Eat your way through India at Kerala s charming homestays

Winona Griggs

Explore India’s Exquisite Homestays in Kerala and Savor the Local Cuisine

India is a land of diverse cultures, enchanting landscapes, and mouthwatering cuisine. When it comes to immersing yourself in the vibrant flavors of India, Kerala is the ideal destination. Located in the southern part of the country, Kerala’s charming homestays offer a unique opportunity to experience the warmth and hospitality of the locals while indulging in authentic Indian dishes.

Imagine waking up to the aroma of freshly brewed chai (tea) and the sound of birds chirping outside your window. That’s the kind of magical experience you can expect at Kerala’s homestays. As you step outside, you are greeted by lush greenery, swaying palm trees, and the tantalizing scent of spices in the air.

One of the key highlights of staying at a homestay in Kerala is the opportunity to savor the local cuisine. Kerala is known for its flavorful curries, seafood delicacies, and traditional vegetarian dishes. The homestay hosts take pride in their culinary skills and are eager to share their family recipes with you.

From the fiery flavors of the famous Kerala fish curry to the subtle sweetness of the coconut-infused vegetarian stew known as avial, every dish is a celebration of flavors. The use of fresh ingredients, aromatic spices, and traditional cooking techniques elevate the dining experience to new heights.

But it’s not just about the food. Kerala’s homestays offer much more than just a gastronomic journey. They provide an opportunity to learn about the rich cultural heritage of the region through interactive experiences. You can participate in cooking classes, where you’ll not only learn to prepare traditional dishes but also gain insight into the spices and ingredients that define Kerala’s cuisine.

Additionally, you can explore the local markets and spice gardens with your hosts, who can guide you through the aromatic world of Indian spices. From cardamom and cinnamon to turmeric and black pepper, you’ll discover the secrets behind these flavorful ingredients.

When someone opens their home to you, they are not just sharing their space but also inviting you to be a part of their family. The hosts at Kerala’s homestays go above and beyond to ensure that you feel at home, offering personalized attention and warm hospitality.

If you’re looking for an authentic and immersive experience in India, then you’ll love the homestays in Kerala. Beyond the exquisite cuisine, you’ll create lasting memories, forge meaningful connections, and gain a deeper understanding of the local way of life.

So, if you’re ready for an unforgettable culinary adventure, pack your bags and head to Kerala’s charming homestays. Indulge in the flavors of India, explore the enchanting landscapes, and let the warm embrace of Kerala’s hospitality leave a lasting impression on your heart.

Eat your way through India at Kerala s charming homestays

When I visited Kerala in the south of India, I wanted to experience the true essence of the country. And what better way to do that than by staying with the locals? So, I decided to stay at heritage homestays, where I could not only indulge in the delicious flavors of Kerala’s spices but also immerse myself in its rich cultural heritage.

Eat your way through India at Kerala s charming homestays

As I reminisce about the unforgettable food experiences I had in Kerala, a beautiful state located on India’s tropical southwestern coastline, my mind immediately goes to the moments spent devouring pepper-banana chips with my dear friend Babu. Babu Vattathara, our dedicated driver, would guide us through the chaotic streets, all while sharing his personal cooking secrets and teaching us how to pronounce the names of the delicious dishes, like kozhy curry, in the local language of Malayalam. Besides being our go-to guy for finding beer and the master of the selfie stick, Babu became a true friend after spending 10 eventful days together.

When I heard the faint mention of snacks, it immediately piqued my curiosity and veered me off my intended path towards Alleppey to visit Malabar Chips. Little did I know that this place holds a unique secret. Here, fresh and ripe bananas are carefully sliced by an electric machine and swiftly plunged into a massive wok of bubbling hot oil. The bananas dance and twirl in the oil, creating a mesmerizing sight. As they are lifted out of the oil, they are sprinkled with a generous amount of black pepper and served while still warm.

I couldn’t resist indulging in these delightful treats. Maybe it was the element of surprise or the sheer joy in discovering something unexpected that made them even more delicious. These crispy banana chips not only satisfied my cravings but also served as a reminder of the wholesome and nourishing local cuisine that awaited me during my stay at the various homestays I had planned to visit.

In the beautiful region of Kerala, there lies a network of waterways where the sweet taste of fresh water merges with the salty embrace of the Arabian Sea. This is where my adventure begins. As I reached the end of the road, I switched off the engine and gazed upon the jetty, where a long-tail boat stood adorned with white-painted cane chairs. A man named Jomon Manichan was at the helm, his enigmatic silence broken only by the gentle sway of his head and an occasional smile.

Reluctantly, I said goodbye to Babu, and I ventured into uncharted waters. As we maneuvered through the narrow “streets,” the lush tropical foliage closed in overhead, creating an ambiance of wonder and intrigue. Along the way, I encountered women donning simple house dresses, standing knee-deep in the water on the steps leading up to their homes. They skillfully slapped laundry against a stone, effortlessly multitasking as one of them held a gleaming gold iPhone7 to her ear. The presence of these modern gadgets served as a stark contrast to the traditional scenery. Nearby, children gleefully splashed around, finding joy in this everyday household chore. The sight of their innocent playfulness brought a smile to my face. As we continued our journey, the locals kindly waved at us, their warm gestures adding to the sense of community. Amidst the serenity, the occasional plastic bottle floated lazily down the waterway, a reminder of the modern world’s impact on this tranquil scene.

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Eat your way through India at Kerala s charming homestays

As I approached Nelpura, our host Salimma stood eagerly on the stoep, ready to greet us. The stoep, so immaculately clean and shiny, made me hesitate to set foot on it – even though going barefoot is expected. Salimma’s warm welcome and delicious lunch quickly became a cherished part of our homestay experience.

The breakfast at Nelpura was something truly special. Uppumavu, a traditional dish made with semolina, was a morning staple. It was delicately flavored with chili, ginger, mustard seed, curry leaf, and cashew nut.

There was an undeniable charm to starting the day with uppumavu. It awakened my senses with its tantalizing aroma and burst of flavors. Each bite was a delightful adventure, and I couldn’t help but savor every mouthful.

I remember the plates of food in Kerala, with unpolished rice and dal as the main stars. The plate was always accompanied by a crispy element, like fried bitter gourd, and a dish called thoran, mixed with grated coconut. There was also a saucy vegetable sambar, a fish cutlet flavored with ginger, garlic, and chili powder, and poppadoms and chapatti on the side.

I still long for those lunch plates filled with various vegetarian dishes and the hearty breakfasts of egg ‘roast’ or slow-cooked brown chickpeas. In Kerala, beef is legal to eat, but it’s not the focus of the meal. Instead, rice, coconut, and bananas are the foundation, and everything is made fresh from scratch.

During my stay with Salimma, I was amazed by the abundance of fresh produce that came straight from her garden. Every morning, I would savor the sweetness of the papaya, the juiciness of the mangoes, and the cuteness of the baby bananas. It was a feast for the taste buds.

What impressed me even more was that Salimma used her own homegrown coconuts to press her own cooking oil. It was the secret behind the rich flavors in her dishes. I couldn’t help but appreciate the dedication and effort she put into each meal.

One evening, Salimma saved a special treat for us. She had been saving the last duck of the season, just so we could taste a dish called thengapal chertha tharavu. This coconut milk-based curry is usually reserved for special occasions, and I felt honored to be a part of the celebration.

Salimma’s garden was not just a source of delicious food, but also a symbol of her commitment to sustainability and self-sufficiency. It reminded me of the importance of knowing where our food comes from and the joy of growing it ourselves.

As I packed my bags to leave, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the experience. Salimma’s garden had not only nourished my body but also filled my heart with appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.

Eat your way through India at Kerala s charming homestays

When I arrived at Nelpura’s guest quarters, I was immediately taken aback by its charm and adherence to the traditional Kerala style. Set amidst a lush landscape of orchids, adeniums, coconut palms, and a majestic mango tree, the wooden home exuded a sense of tranquility and serenity.

The peaceful atmosphere was further enhanced by the presence of numerous hammocks at Vanilla County and cozy daybeds at Nelpura. It seemed like the perfect place to unwind, relax, and immerse oneself in the vibrant tropical surroundings. I couldn’t wait to settle down with a good book or simply bask in the beauty of nature.

As the sun began its descent, we embarked on a cruise with our guide, Jomon. The canals gradually widened, revealing expansive bodies of water that were populated by bustling waterbuses and elegant houseboats. I marveled at the intricate woven-palm coverings of the houseboats, resembling the armored shell of an armadillo.

Amidst this picturesque scene, we were treated to a mesmerizing sunset. The glow of the sun, devoid of any visible rays, painted the sky with a fluorescent orange hue, reminiscent of a bindi delicately placed on a hazy canvas. The distant strains of a bamboo flute only added to the enchantment of the moment.

Afterwards, me and the gang hung out with Salimma as she cooked up some amazing food. Chackochan, her husband, was totally in awe of her skills and couldn’t resist showing his love and support. Every once in a while, he’d wrap his arm around her waist, solidifying their bond. We couldn’t get enough of their company and kept urging them to come join us at the table. Lucky for us, they agreed without hesitation.

In Kerala, being a great host means serving your guests with all your heart. Instead of sitting down to eat, hosts like Salimma prefer to attend to their guests’ needs. It can feel a bit strange to have someone watching your every bite, standing just out of sight. But here’s the cool part – when we arrived, we found two cold Kingfisher beers waiting for us in the fridge. No need to bring our own drinks! It’s these little touches that set Salimma and Chackochan apart.

As I made my way from the quiet riverside areas to the vibrant Western Ghats, I found myself at Vanilla County, owned by Mathew Vallipkappen and his wife Rani. The sky darkened as I followed narrow roads, passing simple towns and tea plantations with towering shade trees. Suddenly, a brilliantly lit home appeared out of the darkness. Mathew’s right-hand man, Maju Balan, guided us to our immaculate rooms, with pristine white furnishings, serving as our personal guide throughout our stay. We hopped into a Mahindra jeep with him to explore a nearby rock pool and Rani’s enchanting spice garden. Maju enthusiastically introduced us to enormous passion fruits, juicy cashew fruits, and the last surviving vanilla vine.

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Eat your way through India at Kerala s charming homestays

Waking up at dawn, I was immersed in a symphony of unfamiliar sounds. The air was filled with the melodic honking of passing buses and the tinkling of the garden gate bell. It was a cacophony of noises that seemed otherworldly. As I lay there, trying to make sense of it all, I realized that the whistling I heard was not a person, but the beautiful call of the malabar whistling thrush. Maju, with a smile on his face, told me they affectionately called it ‘the naughty schoolboy’.

Breakfast was a delightful surprise. I was served an egg ‘roast’, accompanied by spiced and sautéed onions. It was a flavorful start to the day, and I couldn’t help but enjoy every bite. As I savored my meal, I marveled at the diverse landscape of Kerala. From the picturesque palm-fringed coasts to the vast paddy fields and the lush green hills and forests, this place had it all.

During my time at Vanilla County, I had the opportunity to explore the jungle-like surroundings. It was an adventure like no other. Everywhere I looked, there was a sense of wonder and excitement. Maju, my guide, led me through this enchanting wonderland, pointing out the hidden treasures along the way.

It’s truly amazing how a place can captivate your senses and transport you to a whole new world. Kerala is a testament to that. The sights, the sounds, and the flavors combine to create an unforgettable experience. If you’re looking for an escape from the ordinary, a journey to Kerala is exactly what you need.

One of my favorite memories from Vanilla County is a simple one – sitting on the red stoep at tea time, enjoying a steaming cup of masala chai and nibbling on jackfruit petals and fried bananas, while the rain poured down and thunder rumbled overhead. Maju, Mathew, and Rani didn’t think anything of it; for them, it was just a regular scene. But for me, it was both strange and comforting at the same time because in that moment, I felt like part of their family.

Rani would always share her homemade banana jam, rich jackfruit preserves, and coffee from their plantation. And at lunch, a row of clay pots would grace the center of the table – now used only for serving since they’ve been replaced by pressure cookers in every home we visited.

When I think back on my trip to India, the flavors of Kerala cuisine immediately come to mind. The cooking is lively and aromatic, with the sizzle of mustard seeds and the fragrance of curry leaves filling the air. While masala dosa, a savory rice crêpe stuffed with spiced potatoes, has gained popularity around the world, there are so many other dishes and ingredients that remain unknown to the rest of us. Snake gourd and African coriander are just a couple of examples of the unique flavors and ingredients I discovered in Kerala. Even the lemons in this region look different from what I’m used to – more like limes – and the red onions separate into individual cloves like garlic.

It’s impossible to classify the entirety of India’s cuisine with a single label like “Indian food”. The diversity and variety of flavors and dishes are staggering, and my experience in Kerala only scratched the surface. However, what left a lasting impression on me was not just the food, but the kindness and warmth of the people I encountered. It may sound like a cliché, but I truly went for the food and ended up falling in love with the people.

This is how we experienced India:

When it comes to exploring new places, India has always been on my radar. However, the idea of visiting this majestic country has always seemed a bit daunting. That is, until I had a chance encounter with Pippa de Bruyn. Pippa, with her extensive knowledge of India gained from years of researching for the Frommer’s guide, now organizes trips through her company, Best Kept.

Best Kept is not your typical travel agency. Pippa goes above and beyond to ensure that your trip to India is tailored to your interests and budget. But it doesn’t stop there. She collaborates with local experts who take care of all the nitty-gritty details like transfers, guides, drivers, and even assistance in case you get sick or misplace your luggage.

Personally, I find this level of service extraordinary. With Pippa and her team by your side, you can explore the wonders of India without any worries. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or an adventure seeker, Best Kept will create an itinerary that suits your needs.

So, if you’re ready to embark on a remarkable journey to India, let Best Kept be your guide. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Imagine receiving an email from Nic Dawes, a contact who spent three years living in Delhi. He shared his thoughts on Indian cuisine, stating that if he had to choose a favorite, it would be Kerala food. After discussing this with Pippa, we decided to explore the state of Kerala further. Our main focus was on staying at heritage homestays, which provide accommodation and meals. We found that the Nelpura and Vanilla County homestays stood out for their excellent food and the privacy offered by their separate annex accommodations.

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When I had a driver and knew that a Best Kept representative would be there at important times to make sure our transfers went smoothly, it felt like we were living in luxury. It meant that we could make the most of our time and not worry about the logistics in a place that was completely unfamiliar to us. Plus, when we arrived, we were given a local phone with all the important numbers already loaded, and all the people who took care of us spoke English. Every trip is made just for you, but let me give you an example: a trip to Kerala for eight nights, for a family of four (with a driver, guide, most meals, and staying in four homestays), costs as low as R12725 per person. bestkept.co.za

Eat your way through India at Kerala s charming homestays

Hey there! If you’re thinking about visiting southern India, I’ve got some great suggestions for you. One of the must-visit places in this region is Kerala. And you know what Kerala is famous for? Its stunning houseboats! These ornate vessels glide gracefully along the backwaters, creating a picturesque scene that will take your breath away.

But guess what? It’s not just houseboats that you can experience in Kerala. There are all kinds of boats that chug up and down the backwaters, offering you a unique way to explore this beautiful region. Whether you’re interested in luxurious houseboats or smaller, more traditional vessels, Kerala has got you covered.

Now, let me introduce you to a special place in Kerala that you should definitely check out. It’s called Vanilla County plantation, and it’s home to the main houseboat. This place is simply breathtaking! The lush greenery surrounding the plantation adds a touch of serenity to the whole experience, making it a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Get ready for your southern India adventure!

Eat your way through India at Kerala s charming homestays

Getting there

I flew from Cape Town to Mumbai, and the flights were reasonably priced. You can find Ethiopian Airlines flights starting at R6500 for a return trip (ethiopianairlines.com), and Emirates offers flights starting at R7500 (emirates.com). From Mumbai, I took a flight with Jet Airways to Kochi, which cost me about R2700 (jetairways.com). After arriving in Kochi, I continued my journey by car, and even enjoyed a boat ride on the backwaters. I highly recommend hiring a designated driver for a smooth and enjoyable experience.

When to go

The best time to visit the south of India is during November. The weather is cooler, and the landscape is beautiful and lush after the monsoon season. However, I traveled in April and May when the weather was hot and humid. So, if you can handle the heat, these months can also be a good time to explore.

Need to know

Before departing for India, make sure to complete an e-visa application. Upon arrival, you will receive a free visa. The exchange rate between the South African rand and the Indian rupee is favorable, with about 5 rupees equaling one rand. Keep in mind that there are strict controls on purchasing alcohol, so it’s best to ask a local for guidance on this matter.

Stay here

If you’re looking for accommodation in Alleppey, I highly recommend Nelpura Heritage Homestay. They have a 140-year-old traditional wooden structure in the garden where guests can stay. The prices start from R1425 for a double room and include full board. You can find more information on their website, nelpura.com. Another great option is Vanilla County in Vagamon. It’s a heritage family home that offers a glimpse into hill-plantation life. The double room rates start from R1300, and you can add breakfast for an extra R90 per person. Their website is vanillacounty.in. For a different experience, you can choose to stay at Emerald Isle Heritage Villa in Alleppey. This 150-year-old property has a guesthouse feel and is run by two brothers, Vinod and Vijo Job. Their double rooms start from R1160 per night and include breakfast. You can learn more about this place at emeraldislekerala.com. Lastly, there’s The Francis Residence, a cozy homestay located in Fort Kochi. The hosts, Francis and Rosy KP, maintain the property meticulously. Although I didn’t stay here myself, I heard great things about it. The double room rates start from R1080 per night, including breakfast, and you can enjoy lunch or dinner for an additional cost of R305 per person. Check out their website, francisresidence.com, for more information.

Try These Activities

When you stay in a homestay, you have access to guidebooks with local recommendations and the inside scoop from your hosts. At Nelpura, they even offer bicycles and a birdwatcher’s kit for you to use. Take advantage of the opportunity to explore nearby villages and make sure to stop for tea and snacks along the way. And don’t miss the chance to go for a relaxing boat ride on the backwaters, it’s a must-do experience. Lastly, why not learn some new culinary skills? Sign up for a cooking class with your host and discover the secrets of Kerala’s delicious cuisine.

Indulge in Local Food

When you stay in a homestay, you can be sure that you’ll be well fed. The hosts are experts at preparing delicious meals. They often adjust the spice levels to suit the taste buds of tourists, so don’t hesitate to let them know your preferences. We recommend asking your hosts about their specialties to truly experience the diverse range of local cuisine and avoid repetitive meals. Trust us, it’s a taste adventure that you won’t want to miss!

Experience this culinary journey with us by reading the full article in the October issue of Getaway magazine.

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