Do you ever find yourself shouting “Been there” at the TV when the programme is about somewhere you’ve visited? We were shouting rather a lot as we were watching the latest instalment of the Real Marigold Hotel filmed in Kochi (Cochin).
As is so often said, you either love India or hate it, there is no in between. We definitely fell in love.
It is truly an assault on the senses. The heat, the colour, the people and the noise! In Kerala, Southern India, three religions sit side by side, Muslim, Hindu and Christian, and each morning each either plays music or broadcast the call to prayer at the same time!
We were in Kerala for a week’s vegetarian cookery courses before a few days on the Backwaters. We stayed at The Pimenta Spice Garden Bungalows inland from Kochi (Cochin) at Kadalikad run by Jacob Mathew. Just nine people can be accommodated in the 4 beautiful bungalows. When we were there, it was just the two of us.
Each day cooked learning a repertoire of around 20 dishes that we still use regularly. Granted it was often 35C but we managed extremely well with judicious placing of fans. We loved it. Jacob’s direction is firm and kindly. We had to get out of the western way of cooking and learnt to take time for instance to really cook down the onions before adding other ingredients. We became more confident and even tackled idiappam (rice noodles).
We spent about 3 hours cooking each day, not always at the same time. Jacob then took us out to explore. We visited the enormous market in Kochi – the vegetables so beautifully arranged, flower garlands ready for religious festivals. Jacob was understandably picky and we soon learnt how to pick the best produce.
Another day, we visited the “International Pineapple Market” – simply a courtyard full of pineapples, with workers grading them by size. Then we discovered amazing shops just full of spices or with kitchen utensils.
A trip that truly surprised seeing how Bombay mix was being made in pans over open fires. And then there was a visit to an elephant sanctuary, and seeing a young elephant being bathed.
We ate what we had cooked with the addition of other dishes. Jacob soon realised we had a sweet tooth and delighted in finding us different Indian sweets for us to try. But the best meal of the day had to be breakfast. The Bungalows at Pimenta Spice are set in a tropical forest. Each morning we devoured that day’s selection picked by Jacob. Sometimes fruit we’d never heard of before; mangoes, papayas,tiny bananas all so, so fresh.
We ventured up into the mountains to see tea being picked and the process to make it into tea. This wasn’t the posh sort of tea, simply what you might find in your tea bags. We had to try the chai tea of course, simply the best we’d ever tasted.
Eating out, we tried Thali and on another occasion, the only time we ate anything non vegetarian, fish in a glorious coconut sauce. We certainly didn’t miss meat and we regularly include dishes we learnt on our weekly menu
After our week with Jacob, we said a sad farewell and went to sail on the backwaters of Kerala. So, so relaxing to drift along the waters. We had the boat to ourselves, with staff to cook our meals. A great finish to our holiday.
Our top tips
- Kerala is a good introduction to India – not so full on as other areas
- We were recommended to use anti-viral spray on our hands (not antiseptic spray) and had no tummy troubles at all
- Eat vegetarian food rather than meat. It is what the locals do.
- We loved the chance to visit places you’d never find without a local guide. Do seek one out!
- Do talk to the locals, you’ll find them very interested in chatting to you.
- Do try and stay in a Homestay (a little like a Bed and Breakfast) for an authentic experience and good food.
- Don’t ever think about driving yourself, the driving there is manic – best left to a competent driver.
- Stay with Jacob if you can, you won’t be disappointed! He offers a variety of courses.
Find out more
We flew to Kochi via Dubai. It was great to have a stop off on the way.
There are many Backwater Tours. We booked with Lakes and Lagoons.
There are over 1000 homestays in India to chose from.