#kerala, food, Life, Personal, Places

Beach and Baji

We, in India, following the COVID19 pandemic, are being slowly conditioned into an ‘unlock’ plan by the government. On November 1st, which incidentally is Kerala Piravi or Kerala Day, was also the day our beaches were opened to the public after eight months of restrictions.

Sunset ‘boulevard’ Photo courtesy:Hormese Joseph

Alappuzha beach , with its picturesque stretch of coastline has a magnetic force that draws locals and passers-by in droves.

Alappuzha is a well planned city that lies between Vembanad Lake and the Arabian Sea. It was economically significant in the spice trade for a long time. A port was founded in 1762 for the export of coir-matting and coir-yarn. Alleppey coir yarn has been GI certified since 2007.

The lighthouse built on the coast of the city is the first of its kind along the Laccadive Sea coast. It was first lit in 1862 and is still a manned station! Surprisingly, Alappuzha beach hosts a beach festival and sand art festival. (Surprising cause it isn’t considered the most progressive of cities). A canal system helped bring in goods to port from the backwaters and encouraged an entourage of traders from Surat, Mumbai and Kutch, who eventually, chose to make Alleppey home.

The lighthouse at Alappuzha

The beach here is always teeming with people. For an Alleppey native, it is the go-to place that provides free entry, a meeting ground for friends, more-than-friends, souls on the path of enlightenment and general tomfoolery.

Meet-up place Photo courtesy: Hormese Joseph

In the evenings , when the light starts to dim and the sun starts to set, an artist’s palette creates a riot of colours; a whirlwind of consciousness. The gas fires from the ‘undhu vandi‘ (carts), the calls of the ice cream vendors and the king of Alappuzha beach snacks ( yes, such a snack exists) the glorious, humungously satisfying “Baji“. This coated-in-batter, deep-fried street food is at the zenith of recreational activities in this setting.

Egg baji

It is a truth universally acknowledged (or a truth that the whole of Alleppey knows), that even if burgers & fries and Arabian delicacies are mushrooming in every nook and cranny, the baji guy😎 is the ever-present ,doller-out of the best snack for introspective sunset vibes.

A cup of chai ( not coffee) is the final touch. My friend @aparnasramblings may graciously disagree (but we all know which is better 😜).

The tea is of various kinds: black tea with ‘karipetti‘, the sweet milky one and even a ‘sulaimani‘. But the baji, oh the baji ! Cauliflower, banana peppers (baji chilly), thinly sliced raw banana, eggs- we are spoilt for choices. A tomato chutney (that seems a mite confusing to replicate) is poured on top and voila! A feast for the taste buds. Sophisticated it’s not, but definitely touches all the right places of my tummy!

Banana Chilly Fritters

I’m wondering if any you are now waiting for a recipe? Not coming! This baji has to come with beach. That tea has to accompany it. The setting is the hero in this one. So, what’s your favourite snack setting?

#kerala, Travel

The Beauty of Kuttanad

Kuttanadan Punjayile
Kochu Penne Kuyilale
Kottu Venam Kuzhal Venam
Kurava Venam” – an evergreen boat song (watch the catchy fusion version by Vidya Vox)

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a young father went to collect his family from his wife’s homestead…

Sounds like the beginning to a fantasy novel doesn’t it? This was how my dad described his adventure-filled travel to Kuttanad back in the day when the bridges there were coconut logs. Travelling away from was more common than travelling towards.

Photo courtesy: Joyal Antony Thomas

Poems, songs and many literary works have had their setting in this land of the famed backwaters of Vembanad Lake. Coastal backwaters, rivers and well networked water ways; green, green paddy fields as far as the eye can see; shimmering water and countless ‘kettuvallams‘ and smaller ‘vallams‘ are the norm here.

When visiting my grandparents, the ride to the destination was picturesque to say the least. The adventure started when we had to get on a vallam (something like a canoe). Bags and people were loaded on and, getting on and off required great balance because:

  • a) the bank was higher up than the canoe and                                                  
  • b) the waves caused by motorboats kept the canoe swaying.

We once had a tinier-than-a-canoe pick us up from the jetty. There was probably a half-inch difference between the upper edge of the vallam and the river we were crossing. My kuttanad-born mom was more nervous for that than us kids!  

Photo courtesy: Joyal Antony Thomas

The Nehru Trophy Boat Race, although happens in Alleppey, is a prominent crowd puller from this part of the district. I have never understood the fevour the people have for the ‘vallam kali‘ (boat race). It was (and still is) impossible to get a clear cut view of which boat was where in a race that resembles a drag race! Every year, my husband goes to watch the ‘vallam kali‘but inevitably, I have learnt to expect a phone call asking who won the race. (I told you its impossible to see anything!).

Kuttanad lies in the heart of Alappuzha district and is fondly known as the Venice of the east. It is infact a huge area of reclaimed land that is separated by dikes from water higher than the land. It lies below sea- level and a two century old, ingenious method of rice cultivation is still being practised. The Food and Agricultural Organisation(FAO) has declared the Kuttanad farming method as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS). Its Biosaline Farming system sets the land apart in terms of agricultural custom. It is unfortunate that I only recently came across such distinctions and history even though it’s where my mother grew up.

An aerial view of the backwaters

Years before frog hunting was banned, I remember my uncle going out after it rained,in the late evenings, to catch frogs to make crunchy fried frog’s legs. As daring as the French in their cuisine, weren’t they?! Duck, the famed Pearl Spot fish (karimeen), clam meat, were never exotic delicacies for the people here!

Paddy fields

So, back to my dad’s journey to Kuttanad. My brother had a bout of food poisoning from drinking pond water and he was adamant to see my father (the stubborn oaf😁). Anyway, my dad started sometime in the late afternoon and travelled by bus for one stretch of the journey and then he was on his own. There was still 30kms to cover, a jangar (ferry) to cross and two lakes between him and the house. But the malayalee man is a resourceful being, a sip of good brandy is enough for a kilometer worth of walk. When he finally reached the last water body he had to cross, it was pitch dark, there was no one about and no way to cross the river. Providence finally brought a kettuvallam and its vallakaaran (oarsman) passing through. My dad shouted and whistled, got the man’s attention, agreed on a price to ferry him across. Bang in the middle of the crossing the vallakaaran demanded double the money! Well, desperate times and all that. Finally, exhausted and only slightly intoxicated, my dad reached my grandparents house, looked in on my brother and promptly fell asleep.

Now the land and my maternal house is better connected with roadways, bridges and motorboats. But whatever developments continue to happen the Kuttanadan native is as close to the land and its waters as he was then.