Right from the start, Fort Kochi felt like home - we absolutely loved living there (even when things didn't really work properly!). 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!
We arrived in Fort Kochi at the beginning of February '13, spent a week finding somewhere permanent to live, made the necessary arrangements, and then went on holiday for a week to seaside village of Alleppey!
Although it was warm (30c/86f), there was enough cloud cover, and a breeze from the sea, to make it not too hot to sit outside. Like the weather, the people, both in Alleppey and in Fort Kochi, are warm, sunny, friendly, kindly folk, and we found them always ready to help in any way they can.
I have to admit that I became completely enamoured with sitting on the beach at dusk, taking photos as the sun went down.
It's astonishing how much the skyscape changed from moment to moment. Just when I thought I had my 'perfect' shot, the clouds shifted, and there was another magical vista to take my breath away.
I am so thankful for digital cameras - I dread to think how much I'd spend on films and processing otherwise!
Fishing is a way of life in Kerala
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 used to see so many men casting their nets into the sea - every single day. Some were at it for hours and hours on end, while others only stuck around for a couple of hours in the evening.
Fort Kochi's Chinese Fishing Nets
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, and the gentle splashing of the water as they slip in and out.
It's very atmospheric.
Buying fresh fish in Fort Kochi
Down by the Chinese fishing nets are merchants and fishermen selling their catches; some are permanent stalls, consisting of elaborate displays of fish and seafood.
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 etc. from them, and then take it to the restaurant to be cooked for you.
The same goes for some of the fishermen who operate the large Chinese nets, except you can actually catch your own fish, and then take it to be cooked for you.
It's not something I ever did, due to having my own apartment to cook in but if you're there on holiday, why not avail yourself of the opportunity to have something so fresh?
So much shrimp!
Until we moved to India, 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 king prawns' in the UK, for upward of 25.00 GBP - cost 500 rupees in Fort Kochi.
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, food in Fort Kochi is nothing short of amazing.
South Indian Food
Indian food in general has always been up there in my top three cuisines, along with Thai and Italian. During our time in the UK midlands, we had a Keralan restaurant close by, which gave us a taste for South Indian food.
It's fair to say that it was fundamental in our decision to live in this part of India!
Possibly the best aspect to the food in Kerala is that there is an abundance of vegetarian cuisine, in fact, there seemed to be more veggie food than meaty stuff.
The tropical climate means there is a veritable feast of fresh, local fruit and vegetables.
I found that some of the dishes in Fort Kochi were very spicy (I had my first spicy vegetable korma on the night we arrived in FK - it almost blew my face off!) but I soon learned that cooks will tone the food down if you ask them.
Fresh food in Kochi, and long waiting times!
Something else we found, which was absolutely great, was that at most cafés and restaurants, the food is cooked fresh, from scratch. Of course, the trade-off is that it could take up to an hour for our meals to arrive but it was always well worth the wait.
We learned to not go out for food when we were really hungry - that it was far better to go when we were starting to get peckish!
The upside of waiting for food to be cooked was that we got to sit down, away from our computers, to just chat or play games together. We actually still play games now, while we wait for our food in European eateries!
The exception to the long wait was in the larger restaurants, particularly those attached to high-end hotels, and obviously aimed solely at tourists.
Although the food was still good, the batches of generic sauces they keep on the go, to which they add other ingredients as necessary, means that the food isn't always that great, nor is it always easy to have dishes adapted to your own preferences.
If you don't want to wait too long for your food, and drink booze, these places could be a good option though.
Alcohol in Fort Kochi
Alcohol is strictly controlled in Fort Kochi, and most eateries do not serve it because the licence is prohibitively expensive.
That said, even the larger, more affluent establishments are not allowed to serve alcohol if they are close to a school. I applaud this.
In addition, alcohol consumption is not really a big thing in Fort Kochi. There is a state-owned liquor store away from the heritage part of town (where most of the tourism happens), which is only open for a couple of hours a day, and which actually looks more like a jailhouse than an off-licence.
And trust me, it's not the place to go if you are female!
There are also a couple of bars secreted away in back streets, which, when I went in one to buy a bottle of rum, I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie. And not in a good way.
Fort Kochi's mom & pop eateries are the way to go!
We preferred to eat at smaller, independent places though - such as homestays - where I could watch the food being cooked (which was a huge bonus for me!), and where it was cooked according to our needs.
And where we could drink lime and soda water to our hearts' content. Believe me, it's the best drink for quenching your thirst.
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 yum there are.
They were my downfall.
Fortunately, to offset the sweets, there's a plethora of greengrocers in Fort Kochi, and we quickly made friends with these guys, whose shop was a 60 second walk from our first apartment. Phew!
Deep fried chillies!
Oh, and finally, a revelation.... I 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 look like this...
Hi, My hubby and I are in Kerala right now and just love it! We are currently in Wayanad and staying in a home stay with a wonderful family who also do all the cooking. We had wonderef if being vegan was going to be difficult, but so far its been pretty easy. This This morning we had puttu and iddiappam with a coconut sauce and spicy veggie and bean stew. We end our trip in Cochin so reading your posts are making us very excited to be there!
Oh, how fantastic, Heidi - you're making me quite envious! If you get the chance, do visit the Taj Mahal restaurant, which is just behind the Kathakali centre... and if you do, please tell my friend, Usha (the owner and cook) and her son, Madhav, that Nicole says hello!
Other places of note are Mattancherry Palace, which is fascinating, especially learning about what society was like before the British arrived. Quite eye-opening! Then take a walk down Palace Road, which is the best place to buy any souvenirs you want; it's an everyday, non-tourist street, so what's on sale there is the authentic stuff that the locals buy. And prices are far more reasonable than in the more touristy areas. I bought my sari fabric there, and then had it made up by a little old lady in shed underneath Loafer's Corner, on the junction of Peter Celli and Bastian Streets!
There are some great hole-in-the-wall cafés on Palace Road too... don't be surprised though, if you see men and women eating in separate areas of the eateries - you won't have to!
Back in Fort Kochi, along the beachfront, by the painted trees, is a sugar-cane juice seller. If you've not already tried his wares, I urge you to do so!
Have you done a backwaters tour yet? There's a lovely travel agent a couple of doors down from Preethi Stores, who will arrange everything, and he's not expensive. We did an overnight tour, on a boat with two men manning the punts (no engine at all), a cook (you get to specify your dietary requirements), and at night, a couple of other guys who will be on guard. Not that you really need them - it's not exactly a high crime area on the rivers!
When you get to Cochin, do go to Jayalakshmi, and marvel at everything there - it's an Aladdin's cave of gorgeous fabrics! I bought quite a bit there, and had it made into baggy trousers and kurtas by a woman in a tailor's opposite the Mango Tree/House Of Yesudas on Bastian St. Jayalakshmi is fascinating; there's a doorman to welcome you; sofas for menfolk to take the weight off their feet and socialise while the women shop; staff wandering around with trays of masala chai for the shoppers; and the best customer service I've ever experienced in a shop! Once you've decided on your goods, they're then taken across the floor to be packaged, and you're given a chit. You can either carry on shopping (and collecting more chits!), or go to the cash desk to pay. Once you've paid, you take your chit to the collection area to pick up your beautifully-wrapped purchases. Honestly, it's such a lovely way to shop, and makes one feel a bit like the Queen! Ha ha!
Have a wonderful time, please, do connect on social media so I can see all your lovely photos! xx
Wow!!! Thank you VERY much for all in insider scoop! I feel really prepared now for when we arrive. Currently we are in Wayanad until the 23rd, then we go to Palakkad, Suryanelli, the Idduki area, then Vagamion for a 50 Kilometer trail race in the tea fields, before we end at Fort Kochi for 4 days starting Jan 6th. I now feel so prepared for that part of our trip! We will defiantly go to the Taj Mahal to say hello. I love doing that kind of stuff. I will so into Facebook too. Thanks again for such an amazing reponce! Cheers! Heidi
Yep, I'm definitely envious now! I have a feeling you're going to love Fort Kochi! Looking forward to keeping in touch with you! xx
We love it, Roshan... can't imagine why some people visit, and only eat 'western' food!
I love cooking Indian-style too... although my cook-top took a bit of getting used to (gas is so much easier than induction)!
Nice to know that you ate local cuisine... !!