We used to believe that roosters crow when the sun comes up. But if this trip has taught us one thing, it’s that, sadly, they don’t really wait for that moment to start their repeated wake up calls. It’s 6:20 and the local roosters have been at it for a good 45 minutes and there is still no sign of the sun. So, seems like a good time to get up and write.
Yesterday was another mostly travel day. We got up early and were invited in to Bernard and Uma’s kitchen at our guesthouse and watched her make urad dal pancakes. These were delicious-chopped onions and chilis in the batter brought out a savory, spicy goodness. We used these to scoop up the dal that is served with every meal. And the sambol. Which we thought was served with every meal but has definitely been missing from some. Add in the fruit/yogurt/toast/egg and we had another great breakfast.
After a couple of elephant related stops (more in a later post) our driver made a stop at a spice garden that was not on our agenda. This was one of those things you hear about where we’re pretty sure he got a kickback for taking us there. We got the super hard sell to buy ayurvedic products after the ‘free’ tour. However it was very interesting to see things like cardamom growing. Last year in Malaysia we went to a spice garden as well but hardly anything was in bloom so we saw a lot of green plants without seeing the actual spices.
Next, our driver indulged another request to eat a local snack. There are vendors along the side of the roads who boil up ears of fresh corn from nearby fields. We wanted to try one and compare it to our midwestern variety. Our driver said that often the vendors boil corn that’s a few days old rather than fresh so he scouted out a good one for us. We were pretty surprised when we bit in to the steaming cob – there was no sweetness at all. Instead the corn tasted like starch with a texture that seems like the corn was rehydrated from dry – when we had corn in our vegetable soup a few days ago that’s what we thought it was. So, in the contest for best fruit/veggie – US wins the watermelon and corn contests.
We made it to the airport in plenty of time and M had a $6.50 latte (they charged everything in USD) sitting among decorations of snow flakes and listening to Christmas carols. The plane food this time was nowhere near the quality of our first Sri Lankan Airways offering. We had bland veggie curry with rice mixed with more of those tasteless corn kernels.
On arriving in India, we found the Kochi airport to be a pretty chill place. We easily got out of there and got a prepaid taxi to our homestay. The only hitch was we had to wait for over 30 minutes to get on an overcrowded ferry that took us on a very short (5 minute) ride to the Fort Cochin area. The upside of this wait was that there was a chai walla there to provide our first cup of chai on (non-airport) Indian soil. This was a big moment – B makes us chai from scratch every morning, roasting and grinding spices daily, so the fact that chai is so readily available makes her very happy.
We settled in to our guest house, got a review of all there is to do around town (understood 90% of it, retained 20%) and headed off in the dark and the rain (which had just started, and seems to be following us from place to place) to find dinner. We went to Dal Roti, a place recommended by both the homestay and Lonely planet. The food was more pan-Indian rather than specializing in South Indian food, which was fine with us. We were looking forward to a more North Indian type curry. We ordered a dry fry cauliflower, a chicken breast stuffed with paneer in curry sauce, and flaky paratha. And a mango lassi. The lassi came first and didn’t taste of mango, more pineapple (to be fair, it isn’t mango season). The cauliflower was deep fried, which surprised us, but was tasty. The chicken curry came with a fried egg on top, but was overcooked and rubbery. M missed the curry leaf flavor that was the forward note of most Sri Lankan curries, but the flavors grew on him. The sauce had good heat and lots of cinnamon/cardamom/clove flavors. We happily lapped it up with the perfectly flaky paratha. While we were happy with that part of the meal, the rest was just OK and we will try not to make the mistake of eating somewhere that is almost entirely populated by tourists again.