Friday, 6 February 2015

Allepey Part 2, Kayaking and Co-op Coffee (and deep fried bananas)

So it's been a while since working internet was a regular thing: since we left Allepey about 3 weeks ago, actually. Last time I wrote about boating and eating freshwater fish from the canals. The day after that (hello, stupidly late blog post) we went kayaking on those same canals, which was infinitely better than the previous day's lounging in boats because we got to go down all kinds of tiny canals where the bigger boat wouldn't fit. 

Houseboats on the backwaters at dawn

Sampson, our guide and owner of the kayaking business, spoke excellent English and told us he had actually imported the kayaks from New Zealand about ten years ago (I guess no one in India is manufacturing kayaks…) for what sounded like an insanely high fee. He's been taking people out practically every day since. His experience became quickly evident as he was not only an expert at handling a kayak but he knew exactly what information we tourists would want to know. He pointed out various birds, mango trees, cotton trees, the nests of weaver birds, and other interesting sights. He also explained a lot about the village life we were seeing. The canals, he explained, are naturally occurring but have been reinforced and sometimes rerouted by humans over the years. They are divided from the rice paddies by dykes, and apparently each rice field has its own pump so the amount of water in it can be regulated. It wasn't the season, so there weren't a lot of workers in the field, just a few women doing work to prepare for planting, as well as hundreds of egrets and herons eating bugs that live in the shallow water. 

canals on this side, rice on that side

 Kayaking allowed us to see parts of the canal life we would have missed otherwise, because we were able to take routes through narrow canals or under low bridges, where the bigger tour boats wouldn't fit. As it was so early in the morning, we saw lots of people bathing in the canal, doing laundry, cleaning fish, and washing dishes. Kids in their school uniforms ran around and played while waiting for the boat that would take them to school. Some were still brushing their teeth by the water’s edge. We saw a man catching pearlspot (or karimeen)—the fish we ate on our last boat trip, and we saw a couple selling fresh caught mussels from their boat. 

The backwaters are also used for transporting materials to building sites without real road access:

I have yet to see anyone on a construction site in this country wearing a hard hat, or shoes.

After about an hour of kayaking, we had our breakfast break—this was more of an authentic, local affair than our last boating meal. A little building with a few tables, right on the edge of the canal, where we were served a big breakfast of Channa Masala (chick pea curry with gravy), flaky parottas, hard boiled eggs covered in a sauce of fried onions, and deep fried bananas.

Parottas are a bread made by stretching the dough very thinly and rolling it into a many-layered ball, which is then flattened and roasted.  

A feast! Yes, those are deep-fried bananas in the middle. 

The coffee, as usual in India—I don’t know if I've written about this yet—was thick, milky, and sweet, and barely tasted of coffee at all. It’s still a nice drink, if you're cold (when does that happen, to a Canadian in India?) but sometimes (aka always) I crave black bitter coffee.

SPEAKING OF COFFEE, we come to part 2 of this post. This would have been a separate entry but I'm too far behind in this blog to have that luxury...

The Indian Coffee House is a large restaurant chain with an interesting history—it was started in the 1930s as a privately owned series of almost 50 restaurants. In the 1950s, the owners began to close the coffee houses. This was around the time that a communist government was first elected in the state of Kerala—making Kerala the only place in the world to have democratically elected a communist government. In the definitely-not-enough-to-have-an-informed-opinion amount of reading I have done about the Communist party’s history in Kerala, it seems that a lot of Kerala’s successes are in some part due to that party's influence (successes such as having a 100% literacy rate, good public schools and hospitals, and the lowest rates of rural poverty in India). Anyway, the Coffee Houses: it was in the 1950s when the employees of these coffee houses took over ownership and management of the business. The Indian Coffee House is now the largest restaurant chain in Kerala, with branches in the rest of the country as well (almost 400 in total, according to Wikipedia!). It is employee-owned, and is run by several managing committees elected from (and by) employees.

So of course, I had to check it out. 

The menu is your typical Indian canteen-type food, done simply and well. Over the couple weeks we were in Allepey I tried the masala dosa, the masala curry (which is also what they use as the filling in the masala dosa), veg cutlets (sounds weird but are available everywhere--basically little veggie burger patties, often served with fresh mint chutney) parottas (delicious), various fresh juices (they mean fresh: the pineapple juice is about as filling as if you just sat down and ate an entire pineapple, because that is all it contains), and of course, the coffee.

masala dosa, masala curry, coffee, various chutneys and sauces, lemonade, Liam.
Oh and the waiters dress like this. 
This is actually from Kochi, not Allepey, but I like it. 

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