Looking at Food as Art in Fort Kochi

While at the 2018 Kochi Biennale this December, tuck into lush biriyani, coconut-soaked fish, and dessert in the port city.  
Kashi Art Café guarantees great coffee, sandwiches and a warm, earthy vibe. Photo by Vivi Charly.
Kashi Art Café guarantees great coffee, sandwiches and a warm, earthy vibe. Photo by Vivi Charly.

Fort Kochi is mornings by the beach, watching Chinese nets being cast out in the Arabian Sea, and walking into centuries-old synagogues and churches. The town’s Portuguese, Dutch and British heritage is alive in the smallest of alleys. Then there is the food: you can’t go wrong with the array of Kerala specialities on offer here, or the fare at its hipster cafés. We fish out the town’s top three culinary spots, for everything from slow-cooked stews in traditional monchatti earthenware and Kerala-style biriyani plates, to the “it” café for cake, coffee and conversation.

 

Kashi Art Café

In addition, Kashi Art Café serves sinful chocolate cake.

In addition, Kashi Art Café serves sinful chocolate cake. Photo by Vivi Charly.

Twenty-year-old Kashi Art Café at Burgher Street is one of Fort Kochi’s favourite breakfast spots. Housed in a historic Dutch colonial home, this funky, eclectic courtyard café doubles up as an art gallery showcasing works of local artists. On offer is a small menu comprising all-day breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches and a handful of mains—all made with locally-sourced, pesticide-free produce, organic grains and fresh catch from the local market. For breakfast, skip the eggs and order a batch of the fluffy honey-soaked French toast. Remember to check out their chalkboard ‘menu of the day’ for healthy seasonal salads, cakes and coffee blends.

Top Pick If you’re looking for a tall piece of chocolate cake with gooey ganache-esque sauce, this is just the place for you (Burgher Street; 0484 2215769; meal for two Rs1,200).

 

Fusion Bay

Fusion Bay (left) commands more than one visit to tuck into its Cochin-style Crab Roast, seafood avial, and fish pappas meal (right).

Fusion Bay (left) commands more than one visit to tuck into its Cochin-style Crab Roast, seafood avial, and fish pappas meal (right). Photos by Vivi Charly.

Fusion Bay is a charmingly old-fashioned spot that looks more like a friend’s living room instead of a restaurant. Considering Kerala’s long list of cuisine influencers, this seafood-centric eatery best represents the state’s offerings. Start your meal with a superb meen moilee and appams. The Syrian Christian community’s subtlest coconut milk and vinegar-laced stew is made here with the catch of the day, karimeen (pearl spot). Next, try a Jewish treat, chuttullimeen, which is a pan-seared fish stuffed with a roasted shallot and spice marinade. For mains, choose between pineapple beef curry, prawns in green mango curry and the big-and-spicy fish pappas meal.

Top Pick Try their Dutch-style kingfish marinated with ginger, garlic and coconut milk, wrapped in a banana leaf, and roasted to perfection (K.B. Jacob Road, near Santa Cruz Basilica Church; 0484 2217799; meal for two Rs1,500).

 

Kayees Rahmathulla Café

In addition to mouthwatering mutton biriyani (left), KayeesRahmathulla Café (right) also offers coastal treats such as squid roast.

In addition to mouthwatering mutton biriyani (left), KayeesRahmathulla Café (right) also offers coastal treats such as squid roast. Photos by Vivi Charly.

Ask any local where they go for their fix of Malabar biriyani, and most Malayalis will answer, “Kayikka’s.” What they really mean is Kayees Rahmathulla Café, a recently refurbished canteen which retains old-world touches like porcelain crockery, retro wooden furniture and hand-wound clocks. Get in early, well before the lunch rush, and choose between the peppery chicken with pineapple chunks or mutton biriyani, both of which are dum-cooked over a wood fire using ex-army cook and founder V.K. Kayee’s 56-year-old recipe. Served as it always was, with a side of pulinkari (date and tamarind chutney), lime pickle, salad and papad, this ghee-rich rice plate isn’t one you’ll forget soon. Wash it all down with a glass of warm jeera water and a wedge of Malabar halwa.

Top Pick Go for the mutton curry with Kerala parotta, like M.F. Husain did here (Rahmathulla Hotel, Mattancherry; 0484 2221234; meal for two Rs500).

  • Jharna Thakkar is a hospitality, travel and lifestyle writer. A trained chef, she has written for publications like the Hindustan Times, Condé Nast Traveller, Time Out and Mumbai Mirror. Currently, she portions her time into freelance writing, cooking Goa sausages and pickling seasonal vegetables.

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