Given the moniker of ‘God’s Own Country’, Kerala is regarded as one of the most idyllic locations on earth. Cleaner and less chaotic than some other areas of India, the region has one of the highest literacy rates in the country – in 1989 Kottayam, a city in central Kerala, became the first in India to achieve one hundred percent literacy.
Overall, the state is probably most appreciated for the stunning diversity of its landscape. Eastern fringes take in the Western Ghats – lush highlands of wild flowers and wilder animals – while on the western side you can find a lengthy stretch of the Malabar Coast, with its wealth of picture-perfect beaches. Labyrinthine networks of waterways loosely connect the two flanks. On these backwaters you will find the distinctive Ketuvallams, traditional houseboats constructed from coir knots which were once used to transport rice across the region and can now be rented out by tourists.
Chef Peter Joseph remembers the Ketuvallams fondly from his time in Kerala. ‘The boathouses on the backwaters – with the nice bedrooms, balcony, everything on one boat – do more than just take you from one place to another; you can see all the different places, the scenery,’ he says. ‘It’s amazing and beautiful.’
If a Ketuvallam trip represents an ideal way to see Kerala, then Peter argues it is also a great way to taste Kerala, too. Among the paddy fields and coconut tree-lined lagoons are some quirky local masala cafes serving traditional Keralan dishes such as Karrimeen (grilled fish).
Fish and seafood are abundant here and help distinguish Keralan food from other regions in India, where vegetarian ingredients tend to dominate. ‘We primarily do north Indian cuisine at Tamarind,’ Peter says, ‘but when it comes to Indian seafood there is not much in northern India in terms of sauces. We have a Malabar prawn dish at Tamarind, while for Tali Macchi (grilled sea bass) we use the base sauce from Kerala – tomato and tamarind.
‘I love the cuisine there,’ he continues. ‘Overall, Keralan food is quite healthy, with lots of coconut and peppercorns for flavour. In the north of the state, there are more peppercorns and chilli. South Kerala has milder flavours.’