Legacy Across the Ages: Three Centuries Strong

The visionaries who chartered the course of the business in its historical beginnings. Mambally Bapu (top left), Mambally Gopalan (top right), Kunimadha Ponnambath (Gopalan’s wife)

‘‘Throughout the centuries, there were men who took their first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision’’ ~ Ayn Rand

Set deep within the quaint, scenic and historical town of Thalassery once known as Tellicherry, on the Malabar Coast in Kerala is the story of one of India’s first bakeries. A leap of faith that pioneered what is today an over 10 billion dollar bakery industry of India and also led to Thalassery’s unofficial title – Land of 3 C’s -Cakes, Cricket and Circus.

Tellicherry, a port town grew in prominence due to its strategic location and played a significant commercial, cultural, educational role in the history of India, especially during the colonial era when it was a prominent trade and commerce hub attracting Dutch, British, Portuguese, Chinese, Arab and Jewish merchants who came in search of spices, textiles and other exotic treasures. Nicknamed “The Paris of Kerala” by the Europeans, it was here, that the British East India Company established its first trading post on the Malabar Coast.

It was during this era, in the year 1880, that Mambally Bapu a well-travelled and successful business man and trader driven by his passion and sharp business acumen established ‘Mambally’s Royal Biscuit Factory’. Having mastered the art of biscuit making in Burma he opened shop producing over 40 different varieties of biscuits, rusks, bread and buns. The bakery grew immensely popular with the locals and foreigners alike. It soon became one of the two prominent bakeries in India at the time, the second being one in West Bengal but that catered exclusively to the British.

A combination of serendipity and enthusiasm also led him to bake the first historically known cake in India, creating a powerful legend which also led to Thalassery being known as the land of the 3Cs – Cakes, Cricket and Circus. While Bapu set up the original Bakery, it was Mambally Gopalan, his nephew, who inherited the business from him who scaled it to great heights and trained successive generations who went on to set up several iconic bakeries across Kerala such as Santha Bakery in Trivandrum with 3 stores, Bestotel and Best Bakery with 3 stores in Kottayam, Mambally’s Best Bakery at Thiruvalla, Modern Bakery in Calicut, Mambally’s Bakery in Tellicherry, Mambally Bakery in Chenganur, Brownnies in Kannur and Cochin Bakery chain with 13 stores across 4 cities in Kerala and Karnataka. Each had its own base of loyal fans, ranging from the common man, to celebrities, to world leaders such as The King of Cochin, Lord Mountbatten and Field Marshal Cariappa, just to name a few. Back in the day, our biscuits and cookies even travelled to Egypt, Africa and the Middle East along with the Indian troops fighting the first and second world wars.

The family’s passion and pioneering spirit also extended to Cricket and the first captain of the Kerala cricket team was PM Raghavan from the 3rd generation of bakers in the family. Over the years the family has contributed 6 Ranji trophy cricketers and several others who have been stars at school and state level.

For the Mambally Ponnambath family, baking has always been borne more out of love and passion, than as a means of livelihood. This pursuit of perfection led the family to source some of the finest ingredients from around the world, whether back in the day, it was flavours from Japan or dry fruits from the best suppliers in Bombay( now Mumbai); – and these were baked slowly and lovingly in wood-fired ovens, infusing a deep flavour – the flavour that is recognised as distinctive of the Mambally products even today!

Images of the Original Bakery

Mambally Narayanan with the team from the early 1950s
Mambally Narayanan with the team from the early 1950s

It is this passion that has led to numerous awards over the years and the creation of several iconic desserts which are now the staple at bakeries across the country, such as the revered Christmas Plum Cake, which some might consider our signature. Then there are other mouth-watering delights such as The Barley, Cashew, Masala, Fruit, Jam and Tea Biscuits, Butter Beans, Japanese Cake, Tea Rusks and the latest addition the iconic Ghee Cake that’s become the rage around the world and has even received awards such as the prestigious Indo Arab award as the Brand Ambassador of Ghee Cake from The Dubai Government and The Star of Asia Award by the Open International University, Sri Lanka.

Over the centuries our family bakeries have won several awards and broken multiple records including being featured in the Guinness book of World Records, The Asia book of Records, India book of Records, Best of India and the Limca book of Records.

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We take great pride in mentioning that, even today at Mambally’s Royal Biscuit Factory, many of our recipes have been passed down through five generations, including several historical recipes from the 18th century. These recipes have been adapted to changing tastes, resulting in the creation of unique and mouth-watering treats. Our biscuits and cake continue to be handcrafted using traditional techniques and traditional biscuit moulds, the designs for which haven’t changed across 3 centuries, are made in pure butter, with the finest ingredients, without added preservatives while being baked in woodfired ovens that give it a distinct and deep flavour.

“Returning to tradition doesn’t mean returning to the past; It means reconnecting to the wisdom of our ancestors and bringing it forward with us” ~ Unknown

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In 1883, just a few days before Christmas, a significant moment in culinary history took place when Murdoch Brown, a British planter and owner of the sprawling Anjarakkandy cinnamon plantation, the largest of its kind in Asia, made his way into Mambally’s Royal Biscuit Factory. He carried with him a delectable plum cake all the way from England. Brown approached Bapu and asked if he could replicate the scrumptious creation. As he explained the fundamentals of cake-making, he handed Bapu an assortment of ingredients, including dry fruits such as dates and raisins. He also suggested adding a touch of French brandy from the once-known Mayyazhi (now Mahe) region to enhance the cake’s flavour.

The creative baker, however, embraced the challenge with his own unique vision. He sought out a skilled blacksmith in Dharmadam to craft a distinctive mold, scoured the Malabar coast for the most exquisite spices, and infused a local twist by incorporating arak, a native alcohol derived from cashew apples, and kadalipazham, a distinct banana variety marking the creation of an extraordinary culinary masterpiece.

On December 20, 1883, Bapu presented his creation to Brown. On tasting, the delighted Englishman pronounced it “Excellent,” ranking it among the finest cakes he had ever savoured and promptly ordered a dozen more.

Unsurprisingly, the Christmas cakes quickly became a favourite and Bapu’s business flourished, leading to The ‘C’ for Cakes in the title for Tellicherry as the land of the 3 Cs- Cakes, Cricket and Circus.

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