God’s own country

So finally we arrived in beautiful Kerala and it really seems to be god’s own country. We just hope it stays that way. Almost 100% of the population are educated…and it shows.


Upon arriving in Fort Kochi, we made our way down to the main waterfront where the fishermen bring in their catch to be weighed and auctioned.  Kingfish, pomfret, mackerel, and rather large cuttlefish appeared to be the species in demand. Much of the kingfish apparently makes its way to north India, Hong Kong or even the Middle East.


While living in Delhi, many times I had been told about the wonderful food served at the Philipkutty home stay.  We decided to make the hour and a half journey from Fort Kochi to meet one of the owners, Anu Matthew. Philipkutty’s farm is situated on an island in the ‘backwaters’ – a unique fresh and salt water ecosystem- interconnected freshwater rivers and canals that feed towards the sea, through a couple of larger lakes, that seasonally get charged with saline water, when the sea backs up. A system of locks and sluices keep the salt from the freshwater. Initially the farm practiced ‘modern’ rice cultivation.


However, Anu’s deceased husband Vinod realised the challenges of single crop farming and over time moved the farm towards a more sustainable inter crop system. During the last 10 years the farm has been undergoing a transformation towards using greater organic methods to grow and harvest the coconuts, fruits, vegetables, and assorted spices such as nutmeg, mace, pepper and vanilla.


As we boarded the kettuvallom, the traditional boat of the backwaters maneuvered using a single long bamboo pole, the warm scent of drying coconuts welcomed us to the farm. It was later explained that the farm made its own coconut oil for cooking and cosmetic purposes.


Anu introduced us to the culinary authority in their home, her mother in law, Aniamma Philip, aka Mummy. For the next couple of hours, in the courtyard under the shade of a large mango tree, Mummy divulged some of her kitchen secrets.” If you add the crushed spices too early to a duck curry the flavour and colour of the sauce will become cloudy”, she said.


Similarly, as she made the beetroot pachadi (a lightly cooked vegetable or fruit mixed with grated coconut, yogurt, and spices) she described how the last minute tempering of fragrant curry leaves, chillies, mustard and fenugreek seeds provides a more complex layer of flavour. Anu shared with us her favourite thoran (stir fried vegetable with grated coconut and spices) recipe made from banana blossom. Mummy also showed us her version of a red snapper curry with lots of curry leaves and red chillies. The finished dish has a wonderful balance of heat and sourness from the local sour kokum fruit.


Over lunch, they said that we were quite lucky to be visiting while ducks were available in the market. Anu explained that after the harvest of rice farmers bring in ducks to clean up their paddy area by eating the remainder rice and in the process fattening them up to become a tasty seasonal treat. As we drove back to Fort Kochi we came upon a farmer who was selling some of his paddy-fed ducks by the side of the road.



We travelled southward to the community of Kollam. This coastal area of south Kerala is made up of small fishing hamlets of the three predominant faiths: Christian, Muslim and Hindu. Since it was the day of rest, there was limited fishing activities, we decided to visit the various churches within the communities.  We are looking forward to the next few days of being back on the water and in the kitchens learning more about the fishing families of Kerala.



NOTE: This was originally posted on my blog India On My Plate on January 23, 2011

Udupi and onwards

It’s been a few days of hotel, train, bus, rickshaw and no internet but we have finally arrived in the beautiful Kerala. God’s own country. The following is from our last few days on the road, some pictures and some words.

From Karwar we took a relaxing train journey along the scenic Konkan railway to the temple town of Udupi. Unbeknownst to us is was a festival day at the temple and tens of thousands of pilgrims had convened to celebrate. Music played in the streets as firecrackers burst from the alleyways. Late in the evening the idol of Lord Krishna was escorted by a well trained elephant for his evening walk.

All Images by Jason Taylor

The temple bells ringing in the morning pooja (prayers) acted as our alarm clock. Being the birthplace of the famous South Indian breakfast we wandered around in search of a masala dosa (crisp lentil crepe with spiced potatoes) and coconut chutney- along with the much needed wake up from a cup of South Indian filtered coffee.

Discovering that Sundays were quiet at the temples (as Lord Krishna is fasting) we decided to go to nearby Malpe beach. All along the beach were friends and families enjoying each other’s company; boys racing each other along the damp sand; children playing in the waves of the warm waters of the Indian Ocean; and grandparents itching to get a turn guiding the family kite.

The following morning we spent some time in the main temple kitchen used to produce the food for the over 10,000 daily pilgrims. Hindu pilgrims from all over the country visit the temple to offer prayers to the boy deity, Lord Krishna. In order to keep Krishna happy the temple priests feed him his favourite food. Visitors to the temple believe that this same food served to them will fill their souls with the divine. They feel that it will bring them closer to Lord Krishna.

After a long journey via train, bus, and taxi we made our way to the home of Raju and Nethra Hegde. They live in a very small village in the Nellitotha Forest located in the interior of Karnataka. With some help of a local NGO they have set up a basic, yet comfortable, home stay. The next morning we awoke to a simple breakfast of Neer dosa (rice crepe), two variations of coconut chutney and some sweet and sticky palm sugar syrup.

Raju then led us on an hour long hike deep into the forest to visit a tiny community consisting of just a few families. Close to 70 percent of Indians still live in a rural setting. Many of them live a subsistence lifestyle off of the local resources. Ganga and her family live in a four room house made out of mud and with no electricity. Spending time in and around their home and discussing their way of living we learned that almost everything they need is in the forest. It is their grocery store, hardware store and pharmacy. Ganga showed us the laborious process of husking rice and grinding it to flour.
He son led us to a tree in the forest which he proceeded to climb and cut down a branch with a nest in it. When Raju asked us if we ate meat I assumed that perhaps we would be treated to a local egg or forest chicken dish. Little did we realise that it was a nest of red ants and their eggs. Ashwini, Ganga’s daughter, sifted the ants and their eggs with a little salt and then proceeded to make protein rich chutney with coconut and green chillies. For lunch we all sat around eating Ganga’s hand ground rice rotis, Ashwini’s ant chutney and a fiery red chile coconut chutney. Surprisingly, the ant chutney was extremely tasty with a pleasant tamarind like sourness.

It was explained that one of the ways the community celebrates a harvest is by playing their drums and singing local songs. Several male members of the community seemed eager to share their drumming and singing skills with us.

As I sipped my last cup of tea of before leaving the forest I thought about the people we met on this leg of the journey. Food should be not just for the body, but for the mind and spirit as well. The land from which we get our food needs to be valued. We must perform our everyday actions carefully, and mindfully, in order to contribute to the well being of our entire ecosystem.

and today we arrived in Kerala and Fort Cochin…

NOTE: This was originally published on my blog India On My Plate on January 20, 2011

Goa and Karwar

This is the first blog from our trip around the south of India where we hope to find some of the rapidly disappearing foods of the area. As a result of the huge social, environmental and economic changes taking place across India, many of these traditional recipes, ingredients and methods of preparing food are vanishing. This blog will document our travels in the south of India.

WORDS by Cameron Stauch, IMAGES by Jason Taylor

We made our way from Mumbai to Goa and stayed with some good friends of Jason. Aggi shared with use two different versions of the Goan style chorizo sausage which had some nice heat and texture to them. He also shared with us a simple green coriander coconut chutney and some local bread to spread it on. It tasted absolutely fresh and was addictive!

Driving along the highway, just before you cross the border into Karnataka we stopped along the side of the road for some chai and breakfast. Our driver, Sanjay, said they made a good potato samosa. The potato filling was delicately spiced, yet well balanced, with turmeric, onions, green chillies, mustard seeds and fresh coriander. Unlike in the north where a flour dough is wrapped around the potato filling, this filling was made into balls and then dipped into a chickpea flour batter and deep fried. Once we all tasted Suresh’s fantastic Potato Dumplings we each devoured a few more. This simple meal had been the best we had eaten in days.

We arrived in the north coastal port town of Karwar. I had read about the good Konkani dishes served at Amrut Hotel so we ventured in to meet the owner, S.R. Neelavar. Fortunately for us his grandson, Bhaarath, was in charge that day and we explained to him what we were doing in Karwar. As he made some phone calls his kitchen sent out a lovely clam sukhe (clams lightly dressed in a red chilli coconut sauce). The clams were tender and every once in a while a small sweet chunk of coconut would counterbalance the heat from the red chillies.

Bhaarath introduced us to Satish, manager of Riveredge Retreat about 19 kilometres outside Karwar. Little did we know how knowledgeable, hospitable and helpful Satish could be. He led us to daily fish market where we saw the wives of local fishermen selling clams, mackerel, crabs, oysters, shrimp, shad and tiny white fish. The seafood seemed too good to pass up so we bought some for dinner along with some local amaranth greens and fresh coconut. That night we had some lovely seafood and a great dish of sautéed amaranth greens with grated coconut and tiny shrimps.

Satish had arranged for us the next day to visit the home of a highly regarded cook in the village of Hankon. As we arrived Rukmani was just finishing her morning pooja. Rukmani guided us through several traditional dishes. It was amazing to see her work the stone masala grinder. She would move the large stone rhythmically counter clockwise while at the same time using her right hand to push any masala which came out of the grinding hole back into it. Although using the stone grinder takes longer than a modern mixer she feels that the flavour of a dish is far superior. She felt similarly about the fuel she cooked with. Rukmani used the gas burners in her modern kitchen only for making tea or if she was late getting the food together. She much preferred cooking over coals at the back of the house, as again, she felt the masala cooked more gently and resulted in a much tastier dish. Rukmani made us a light morning snack of rice gruel with a dried clam, chilli and coconut chutney. We followed this with some tea and a great coconut peanut laddoo delicately flavoured with fresh cardamom made by the mother of Nisha, her daughter in law.

Rukmani in her kitchen serving up one of the two fish curries.

Using virtually the same masala ingredients but in different quantities, Rukmani made two fish curries: one with mackerel and the other with a river fish. The mackerel was unique in that the sauce had a lovely citrus aroma to it due to a local dried berry, pepper-anise. The river fish curry on the other hand tasted much sweeter due to the flavour of the fish and the use of more grated coconut. Lunch was finished with a unique mung dal coconut jaggery dessert. Rukmani and her family were extremely hospitable and she was happy to share some of her culinary secrets with us. We felt very honoured to have been welcomed into their home.

Two plates with the ingredients for the mackerel and the sweet water fish curries.

After preparing the Mackerel, Rukmani washes the fish with sweet water from her garden well.

The following day we met Sailash who invited us to go and collect clams in the brackish water (a mixture of salty sea water and sweet river water) outside his village. Sailash, along with two of his fishing friends, taught us how to use our feet to find the river clams two to three inches below the sandy bottom. We met several village women also collecting clams in the low, thigh high, tide. Sailash then took us to the mangroves along the shore to collect the much larger black clams.Shailesh spends much of his time wading through the shallow waters of the estuary using his feet to find clams buried in the sands.

By using the heels of their feet and walking backwards, local fishermen are able to lift the clams from the warm shallow waters of the rivers estuary.

Taking the clams back home for lunch.

We then returned back to his home for lunch where his wife, Seejal, made a spicy clam and crab curry with our fresh catch. Her version of mackerel rava fry (fish coated with a semolina crust) was particularly tasty.

Clam and crab being cooked by Sejal, Shailesh’s wife, before adding a coriander, onion and chilly curry.

Mackerel fry.

As we have travelled along the north coastal region of Karnataka, we met and talked with many people. Many agree that traditions must be shared – and that biodiversity begins in the kitchen.

and some more images.

Mackerel being sold in Karwar fish market. These locally caught fish are part of the west coasts staple diet and are either used dry fried or in a curry.

Rukmani preparing the ingredients to the fish curries.

Working with the large balanced grinding stone takes little effort.

The clam chutney made by Rukmani.

Rukmani’s husband Vitthal and their grand daughter eating her clam chutney and local rice as part of their lunch.

Night time in a small village just outside of Karwar, Kanataka.

One of the local clam fishermen leaving the shallow waters after a morning’s work.

Cameron gets a ride out to the estuary shallows with two of the local fishermen to see how they find the clams.

One of the local women collecting clams.

After a morning of collecting, Shailesh begins to open and clean these clams.

NOTE: This was originally posted on my blog India On My Plate on January 15, 2011

Fresh limes in Karwar market.