Whittle Away has been pretty quiet recently, but I certainly have not been whittling away!
I have spent the month of October and the beginning of November in India. This has been an absolute dream come true. Traveling to India has been a trip I have wanted to do since I was a child. It is the land of beautiful scenery, endless sunshine, rich and diverse history, and culture, and beautiful animals at every turn. It is a world of sensory overload, spices, delicious food, beautiful splendour and overwhelming generosity and kindness of strangers.
The first few days I was there – and even the first few weeks – the sensory stimulation felt completely overwhelming, and emotionally I struggled to articulate how I was feeling. Even today, almost a month after returning home, I am only now starting to process the experience and feel ready to write about it.
And there is so much I could write about. The differences in attitude, the ways in which India is so much more progressive than the west in some ways, and facing challenges unique to its geography and evolution, the cultural differences by region, as well as my experiences volunteering with GVI, and travels to Delhi and Bangalore, which are posts in themselves.
However, I thought I would start with a whistle-stop FOOD guide to Fort Kochi, which is the beautiful little touristy fishing town where I spent the first 4 weeks. It is on the coast, across a bridge from the city of Kochi (and capital of the state of Kerala), which is on the mainland. The food is really what I have been craving most since I’ve come back. When I was eating Indian food, my diet felt healthier, I was less bloated, suffered fewer cravings for sugar or carbs and had more energy. And the food was delicious.
A Vegan Paradise
For veggies and vegans, Kochi is the ultimate food paradise. Most people in Kochi follow a vegetarian diet, and all food is marked as “veg” or “non-veg”. Crucially, egg is considered “non-veg”, meaning vegans only need to watch out for added milk or cream. However, being a tropical paradise surrounded my coconut trees, almost all food is made using coconut milk anyway.
And to top it all off, as meals almost always include combinations of rice, beans, and lentils, you’re never stuck for a protein source.
As a general rule, local food is fresher, healthier and TASTES SO GOOD. Embrace the spices and rich flavour in all the meals, and you will quickly find western food appears bland and unhealthy in comparison.
In Fort Kochi, being a small tourist town, the locals are well-educated on food hygiene, and they never drink tap water themselves, so they will be unlikely to serve you salad washed in tap water. Most food consists of hot food such as curried, which are cooked anyway. But if you travel to other parts of India, I would avoid it.
Remember to take a water bottle!
I recommend you take a re-usable water bottle. Whilst you cannot drink tap water, most hotels will have deliveries of large tanks of drinking water, which are safe to drink and although you can easily purchase bottles of water when you are out, this will save using plastic.
When I say you cannot drink tap water, I mean it: you cannot get used to tap water. It can contain parasites, which no human can ‘process’ or ‘become immune to over time’. Some people do brush their teeth with tap water, but I personally used bottled water.
A note on alcohol
Most locals do not drink alcohol, so it is only available at tourist locations or restaurants. On the first day of the month it is a ‘dry’ day, so you cannot get alcohol anywhere. Generally, if you are a heavy drinker, you may prefer to go to a big city location in India instead. For me, it was fantastic, as I almost never drink anyway! 😊 I was no longer the sole non-drinker in the group…!
Now on to my favourites…!
Best for local food: Bhatt’s Tiffin Box
At dinner one night, the subject of ‘death row dinners’ came up: if it were your last day on earth, what food would you order? Unanimously, the response was Bhatt’s Tiffin Box. The food here is the best I have tasted by far. It is a restaurant for locals, well off the beaten track, and there are no airs and graces – don’t expect a fine dining experience. You can expect the food to be delivered as soon as it is cooked, on basic stainless-steel plates, and to eat with your hands, or with a spoon. But the flavours are out of this world, with food piled high and plenty to take home, for a total cost of under £2 per person.
Close second: Farmer’s Cafe
What I loved about Farmer’s café was not only that the food tasted great and the service was polite, friendly and welcoming, but they are run in alignment with an ethos of fresh, organic food. You’re unlikely to find microwaved food in Kochi anyway, but to have this attention to detail on the food served was a real highlight. The restaurant seating is in a courtyard, in the centre of which there is a beautiful tree.
Best for luxury dining: Hotel Rasoi
Hotel Rasoi has a beautiful restaurant, with incredible food, fantastic service and a really calming atmosphere. The style is very western, and they do some great cocktails. This is a great place for a date night, when you want something a bit more upscale, and the food is divine. The food presentation is excellent, everything is served in beautiful dishes, and the food is full of flavour.
Best for western food: Pizza Italia
This is the sole exception to the “don’t eat western food” rule. The pizzas here are fantastic, and they offer VEGAN pizzas as standard. There is so much choice, and the food is freshly made. It’s close to the Chinese fishing nets, with lots of outdoor seating, so there’s a great atmosphere.
Best for coffees and milkshakes: Loafers
Loafers is such a relaxing place to hang out. It has a really chilled out vibe. It is situated above the main road, and you feel high above the hustle and bustle of the town below. We visited in the middle of a thundery downpour, and it brought me a very ‘hygge’ feeling of being cosy inside, with fresh air to cool you down. As a vegan I didn’t drink any of the milkshakes and unfortunately, they don’t have any vegan milkshake options, but I will say their presentation was creative. I would recommend loafers as a tranquil escape, ideal for coffee, tea or a refreshing Lime Soda.
Best place to watch the sunset: Old Lighthouse Seaview hotel
We went here on the last night of the trip, and WOW did I regret not coming sooner! The restaurant is situated right on the coastline, so you can see across the bay, and the sunset view was incredible. It also serves alcohol, so if you like a refreshing alcoholic beverage in the evening this is the place.
Best for Cakes: Elite Bakery
The cakes at this bakery are INCREDIBLE. The group ordered a vegan chocolate cake for me on my birthday, and it was by far the best vegan cake I have ever eaten. The baker, whose name I sadly cannot remember (sorry!!) learned how to bake through YouTube videos, and now has started her own business, making cakes around the clock for family, friends and local customers through the bakery. And if it’s your birthday: tradition in India is for someone else to feed you the first piece of cake, before you cut it up and hand out to everyone else!
So that’s a whistle-stop tour of my favourite eateries in Fort Kochi! This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are so many incredible restaurants, bakeries and cafes in Fort Kochi that I highly recommend you try out the amazing food that Fort Kochi has to offer. But before I wrap up, I want to leave you with a few top tips for eating around Fort Kochi…
Top tips for eating with your hands
In Fort Kochi restaurants, you may often find the food is served without cutlery! Eating with your hands is common practice in India, and many people (myself included) find this way the food tastes better!
- Wash your hands before you eat. Every time, no exceptions. Restaurants will always have a sink in the corner to wash your hands, or a washroom.
- Use your right hand only. Seriously. One hand is for washing, the other for eating. And when I say washing, I don’t mean your face! Sit on your left hand if you have to!
- Avoid getting food below your knuckles: it is polite to use your fingertips only!
- Mix your food with the rice to create a ball that is easier to pick up. You may find that compressing the food helps it stick together!
- Use your thumb to push food into your mouth
- Open your mouth slightly wider than normal. Sounds silly, but you’ll find it easier to begin with, and whilst opening your mouth wide when using cutlery can seem impolite, you will look much more polite when the food goes into your mouth and not on the floor!
- Make use of what you have available: breads such as chapati or parotta can be used to scoop up curries or similar food that would be otherwise tricky to eat. If you need to tear the bread using your left hand, don’t worry about it, but with practice you can learn to tear the bread by pushing down with your outer 3 fingers (little, ring and middle fingers) and tearing with your index finger and thumb
What to order…?!
Even if you regularly eat Indian food in the UK, you will likely find the food in Fort Kochi very different to what you are used to. This is because in the UK, most Indian restaurants (at least in London), offer north Indian, Nepalese or Bangladeshi style food.
The food in Fort Kochi is more heavily influenced by Chinese and Asian cuisine, as well as Western foods, but certainly has its own unique character. You will be unlikely to find samosas or korma curries, and whilst Naan breads are often available in hotels and tourist restaurants, you will be more likely to get a Parrotta or Chapati breads with your food
Sadhya is a traditional Keralan meal, served on a banana leaf. You will get a selection of curries, pickles, chutneys, and it is usually served with poppadum and appam, which is a delicious, dough-y textured bread. It is a great way to get a taste of multiple different dish types to see what you like! I’m personally a huge fan of the sweet chutneys and pineapple pickles, as well as the appam and huge piles of steamed rice.
‘Chai’ means ‘tea’ in Hindi, so when you order a ‘Chai tea’ in Starbucks you are literally saying a ‘tea tea’ which makes no sense. Masala chai is a sweetened, milky tea with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, and is available everywhere. As I don’t drink milk, I loved lemon teas, which are available in most places. A word of warning: your tea will be heavily filled with sugar! If you’re not used to it, ask for it sugar-free or sugar on the side.
I recommend you order anything made with Cauliflower! What Keralan people can do with Cauliflower (Gobi), amazes me. The flavours and diversity are incredible. You can get it deep-fried, or in a tomato-based sauce. My favourites are Gobi Manchurian dry, which is a tomato and spiced fried dish, and Aloo Gobi, which is a curry typically made with cauliflower and potatoes.
Parrota (sometimes spelled: Parrotta, or Parotha)
Last but certainly not least, Parrotta is my ULTIMATE favourite food! This is a bread served everywhere in Kerala along with your main dish and was an absolute revelation! I had never had this type of bread in the UK and my Indian colleague has since told me that Parantha was the original, developed by north Indians, and the south Indians took the recipe, made it thick and fried it in tonnes of oil, which is my opinion was a vast improvement! The best were usually the cheapest, handmade in local restaurants.
Have you been to Fort Kochi? Which restaurants would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!