Sunday, 11 January 2015

Water Everywhere: Alleppey part 1

Since my last post, we’ve left Kodaikanal forever—its many many restaurants, its extremely foggy climate, and the bison that frighteningly wandered our front yard many nights. We are now joined by my aunt Linda, who is a photographer and has been blogging about her time in India. We traveled through Madurai, where I started 2015 on the roof of our hotel watching fireworks explode all over the city’s skyline. From there we stopped briefly in Trivandrum (full name Thiruvananthapuram huh wonder why on earth they shortened that) and then through a series of ridiculous train journeys (including crossing like ten tracks and almost literally dodging a moving train—which turned out to be our train) we arrived eventually in Alleppey (aka Alappuzha--in this case, the longer name is definitely more fun). 

Allepey has BEACHES!! The riptides are too strong to swim safely, but the beaches are gorgeous anyway. Right after this photo a wave came and completely soaked me--never turn your back to the ocean.
Allepey, and this area of Kerala generally, is known for its backwaters—a network of naturally occurring (but reinforced and sometimes rerouted by human work) canals, not far inland from the ocean. These canals also connect to a few lakes, and it is possible to travel from town to town through these backwaters. People who live on the backwater canals—rich and poor alike—use the canals in their front yards as a place for bathing, laundry, and transportation.

In many spots, the canals are separated from the rice paddies--this area is also known as the rice bowl of Kerala--by small banks. The rice paddies are actually below sea level, and the way the canals are diked allows the correct amount of water to be pumped into the paddy fields so they aren't too wet or dry for rice to grow. Women who work in the Keralan fields make rs 300 a day--less than $6, but 3 times what women in Tamil Nadu make for the same job.

We hired a Shikara boat, like this one (below) to take us on a tour of the canals.

These boats are hired for day trips, while bigger houseboats take tourists out overnight.

This woman is cleaning fish.

Standing right in the water to do laundry on a hot day.
At lunch, the captain of our boat pulled up alongside this restaurant, the owners of which are obviously in cahoots with the owners/organizers of the boat trips because it was exclusively tourists inside, and it seemed unlikely that locals would eat at these prices: we each got a typical thali on a big banana leaf, and then ordered freshly-caught fish and prawns as well: the fish, one for each of us, were Rs 200 each ($4) and the prawns were also Rs 200 each (they were enormous, and extremely fresh, but still…). The prawn was stuck on a stick and barbequed or something—tasty but nothing amazing. The fish, however, was delicious, and we picked it right off the bones with our hands.

Aaaand here is another photo where we see why I’ll never be a famous food blogger: forgot to take a picture before I started eating, and when you’re eating with your hands, off a banana leaf, and the food is dumped onto your leaf from above by the indifferent waiter, it gets messy…

I'm sorry...


The fish were small, delicious, and tender. It’s a freshwater fish, locally known as Pearlspot, and in 2010 was apparently declared the official fish of Kerala. It’s caught in nets in the backwaters—the next morning on our kayaking trip we actually saw a man catching some. The official name for these little fishies is Green Chromide, which sounds like the name of a spaceship.

photo source: flickr 

From what I’ve seen, we had it the way it is often cooked—sometimes the dish is called “Karimeen Pollichathu” (Karimeen is another name for this fish, and Pollichathu means grilled/charred—first the fish is slit on both sides many times, then marinated in spices and lemon juice and then fried. The other way I have seen it offered on menus, but have yet to try, is cooked wrapped in a banana leaf, in a masala gravy.

That's all 4 now folks. 

 Coming soon: Kayaking in the backwaters and a very authentic breakfast feast. Also: the Indian Coffee House, a restaurant chain that has been run by a series of workers’ co-operative societies since the mid-1950s.

Other fun things if you're interested in my life: some of the art I've been doing in India got published on one of my favourite websites. 

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