One of the best aspects of living here in Fort Kochi is that the majority of the food on offer is vegetarian. Being right on the coast too, there is also a large variety of fish and seafood. In fact, meat-based dishes are very definitely in the minority. This is great news for us.
The Taj Mahal, Fort Kochi (Fort Cochin) is not just a fantastic restaurant, serving the best food we’ve had so far since we moved to Kerala – it’s also a homestay, and runs cookery classes too. Do check out Usha’s video on You Tube for more details.
Amato mio and I first discovered the Taj Mahal as we wandered around some of the back streets and alleys, exploring areas away from the main tourist streets. And what a great discovery it turned out to be. At first glance, it looked rather basic, which is something we often look for because invariably, the food will be more authentically local, and less likely to toned down for tourists. In Thailand, our favoured lunchtime haunt, which served the best Phad Thai Goong, was nothing more than a large shack with a corrugated steel roof and cement floor. And no menus in English!
While it’s far from being a shack, the Taj Mahal is nevertheless devoid of upmarket frills, all of which would of course, increase the price of the food. Instead, diners sit at tables in Usha’s garden, which is covered by a rudimentary tarpaulin and bamboo roof. The only thing separating the dining area from the kitchen is a bamboo blind, so it’s possible to see your food being prepared and cooked. I love to watch other cooks at work.
See those photos outside the entrance? They in no way reflect the food within – they do not do Usha’s cooking skills any justice at all.
On our first visit, we ordered aviyal (as seen at the top of this article) – a mixture of vegetables cooked with coconut, curry leaves, and curd – plain boiled rice, and chemeen olathiyathu – roast prawns with spices, curry leaves, coconut, and kodampuli. This is quite possibly the best prawn dish I’ve ever tasted! The mild and slightly sweet aviyal was a perfect foil for the slightly fiery chemeen, and both went extremely well with the freshly-squeezed lime juice soda we both had. When the food was ready, it was brought to our table by the entire family – mum, dad, and children – all carrying a dish each; it was lovely to meet them, and to say hello!
Another of my favourite dishes at the Taj Mahal is their thoran; traditionally, a dry dish made with spices, coconut, cheera, and various vegetables, such as gourd, yam, beans, jackfruit, etc. It’s very mild, creamy, and full of flavour. It’s something I could eat an awful lot of on a regular basis!
The only drawback to the Taj Mahal, is that like most restaurants we’ve been to here, they allow smoking at the table. Although it’s not pleasant, fortunately, in our experience, most people who eat at the Taj Mahal do not smoke… or seem to not smoke while there.
All in all, the Taj Mahal is not only THE place to go for excellent food in great surroundings but it is extremely good value for money. For example, the cost for our first meal there (aviyal, chemeen olathiyathu, plain rice, and two lime sodas) was 315 rupees (approx: £3.80 / € 4.30 / $5.80) – seriously, can you get any better than that?
The Taj Mahal is close to the Santa Cruz Basilica, on K B Jacob Road, behind the Kerala Kathakali Centre, Fort Kochi.