Coimbatore, our hometown for the next 5 months, is not that big by Indian standards. A fortnight, though, of sharing the (lack of) pavements with hordes of people and roads so treacherous to cross it could qualify as an adventure sport, had driven us to utter every Made in Chelsea fan’s favourite line. Sometimes you’ve just got to get out of Coimbatore and with that, we headed to Kochi, Kerala.
I begin with a caveat. Don’t expect unspoilt golden sand and margaritas on tap. The beaches in Kochi are rubbish-strewn and the only place serving alcohol is dingy and pitiful, sans ambience, and not worth the trouble to track down. The city was, however, a nice introduction to Kerala and had plenty of picturesque cafes and restaurants to waste time in. Here’s my top places to eat and see if you have 48 hours in Kochi!
We found most of these through our Lonely Planet guide, so I’m not really unearthing any hidden gems here, but I have a little more space to describe them and bring my personal experience to.
Solar Café, Fort Cochin
You can literally step straight off the ferry from Ernakulum (where the railway station is) to Fort Cochin into this bright and airy brunch joint. It serves organic Indian and continental breakfasts, lunch and juice, but without the pretentious gap-yah, I-have-a-centre-parting-and-ironically-ugly-shoes that ‘free-from’ cafes in the UK usually seem to have. The French toast and Indian breakfast rolls (lots of veg and cheese) were delicious and it was nice to paw through the eclectic mix of books piled up on the window sills.
Ginger House, Mattancherry
The meals were quite pricey so we just had a tea and being in the Ginger House, it was of course ginger tea (I’d recommend having it with milk as its pretty strong). Everything in the restaurant is sprinkled with ginger and even the bill came weighted down with a lump of root ginger. The views were the highlight, looking across the water, and the café was far enough away from the street that you could have a conversation and actually hear each other.
Café Crafters, Mattancherry
Definitely my favourite spot in Kochi, we sat out on the blue balcony overlooking the street below. This meant that while we ate we could watch the shop owners below racking off their spiel, hawking their ointments, perfumes and brightly coloured powders and imagine what the customer’s next move would be. Unsurprisingly, it was generally to slink away with promises to “have a think about it and come back later”. The café itself sold snacks and (presumably fresh) seafood – calamari and fish curries withappam (rice pancakes). A good place to wait for the nearby synagogue to re-open after lunch.
Kashi Art Café, Fort Cochin
This was good for Western comforts – chicken wraps and crisps that were M+S meal deal standard worthy (and that’s pretty good for Indian takes on Western dishes). The dessert of the day (chocolate cake) was American-sized and delicious. A chill place to spend lunch poring over our guidebook.
Chinese Fishing Nets
Not as romantic as google images had promised, but still fun to watch in operation as they look like giant spiders dipping in and out of the water (that might not be appealing for some people). The beach was pretty grim, but if you walked alongside the nets up to the market, there was a clean spot to rest, grab a drink (non-alcoholic of course) and watch the fishermen.
Quite non-descript from the outside, but we thought the ₹5 entrance fee was worth the risk. Wooden windows overlooking the water and the palm trees were relaxing to sit by, especially when wobbly museum legs took hold.
Kathakali Show at the Kerala Kathakali Centre
Kathakali is a traditional Keralan form of song, dance and interpretation of Hindu epics and can last literally all evening until dawn. We saw a truncated 2-hour version for tourists (only ₹300) where you watch the performers have their make-up elaborately painted for the show for the first hour and then are introduced to the intricate hand movements and their meaning. Without the script, though, we’d have been completely lost in the series of subtle eye and hand movements that make up the kathakali ‘language’, so to speak. It was an incredibly loud (ear defenders at the ready) and colourful performance.
I would really recommend this little gem, for the breakfast (piles of coconut and cardamom filled pancakes) and warm welcome from the owner and her family. They had a pretty terrace surrounded by trees for reading on and were in walking distance of Fort Cochin’s main attractions.
Kochi: great weekend destination.