KOCHI- A truly spicy destination of southern India
Updated: Jul 17, 2021
Travel and food are intrinsically linked as in people who love to travel are by their very own nature and admission great foodies and vice versa. The coastal regions of India by virtue of their geographical locations have much to offer to a humble gourmet like me. That’s the reason I decided to embark upon the journey of ‘the God’s own country-Kerala’ through Kochi, the spice trade centre of Asia.
It was here in Kochi (formerly Cochin) that the spice trade wars that started in seventeenth century laid the foundations of colonial rule. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the Arabs and the British, have all left an indelible mark on the countenance of this vibrant city. I had picked up the pleasant post-monsoon period of the year to tour Kochi. Though the tourist traffic was building up, yet I could easily manage a decent budget accommodation for me and my companion at one of the non-star hotels near Fort Kochi.
Coming from Mumbai early in the morning, we had alighted at the Ernakulam Junction and taking an inter-island ferry service headed towards Fort Kochi-the bustling tourist destination. Since we had not enlisted the services of a travel agent, we were happily left to ourselves to explore the place. Hence our guiding lights were just a couple of pointers-ask, ask and ask without hesitation for everything from directions to destinations not mentioned in any tour guide. As soon as we deposited our luggage in our rooms and freshened-up, we made a quick exit to catch on the excitement of the remaining day. Hitting the streets we straight away headed to smell the aroma of herbs and condiments. Luckily enough we needn't had to wait for long. The Fort Kochi area houses the famous Princess Street. Over here are located quite a few small and big spice trading establishments. But soon I realized that the prices were a bit exorbitant by domestic Indian standards. So we began our trusted practice of ' right fare by compare' and within an hour we had breezed through more than a dozen of shops with little success. Haggling was completely ruled out at the fixed price shops.
In the modern day of ready to cook and instant-mix preparations, buying spices at such high prices made little sense to me. But then I was reminded by my well-traveled colleague that this part of the city also catered to international markets, which explained the high price range. Deep down we were not really content with our tryst with the spices so far. Just then we happened to meet an auto-rickshaw driver who offered to take us to the 'original' place. Our deal was sealed for a meager 300 INR and hoping to latch upon a treasure hidden away from the scouring travelers’ eyes we immediately hopped into his carriage. In the next 15 minutes we reached Kochi's oldest spice market at Mattenchery. A stirring aroma wafted along and filled our nostrils with some sharp and earthy flavors. Anise, mace blades, cinnamon strips, fresh black pepper, fenu-greek, big red chillies and some exotic looking herbs greeted us in their entire splendor! At last we were able to shop to our heart’s content since the spices were quite reasonably priced and appeared fresh too.
From here on our rickshaw driver carried us along with our booty to another equally happening place-the Broadway Market situated between Marine Drive and MG road. It is one of the oldest shopping corners of the city harboring some more spices, saffron and oils. The temptation to buy more of them was irresistible and hence we unabashedly continued with our spice buying spree. To tell you the truth, we had planned to sell off these spices at much higher price on our return back home! For now, we generously thanked our helpful rickshaw driver and paid him hundred bucks more over and above the amount we had fixed. Elated, the jovial driver offered to take us to nearby spots of tourist interest the next day, obviously for a charge. Thus the Kochi trip was a big success for us on the very first day.
That evening as we relaxed by the cool sea breeze, we indulged in some lip-
smacking seafood at the bay where we got to pick fresh catch directly from the fisherman folk and hand it over for cooking on the spot. King Prawns barbequed with salmon and shrimps was too delectable to speak. The next day we had our fill of a Kochi specialty-the Meen Molagitta, at a local restaurant taken to by our affable ‘guide’, which is basically smoked fish with chilly and coconut milk. Since our mission was accomplished, we spent the next day at the nearby Karokam bird sanctuary. We watched as the beautiful birds flocked together at the water body and our imagination took flight along with them as they soared high up in the air.