Wednesday, 24 September 2008

the five senses travel to india

a trip to india is, as it might be expected, a trip that awakenes your senses. the colours , the smells, the flavours are all so intense that risk to be overwhelming.

as a foodie, i was obviously eager to experiment the flavours of real indian cuisine, but partly due to hygienic precautions and partly having to trust the uninspiring recommendations of western guidebooks, who assume all tourists are craving for bland omelettes and dubious versions of shepherd's pie, so far i hadn't been impressed. the food had always been delicious but the menus seemed repetitive and, after all, i couldn't taste such a marked difference between these "authentic" dishes and what's served at masala zone in london.

in kochi, however, the monsoon changed our travelling routines. soaked to the bone and stranded in the old part of the city, an island off the coast of kerala, we left our guidebook at home and picked the restaurant next door for dinner. it seemed nice from the outside and turned out to be allegedely the "best boutique hotel in india". a wonderful, if quite random , choice.

honestly, a touch of class and elegnace were welcome after ten days spent on the road in dusty rajasthan. the service and the decor were truly flawless. tek carved ceilings, a few hindu statues, white tablecloths and pinapple flowers on the table were key for the chic but unpretentious atmosphere. reading the menu was a pleasure in itself. except for a few pasta dishes, appertizers and main courses denoted creativity, but also an attention to local ingredients. seafood played a central role and we were happy to deviate from the usual diet of vegetables and chicken.

dishes were too elaborate to describe in details, but they were all artfully mastered concoctions of prawns and squids, avocado and curry leaves, ginger and mango. the carefully adjusted plates invited to try and get lost in unkown flavours, as any attempt to recognise familiar ingredients was soon replaced by the pure enjoyment of such delicate creations. the dessert, a crumble of caramelised pineapple with green and black pepper, was the perfect conclusion for the meal, combining local spices with foreign methods of preparation.

surely, this wasn't the most typical indian meal, bringing together keralan ingredients and european standards with a touch of thai perfumes. however, it is refreshing to know such high standards of cooking, and creativity, are reached all over the world. malabar house in fort kochi was definitely a most welcome parenthesis in our usually more down-to-earth trip through the smells, colours, sounds and flavours of india.

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