The recent bypoll in the Thrikkakara constituency in Kochi where the Congress-led UDF candidate Uma Thomas pulled off a thumping victory, has put the region on Kerala’s culinary map.
If you scurry into a local curry house in Spinningfields, Manchester, you would unsurprisingly find an abundance of Indian delicacies across its menu. The fare can range from spicy lamb chop tikkas to buttery murgh malai tikkas to cripy naans plucked right off the tandoor. This would be the case for most Indian restaurants in major global cities across the world. The reason for this skewed outlook of Indian cuisine can pinned on the fact that largely delicacies from the north or western of the subcontinent have managed cross borders and make it into menus abroad. Subsequently, a vast majority of the traditional cuisine from the east to central and to the south of India have been left largely unexplored -- a rather perplexing characteristic, considering India’s rich and diverse culinary heritage.
While the ‘South Indian’ cuisine has found its way into the global food ecosystem, it’s often restricted to the dosas and idlis doused in sambar that are dished out at the Sarvana Bhavans or similar outfits around the world. In fact, this generalisation of South Indian cuisine is rampant within India as well. Malayali cuisine, in particular, despite offering one of the most mouth-watering and diverse variety of dishes, has been marginalised.
Kerala, unlike most other Indian states, has a very distinct identity in terms of how large populations of different communities are spread across its districts. This inadvertently means that the cuisine differs from district to district. Sometimes, the popularity of a particular dish may have to do with excess availability of produce in a certain region, alternately, there may be a flavour or seasoning that may have come to define the cuisine of a particular region. Moreover, Malayalis are no strangers to any form of meat, be it chicken, pork, beef, mutton, duck, or fish, and the possibilities for exquisite delicacies are endless. Fish alone is available in abundance, from the Arabian Sea, the backwaters in Kochi, Alappuzha, and Kollam, or from the various rivers running through the state. That said, Malayalis also have a range of seasonal vegetarian dishes, many of which are a part of the traditional sadya (the traditional lunch platter). For instance, during the jackfruit season, the fruit and its seed are used in several vegetarian dishes, apart from it being made into chakka appams (jackfruit appam), chakka chips (jackfruit chips), chakka payasam (jackfruit payasam), and so much more. And obviously, it is also consumed raw as a fruit as well.
The relative obscurity of Kerala cuisine is slowly becoming a thing of the past. With the exponential growth of social media, places like Kochi have witnessed a significant spike in demand for local delicacies, by customers from both home and abroad. Travel vloggers, YouTubers, and Instagram influencers have played a significant role in bringing the local delis, fast food joints, and other lesser-known restaurants serving delicacies to the limelight. In 2021, Eat Kochi Eat became the first foodie community in India to receive funding up to $50,000 as part of Facebook’s Community Accelerator Program. The city has become a hub for local as well as global food in recent years, almost replacing Kozhikode as Kerala’s food capital. Regions in Kochi such as Panampilly Nagar, Fort Kochi, and even Thrikkakara have become symbolic of the ever-changing food landscape of Kochi.
Any discussion about the cuisine in Kerala always begins with the Onam Sadya, the traditional lunch Malayalis have every year where a wide variety of vegetarian dishes, and washed down with at least three types of payasam which is served on a banana leaf. While there have been several variations of the Sadya, including the non-veg Sadya, the vegetarian Sadya is the most widely popular variant enjoyed across the state. And no other region in Kerala is more symbolic to Onam and Sadya than Thrikkakara in Kochi.
Home of the prestigious Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) and the famous Thrikkakara temple, the region’s history is deep-rooted in Onam and its traditions. The name itself roughly translates to ‘the place of the holy foot’ (Thiru Kaal Kara). It is in reference to the mythical tale of how Vamana, the fifth avatar of Lord Vishnu, banished King Mahabali to the underworld ‘pathalam’ by setting his foot on Mahabali. Interestingly, a place called Pathalam is located just seven kilometres from Thrikkakara.
The Thrikkakara Vamanamoorthy Temple, dedicated to Vamana, is one of the 108 Divya Desam (Lord Vishnu) temples and is at the centre of the Onam celebrations in Kerala. The annual ten-day temple festival which commences from Atham, the first day of Onam, lasts till Thiru Onam and attracts attendees from all castes and religions. Onasadya is organised on the last two days of the festival along with a spectacular display of fireworks. When Thrikkakara was still a part of the former princely state of Travancore, the festival was jointly organised by 61 naduvazhis (local rulers or landlords) under the leadership of the Maharaja.
The fact that the CUSAT campuses are sprawled across Thrikkakara gives it a more youthful outlook, with fast food joints at every nook and corner offering a wide variety of cuisines from across India. The popular North-Eastern deli near the student residential areas or the special lassi and other cool drinks spot has become popular hangout spots for students over the years. And if one were interested in more traditional restaurants, Thrikkakara is just minutes away from foodie hotspots such as Edappally and Kakkanad.
Kochi's ever-growing popularity as a foodie destination is largely thanks to Panampilly Nagar and Fort Kochi. Panampilly Nagar offers a unique blend of local ‘thattukadas’, fast food joints and, fine dining restaurants. The all you can eat Uppum Mulakum restaurants, the home of juicy gourmet burgers at The Burger Junction, or the East India Street Cafe are examples of some of the best foodie havens at Panampilly Nagar. Whereas Fort Kochi offers global as well as local cuisine, with more emphasis on seafood. A trip further into Ernakulam district (Kochi is part of Ernakulam) into areas around Vallarbadam offers a truly unique experience of being far from the bustling city and close to the scenic backwaters. Restaurants such as Vellakanthaari offers a quiet ambience and the best seafood in Kochi. For those willing to burn their pockets, the Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty would be the ideal destination. The hotel features one of the best bars, restaurants, and cafes in the entire state. With a view overlooking the backwaters, it offers one of the most surreal experiences in Kochi.
The one that truly embodies Kerala’s food scene is the state-controlled toddy shops. The local alcoholic beverage made from tender coconuts is a signature beverage in the state. These toddy shops or ‘kallu shaap’ offers a rustic aesthetic and are renowned for their delicious food, and a wide variety of meat dishes that would put dive bars across the country to shame.
Unsurprisingly, Malayalis consume more alcohol than any other state in India. With bypoll elections in full swing, one would imagine bars and toddy shops would be packed with those trying to drown their sorrows and those trying to up their spirits.
Here’s a list of food joints in Kochi that you may want to try out
The popular choices
Grand Hotel, M.G Road
The famous Grand Hotel is popular for its fish curry meals. The restaurant offers exotic seafood options such as karimeen pollichathu (steamed and marinated pearl spot wrapped in banana leaf), and other delicacies, both regional and international, from thakkali kozhi (tomato chicken curry) to steaks and more.
Rice Boat, Wellington Island
Part of the Taj resorts in Kochi, Rice Boat offers some of the best seafood platters in the city. Tiger prawns, scampi (a type of lobster), and karimeen (pearl spot), are among the popular seafood options at Rice Boat. The restaurant also offers a wide range of cuisines and is primarily renowned for its soothing ambience.
Paragon, Lullu Mall, Edappally
Paragon restaurant in Kochi’s Lulu Mall offers the best Kozhikode-style chicken and mutton biryani. Their fish mango curry is also a must-try dish. Part of the Paragon group from Kozhikode, the restaurant has earned a reputation over the years as one of the most sought after biryani joints in the state.
Ifthar, a restaurant near Lulu Mall in Kochi, is famous for its kabsa, a type of biryani wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. It also offers exotic offal dishes such as mutton liver fry and Attin thalachor (mutton brain curry) for the more adventurous.
Malabar Café, Bolgatty
The Malabar Café at the Grand Hyatt in Bolgatty serves some of the best regional cuisines in the city. The kuttanadan pothirachi masala (roasted meat in masala) and tharavu mappas (duck marinated, and cooked with tender coconut milk) are to die for. The ambience, view, and the restaurant’s sumptuous offerings make it one of the most sought after restaurants in Kochi.
The Burger Junction, Panampilly Nagar
The Real Texan and the TBJ Baconator offer double patty and doubled cheesed burgers with just the right amount of veggies to give them a juicy yet crunchy texture. Their most popular order, however, is their Messi fries, (a homage to Lionel Messi), prepared with fries dipped in rich sauce, jalapeños, and a choice of meats.
Kayees Rahmathulla Cafe, Mattancherry
Kayees’ speciality is their mutton dum biryani with a medium amount of spices but extra juicy and flavoured mutton pieces. While the ambience may not be as welcoming as some of the other names on this list, the truly exquisite taste of their biriyani makes Kayees Rahmathulla Cafe a go-to restaurant in Kochi.
Cafe Papaya, Panampilly Nagar
If you are in the mood for some live music and good food, head to Cafe Papaya in Kochi’s Panampilly Nagar. From banana fritters to chicken Stroganoff, the cafe has something for everyone. But their most sought-after dish is banana fritters with beef curry.
Kashi Art Café, Fort Kochi
Head out to Kashi Art Café if you suddenly crave for something sweet, or even if you have a sweet-tooth because the chocolate cake is sinfully good and loved by locals for its wonderful texture and mouth-watering richness. Bonus: The café, which also has a gallery space where plenty of brilliant artists exhibit their work, is well known for its calming ambience and artistic vibe, which will surely help you savour every bite.
Hotel Seagull, Fort Kochi
Kochi’s most popular waterfront resto-bar is known for its seafood varieties such as prawns masala, prawns coconut fry, crab roast, and squid fry. It’s the perfect spot to kick back and down a pint of beer as you’re greeting by the pleasant ocean breeze.
The hidden gems
Uppum Mulakum, Panampilly Nagar
All you can eat kuzhi mandi rice (meat rice prepared inside a deep pit) is one of the affordable yet tasty options available at Panampilly Nagar. The aroma of rich flavours and the outdoor setting give it a unique aesthetic, and they serve a wide variety of chicken and mutton fry dishes that are served on the side.
Fusion Bay, Santacruse Basilica Junction
Their signature dish, seafood avial, is the traditional Kerala avial (mixed vegetables) with a twist – veggies are swapped with seafood as the main ingredient here. Another popular dish is the fish pollichathu which is a common yet exotic delicacy from central Kerala. It is made by marinating avoli (pomfret) which is then steamed in a banana leaf.
The place to be if one loves seafood. Vellakanthaari offers a wide variety of seafood dishes prepared fresh straight from the market. The affordable pricing makes it the place to visit for seafood enthusiasts. Koonthal fry (fried squid), karimeen fry (pearl spot fry), and meen manga curry (mango fish curry), are some of the popular choices at this restaurant.
Kambavala Kitchen, Kumbalangi
Jumbo prawns are arguably one of the most sought after seafood delicacies in Kochi, and the tiger prawn thava fry is the highlight at Kambavala Kitchen. Located at Kumbalangi, the restaurant is a must-visit, especially if you loved the film Kumbalangi Nights and of course, if you love seafood.
OMKV Food Village, Kumbalangi
Yet another Kumbalangi foodie joint on this list and it truly is a hidden gem. The Njandu Kappa Biriyani (tapioca biriyani with carb meat) is to die for and is one of the few places in Kerala that serves this exotic dish.
B at Bay, Eda Kochi
Bharath Coffee House, Broadway
This is the place for a nice hot plate of crispy masala dosa. The mandatory coconut chutney and sambhar that accompanies the masala dosa is rich in flavour, and will definitely leave you craving for more, even if you’re not too fond of dosas.
New Malaya Palarivattom
Located opposite the Ernakulam Medical Centre, this relatively low-profile restaurant serves some of the best pork dishes in Kochi. If one is out looking for the best Indo-Chinese restaurants in Kochi, the New Malaya is an affordable and enticing prospect.
Places to visit if you want to celebrate the election win, or even to drown your sorrows:
Longitude 76 Bar - Le Meridien Kochi, Maradu
One of the oldest 5-star hotels in Kochi also features one of its oldest bars. The Longitude 76 Bar at the Le Meridien is home to a wide variety of alcoholic beverages, from Irish whiskies such as Jameson to the premium Scotch brands such as Blue label and a decent collection of wines, vodkas, liqueurs, and more. The bar also offers signature cocktails such as The Longitude Sour, a variation of the traditional whiskey sour.
Nettoor Toddy Shop, Nettoor
Located just a few kilometres from the national highway in Nettoor, the toddy shop offers exotic food, kallu (toddy), and a stunning lakeside view. And like most local toddy shops in Kerala rare fish and meat delicacies are also served depending on availability.
Mezzo, MG Road
The Mezzo bar, part of Avenue Regent, on MG Road is one of the most sought after nightlife destinations in Kochi. The bar is known for its well-stocked bar and its chic ambience. Some of the most popular orders here include barbeque pork ribs, spicy calamari, and kung pao chicken. If you wish to hang out with your friends with good food and drinks, then this is a place worth exploring.
Padipura Toddy Shop, Thrippunithura
Padipura Toddy Shop is located in Thrippunithura, just outside Kochi. It is not far from the famous Hill Palace of Thrippunithura, which was once used as the production location for the iconic Malayalam film Manichitrathazhu. The toddy shop is famous for its rustic architecture, food, and of course, the toddy served in cool clay pots.
Couchyn at The Grand, MG Road
Couchyn at The Grand in MG Road offers a calm and cozy environment along with different varieties of drinks and Kerala-style food. Karimeen pollichathu (steamed and marinated pearl spot wrapped in banana leaf), pepper chicken fry, and tiger prawn ullarthu are their specialties.
Mullapanthal Toddy Shop, Thrippunithura.
One of the most popular toddy shops in the Ernakulam district is the Mullapanthal Toddy Shop in Thrippunithura. Unlike the other toddy shops on this list, it is located in the country, in the interiors of Thrippunithura. And like the others on this list, it offers exotic meat dishes, tapioca, seafood, toddy and kallappam (rice bread made from toddy).
Blue Rock Resto Bar, Kadavanthra
One of the more affordable bar options on this list is the Blue Rock Resto Bar at Kadavanthra. Located at the heart of the city, the bar has become a popular destination in recent years. The Irish Hint, a chilled blue strawberry vodkatini, is one of their primary signature cocktails.
Armoury resto-bar in Fort Kochi packs a distinct old world charm. It’s a colonial-era style architecture has traces of Portuguese and Dutch influences. While the bar only serves wine and beer, it’s a great place to take in a live performance while wolfing down some delectable eats.
Food, alcohol, and elections have become synonymous with Kerala over the years. The highly politically opinionated state is slowly but surely gaining the recognition it deserves for its rich diversity in the culinary delicacies it has to offer. Kochi in particular is becoming a foodie’s paradise, a recognition that was once bestowed to the northern Kerala city of Kozhikode.