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  • Ambling around Kozhikode’s streets and markets

SM Street is Sweetmeat Street, famous for the black halwas of Kozhikode

Ambling around Kozhikode’s streets and markets

Susheela Nair

Published: Feb. 29, 2024
Updated: Mar. 29, 2024

THE drive from the charming hill station of Wayanad to the scorching plains of  Kozhikode, the erstwhile capital of the powerful Zamorins, is unabashedly scenic. Formerly known as Calicut, Kozhikode is a commercial hub hailed as the gateway to Malabar. This ancient port has a proud literary history and a bustling contemporary commercial life. Apart from its wafer-thin banana chips and delectable halwas, Kozhikode is famed for the ancient temples, mosques and churches that dot the city.

Ever since Vasco da Gama made his celebrated landing on the sands of Kappad Beach just outside Kozhikode and exclaimed, “O Paradiso!”, European traders have swarmed to the shores of Malabar, lured by its legendary spices. One can enjoy the quietude of the silken sands of Kappad and gaze at a small obelisk which commemorates the landing of Vasco da Gama in 1498. Today, the beach is dotted with small fishing hamlets. An hour’s walk along the sandy beach will bring you into contact with fishermen drying and repairing their nets and pushing their boats; it is indeed a lovely place to stroll around. 

Renowned travellers like Ibn Batuta and Marco Polo have eulogized the enchanting beauty and wealth of the Malabar region which sprawls across  northern Kerala, starting with Kasaragod in the north and moving down to Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode, Malappuram and Palakkad.

As I ambled around the streets of Kozhikode, I found the city’s prolific literary heritage palpable everywhere. I felt like a student on an assignment as I embarked on a literary sojourn to discover where legendary wordsmiths like Muhammad Basheer, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, and P. Valsala were inspired to write many of their classics. I stumbled upon the statue of S.K. Pottekkatt, a literary luminary, at the entrance of SM Street, which formed the backdrop of his award-winning novel, Oru Theruvinte Katha (Story of a Street).

With 70 publishing houses and more than 100 bookstores, Kozhikode is known for its vibrant literary culture. Another astounding revelation is that the city has more than 500 libraries, including private and public ones. Located in a five-storied building with a floor area of 520 square metres, near Mananchira Square, the Kozhikode Public Library and Research Centre is worth a visit. Kozhikode is also a permanent venue for the annual Kerala Literature Festival and plays host to several other book fairs. It’s no wonder that Kozhikode earned the sobriquet of UNESCO City of Literature and was added to UNESCO’S Creative Cities Network for its proud literary history.

A literary tradition: 70 publishing houses,100 bookstores

I also learnt that the Thali temple is the venue of Revathi Pattathanam, an annual cultural and intellectual event. At this seven-day feast of learning scholars from different fields are honoured with prizes. Built by the Samuthiri, Kozhikode’s erstwhile ruler, the temple features intricate bas-relief on the walls of the sanctum sanctorum and elaborate carvings on the wooden roof.

I visited some famous museums and a gallery that celebrate Kozhikode’s illustrious history. From Krishna Menon Museum which exhibits memorabilia of the statesman, I hopped to the adjacent Pazhassirajah Museum of archaeological finds. The museum’s rare collection of copies of ancient murals, bronzes, old coins, excavated earthenware, models of temples and megalithic monuments like rock-cut caves, crypts and umbrella stones, and urn burials is amazing. Adjacent to this museum is the Art Gallery, with western-style paintings by Raja Ravi Varma and his uncle, Raja Rama Varma.

When literary fatigue sets in, you can take a boat cruise to the unexplored backwaters past tile factories or watch artisans at work on urus (dhows) in Beypore. If you are a heritage buff, you can amble down the streets of Kozhikode and unravel its rich heritage starting from Mananchira Square, an enormous tank fed by a natural spring and almost refurbished to its original form. Most of the attractions of Kozhikode are around this square.

The spiritually inclined can head to the city’s ancient mosques at Kuttichira and the four-storeyed Mishkal mosque boasting the architectural splendour of yesteryears. The 14th century Jama Palli is said to have the largest floor area of all the mosques in Kerala. Also nearby is Mucchandipalli, the oldest mosque in Kozhikode, built on land donated by the Samuthiri raja in the 13th century. A unique feature of the mosques in Kozhikode is the square or rectangular pond attached to them, similar to those in temples.



Visit SM Street, the city’s first commercial avenue, whose name is derived from sweetmeat and is famous for black halwa, a delicacy that Kozhikode is known for. Black halwas were initially exported to Arab countries. Sample a spread of heavenly halwas, made from refined flour, sugar, jaggery and prepared in coconut oil. Relish the yummy dry fruit halwas available in various flavours and colours (red, black, green, yellow and cream) as they melt in your mouth. Another much-sought after specialty is crispy and crunchy chips. Raw bananas are peeled, sliced into thin, round pieces, soaked in salty water, drained, and fried in coconut oil. Try the piping-hot banana chips, straight from the frying pan. The chips made from ripe bananas have a slightly sweet taste.

On the culinary front, Kozhikode has a vast repertoire ranging from the delicious vegetarian food of the Hindus to the unique Moplah culinary style that harmonizes Arab and indigenous flavours. When in Kozhikode, don’t miss the proper Malabar style chicken or mutton biryani and beef curry with parotta. Due to its proximity to the sea, Kozhikode is most enjoyed by connoisseurs of seafood! Seafood dishes range from scrumptious fish curries, prawn fries and stuffed mussels to prawn biryani.  


Fact File

Getting there: Kozhikode is well connected by air, rail and road. The nearest airport is Karipur. To move around in the city hire autos which are reasonably priced.

Staying options: Hari Vihar, Malabar Palace,

Taj Residency.

What to shop: Spices, woven and printed cottons,

halwas and banana chips, bell metal artefacts,

models of urus, etc.


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