Day 10: Kerala

fish monger stall

Having found the guesthouse breakfast fare somewhat lacking, we were determined to avoid it on this particular day and head out on our own into Fort Kochi for something more interesting. Since we had forgotten to inform the hosts of our plans, we planned to make a tactful exit after they started serving breakfast on the covered roof that was the communal space for guests. One our way out, however, we were snagged by the owner, a really quite charming and cheerful woman. She seemed to be deeply concerned that we weren’t eating breakfast upstairs, so B offered up the explanation that we needed to get me some coffee. Undeterred, she reminded us that there was coffee upstairs, and if that was too weak she could make up a stronger version immediately. To this unexpected parry, we searched for a new gambit, pointing out that we were looking forward to eating some dosa for breakfast (a kind of crispy crepe with a potato filling and a variety of chutneys on the side. Completely unfazed, she explained that she had some dosa batter ready, and would be glad to whip some up. We were beaten, and we knew it. If we had said we were hoping to go out for pepperoni pizza, we would have been there waiting for the dough to rise. In any case, she brought out the promised dark coffee (which was a small step above instant), followed by a bowl of a dry coconut-based regional breakfast dish called upma, complimented with some potato fritters. Finally, several dosa were served (along with a couple small bananas), leaving us calculating the absolute minimal amount of food we could politely get away with. Eventually we made a respectful dent in the upma (somewhat bland), and ate the two dosas (a little spongy), and three potato fritters we were served, taking the two bananas to go. Yes, as our friends know, we are kind of obnoxious when we travel because we are on a constant mission to try as many delicious things as we possibly can without overeating. Sometimes this imperative requires some finesse and some wastefulness we wouldn’t condone outside of vacation. Sometimes we sneak half-eaten plates of perfectly good food to the garbage so the proprietor won’t notice. In this particular case, we had extricated ourselves with our breakfast capacity only half-taken, so we resolved to walk around for a while to make some space.

upma and potato fritters

Mid-walk we stopped in at a cafe for some coffee and chai, and were attracted by the fruit sodas on offer. One lemonade with XXX, purportedly used as a cooler in ayurvedic circles, but we believe it is known in the west as sasparilla. Indeed the taste was somewhere between licorice, bubblegum and vanilla, and with the lemonae, it was quite refreshing. The other drink was ginger lemonade with honey. Also quite good.

morning sodas

Aside from offending the gracious people who just wanted to give us something to eat, the reason we had been hoping to escape unfed was that we had planned a trip to the Fort Kochi fishing docks, where the fresh bounty pulled from the sea can be cooked up at a nearby roadside ‘hotel.’ Amid the onslaught of tenacious vendors, tuk tuk drivers and souvenir touts, we chose a vendor in which the crab were, at the very least, fresh enough to be moving around. Keralan crab curry has a certain sentimental cache with B, so we got a couple of those, four large prawns and a lobster. The total came to 1300 rupees (which converts to something like $20), which seemed quite steep by local standards, but our tolerance for a round of negotiations was low. Also taking the low resistance path of having a local tout lead us back to his cafe for the cooking, we were told that the cooking fee would be around 500 rupees. Again, in no mood for petty haggling for what was still a very good deal, we said OK. We had them cook the crab in a curry, which on much encouragement, they made spicy. The lobster and prawns they grilled very simply with a chili paste (though they seemed a little overcooked). The crab curry had a good heat and bold flavors. All in all the the shellfish seemed fresh and preparation was delicious, but we would still give the nod to our Pacific Coast dungeness crab for pure sweet deliciousness.

crab curry in bowl

After meandering about the historical district of Fort Kochi for a while and checking out some of the crafts and spice merchants, we stopped at a cafe known as the Ginger House. Among other ginger-based items featured here was ginger ice cream, and lime ginger soda. The ice cream was sweet, smooth and creamy with small bits of candied ginger adding a little pop every few bites. The soda came in components: a glass of ginger and lime juice, a bottle of soda water, and some simple syrup to sweeten the mix. Not surprisingly given the environs, it was deliciously refreshing.

ginger soda
deconstructed ginger soda

Since we had so enjoyed the chicken fry the previous night, we set our sites on it’s culinary cousin, beef fry. With the influence of Hinduism beef is not widely eaten in India, but with Kerala’s diverse religious population, some restaurants do serve it. The spot most frequently recommended for beef fry in online sources was bit of a trek for our now somewhat tired and blistered feet, but we soldiered on. The restaurant turned out to be empty as we arrived; apparently beef fry is not typically eaten at 6pm, but they were welcoming to us in any event. We ordered up the beef fry and an order of what was called chicken roast on the menu (along with two kinds of paratha). The fry was smoky, rich and delicious, sort of an amplified version of some of the flavors we’ve enjoyed so much here. The chicken roast was seemingly a more ordinary curry preparation, good enough for what it was, but having trouble competing with the fry.

roast chicken and beef fry
chicken roast and beef fry