Day 11: Kerala to Hyderabad

smog
smog and chaos

This morning we had a plan – go up to the guesthouse breakfast and just eat fruit and drink a little coffee/tea! Genius. Then nobody will try to force anything else on us. So we skipped the toast and hard boiled egg but did try a steamed rice bun with a little coconut and sugar inside that was pretty tasty. We asked what it was called but couldn’t parse the answer so we’ll have to do a little research…or anyone who reads this and knows, please let us know.

breakfast
breakfast

Off we went for last minute site seeing and then to wait for the bus to the airport. The bus is so, so easy and took the same amount of time as a cab for 1/10 the cost. So, for future visitors to Kochi, we recommend that as your means of transport. While waiting for the bus M scouted around for chai street snacks, never too far away. We had a variety of fried things – a delicious sweet banana fritter (again it was cold and we would have loved it hot but took what we could get), a samosa shaped snack filled with onions in both caramelized and lightly cooked form with a great mix of spices, and a fried cake-like item with a hint of cardamom. Once we tasted it, B sent M back for a little more chai.and seconds later the bus pulled up. Luckily it had to sit for a few minutes but there was still some momentary panic. All was well in the end and we got on the bus with our cake and chai. Yum!

 

fried snack
samosas and banana fritters
fried sweet bread
fried sweet bread

After a quick flight to Hyderabad and a check in at our hotel (HOT water for the first time in days!!) we took a tuk tuk over to Bawarchi on RTC Cross Road, home of some of the highest rated Biryani in Hyderabad. And that’s saying something since it is a specialty of the area and the main reason we traveled here. There was some confusion when we got there over which way to go in, but finally made it through the omnipresent metal detectors (we’ve gone through so many on this trip and they always seem to go off no matter what) and up to the rooftop dinner area. It was nice to get a bit above the street fumes, which are terrible. Once inside we saw signs everywhere saying that this was the ‘real’ Bawarchi and that they had no branches. There seems to be absolutely no control over what you name your restaurant. We passed by at least three other Bawarchi’s on our way in from the airport and there is a Great Bawarchi across the street from our hotel. It can get a little confusing if you don’t know where you’re headed. Now I’ll get to the food – the biryani (we had mutton) was absolutely delicious. It had a wonderful side gravy and yogurt and the rice had a wonderful ghee and spice flavor to it. The meat was melt in your mouth tender. We also ordered Hyderabadi Chicken, which was also great. There were green bell peppers in the sauce that were a really pronounced flavor and we’re not usually fans of green peppers, but these added a really nice note to the curry leaf sauce. Two different rotis on the side (one basically our first naan in India!) and a sweet lassi that unfortunately brought B back to her childhood drinking Milk of Magnesia (M liked it a bit more) and we’re all set. Another fantastic meal.

biryani
mutton biryani

 

curry and naan
hyderbadi chicken and naan

 

Day 10: Kerala

fishmonger
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.

porridgePotato
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

Day 7: Kandy to Kerala

chai
chai!!!

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.

breakfast
guesthouse

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.

cornvendor

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.

IMG_20151213_143828
more typical plane food

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.