Right from the start, Kerala has felt like home – we absolutely love it here. I cannot describe in words how utterly, breathtakingly beautiful this part of the world is… but I do have loads of photos, so be advised, this is a pic-heavy post! You’ll thank me for it though.
Of course, the weather is glorious; we’re currently in Alleppey for a week or so, before moving into our new apartment in Fort Kochi on the 22nd. Our hotel room overlooks the beach, and at the time of writing, it is 30c/86f with enough cloud cover to make it not too hot to sit outside. Like the weather, the people, both here and in Fort Kochi, are warm, sunny, friendly, kindly folk, and always ready to help in any way they can.
I’m completely enamoured with sitting on the beach at dusk, taking photos as the sun goes down. It’s astonishing how much the skyscape changes moment to moment. Just when I think I have my ‘perfect’ shot, the clouds shift, and there’s another magical vista to take my breath away. I am so thankful for digital cameras – I dread to think how much I’d be spending on films and processing otherwise!
Because it’s right on the Arabian Sea (how romantic does that sound?!), Kerala has no shortage of fishermen. From large, commercial ships, to smaller family vessels, to beautiful, vividly-painted wooden boats, to men who simply stand on the edge of the sea, patiently waiting for the right moment to cast their nets.
Many of the villages have an area by the sea, where they dry out hundreds of thousands of tiny fish. I think these are then used as bait and in animal feed. They may have other uses – I didn’t enquire… I was quite happy to skedaddle ASAP, due to it being a bit on the whiffy side.
We see so many men casting their nets in the sea – every single day. Some are at it for hours, while others only stick around for a couple of hours in the evening.
And then there are the enormous famous nets, brought over by the Chinese when they made Fort Kochi their home. These nets line the backwaters villages too; at night, it’s pitch black, save for the small lamps on the tops of the nets. Amid all the creature sounds, is the creaking from the nets being raised and lowered. It’s very atmospheric.
Down by the Chinese fishing nets are merchants and fishermen selling their catches; some are permanent stalls, consisting of beautiful displays of fish and seafood, while others are just small tables set up for the purpose of selling a few handfuls of small fish, prawns etc. Some of the larger stalls are attached to the restaurants a few metres away; you can buy your fish/shellfish etc. from them, and then take it to the restaurant to be cooked for you.
Until we moved here, I had no idea that there were so many varieties of prawns, or that they could be so large. Average-sized beasties are priced at 350 rupees per kilo (approx. 3.50 GBP), while the biggest tiger prawns I’ve ever seen in my life, sell for 800 rupees p/k (8.00 GBP). The mid-sized ones, which are sold as ‘jumbo’ in the UK, for upward of 25.00 GBP, cost 500 rupees here! Cheapest of all are the mixed ones, which are about the size of shrimps – you can buy them for around 100-150 rupees per kilo.
As you might expect then, Fort Kochi food is nothing short of amazing. Indian food in general has always been up there in my top three cuisines, and during our time in the UK, we had a Keralan restaurant close by, which gave us a taste for South Indian food. It’s fair to say that it played a part in our decision to live in this part of India.
Possibly the best aspect to the food here is that there’s an abundance of vegetarian cuisine, in fact, there might be more veggie food than meaty stuff. The tropical climate means there is a veritable feast of fresh, local fruit and vegetables. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel as though I am in the minority with my dietary habits!
Some of the dishes are very spicy (I had my first spicy vegetable korma the other evening – it almost blew my head off) but cooks will tone it down if you ask them. Something else we’ve found, which is absolutely great, is that at most cafés and restaurants, the food is cooked fresh, from scratch. Of course, the trade-off is that it can take up to an hour for your meal to arrive but it’s always well worth the wait. We’ve learned to not go out for food when we’re really hungry – far better to go when we are starting to get peckish!
The exception to this seems to be the larger restaurants, particularly those attached to high-end hotels. Although the food is very good, it appears that they keep batches of generic sauces on the go, and just add other ingredients as necessary. There’s nothing wrong with this, and of course, it does mean that food is brought to the table relatively quickly but we prefer to eat at smaller, independent places – such as homestays – where we can see the food being cooked (which is a huge bonus for me!), and where it is cooked to our tastes!
I can’t not mention pudding… or rather, mithai – Indian sweets. I’ve had burfi before, laddoo, and a few other sweetmeats but I had no idea just how many different types of these little parcels of nom there are. They will be my downfall.
Fortunately, to offset the sweets, there’s a plethora of greengrocers in Fort Kochi, and we’ve already made friends with these guys, whose shop is a 60 second walk from our new apartment. Phew!
Oh, and finally, I have discovered that I love deep-fried chillis. Who’d’ve thunk it? Unlike their Thai counterparts, Indian chillis are not made from purest evil, and are in fact, very yummy. Especially when they’re like this…
Over the next few months, I’ll be posting reviews of local eateries, and of course, regale you with my attempts to re-create some of these wonderful dishes, so do sign up for updates – you won’t want to miss out!