Soul & Surf, Varkala, India

Even further south than Cochin and Alleppy, we headed to a beach town that used to be mainly (foreign) hippies twenty years ago. Since then, more Indian tourists are coming to the beach, as well as more regular foreign tourists, and the vibe of the town has changed some.

We found a surf and yoga hotel to stay at… located on the South Cliff of Varkala Beach, Soul and Surf has a lovely garden where you can hang out on lawn chairs, cushioned beds, or at tables in the cafe. Staring out into the water all day is pretty relaxing… and when you want to get in the water, you just walk down the stairs and onto the beach.

The cafe at Soul & Surf has a number of healthy options, including a mix of salads, plantain tacos,  quesadillas, or, the most popular… the fish tacos! I had these three times while we were in Varkala.

The fish tacos use a firm white fish (quite meaty!), slightly fried, with a light, delicious coleslaw and pomegranate seeds. Then, you have a pineapple salsa and raita/yogurt you can drizzle as toppings.

The portion is quite generous, after eating two of these tacos you’re pretty much stuffed…

Definitely worth a stop when you’re in Varkala, this is one of the coolest places in town!


Houseboat in Alleppy, Kerala


From Cochin, we continued south into the backwaters of Kerala and spent a night on a houseboat. The houseboat we had booked in advance was fine, not luxurious but also not falling apart like some of the ones we saw… and though we thought that we had a boat to ourselves for the night, at the last minute (the boat was running late as they had miscalculated what we owed them, then took an hour to figure it out), they brought on a straggler (who had probably showed up last minute and they thought, why not add him to a boat already leaving?!) Annoying as we wanted the boat to ourselves, but he was good about leaving us on the upper terrace platform mainly to ourselves, and had a varied background that was interesting to talk about over meals.

For dinner, the boat provides you with cooked vegetables and a chicken curry. In the late afternoon, they stop off at a fishmongers and you can supplement the dinner with what ever fish or seafood you buy.

So… we picked up some tiger prawns that they grilled for us after putting on a spicy paste… and they were fresh, juicy and had a nice kick to them.


Alongside this, Yoshi, our travel partner for the evening, had picked up some king fish, which they somehow cajoled him into buying at a size much to big for himself… so when they brought out both grilled fish and a fish curry, he begged us to have some… the curry was a thin and watery tomato and coconut-based curry that did the job…


And then there was the chicken curry that came with our dinner… honestly, I didn’t even get to taste this, as I was already so full from the prawns, fish and veggies…


The lentils, our injection of vegetable protein…


And the vegetable dishes, an okra thorens (basically an okra stir-fry with coconut) that was almost as good as the okra stir-fry we had had at Oceans in Cochin and some deliciously-cooked potatoes in mustard seeds, curry leaves and spice. I have to say, this is my favorite way to eat potatoes, I usually find them quite boring unless they’re pan-fried or mashed, but this is a great different way to eat them that I also need to work on perfecting at home!


Watching the sunset from our perched terrace, we watched other houseboats float by and find docking places for the evening… and watched the electric-colored sun sink into the horizon…


Oceans, Fort Cochin, Kerala

After Varanasi ,we switched it up and headed down south to Kerala. Kerala is very different from the north, much less hectic, more tropical, and with completely different food… Kerala is the most educated state in India, with a 93% literacy rate, and has the most diverse religious makeup, with only 50% Hindus.

Colonized by both the Portuguese and the Dutch, the old Fort area of the Cochin still has many buildings with colonial architecture and houses some of the oldest Catholic churches in India.


After walking around the old town, we decided to stop for a bite and checked out our options… A curry place and Oceans were the two that people kept recommending… and as we walked up to Oceans (we liked the idea of some seafood!), it was already pretty packed and had a “no reservations” sign on the door… probably a good sign.


And we ordered a feast. I must say, it took quite a while to get to us, Andre ordered a coffee and that took about 25 minutes… and the rest, about an hour… but the food was worth the wait.

First in line with the okra fry, okra cooked with crispy shallots… we gobbled this down in a few minutes and ordered another batch right away – it was probably just the taste of the fried shallots that got to us, but cooked that way, the okra wasn’t slimy (a bit issue cooking okra) and had a nice crunch to it as well… this is a dish I’d like to be able to make at home!

On the side, I got the king prawns in a green mango curry, which the waiter recommended (the curry, not the prawns… they list the prawns then about ten different ways that they’ll serve them to you, so it was difficult to decide…) and the curry was fine… to be honest, nothing especially exciting, it tasted like some sort of tomato-y gravy that the prawns had been cooked in. But the prawns themselves were delicious, if only I had chosen the right sauce…


Andre’s dish was a bit better, he picked the tuna in a traditional coconut cream and pepper sauce with tamarind… I am not a huge fan of tuna, so found the fish itself just okay, but the sauce was like crack… I’d steal spoonfuls of it to have on my rice, it had such a nice flavor.


So thoughts about one of the most highly recommended restaurants in Fort Cochin? Definitely go, it’s worth the vast seafood menu (and frankly, the veggie dishes stand up by themselves!) of different flavors… along with the number of local and Goan dishes, you can even pick from Portuguese or Italian dishes as well!

Brown Bread Bakery, Varanasi, India

It’s already New Year’s Eve, and we’ve made our way to Varanasi. Varanasi, on the Ganges River, is a holy city that people come to for religious ceremonies and to cremate their family members.

After strolling along the Ganges all morning, we stopped at the Brown Bread Bakery for some lunch… you can’t miss the signs as you walk along the Ganges, as they are posted every five feet… but once you climb the stairs up into the city from the ghats and actually try to find the bakery, it’s a bit harder… you pass peoples’ homes (clothes drying in courtyards, next to chained-up buffaloes) until you finally get to a busier road, that has has signs for hostels, yoga classes and… there we go, bakeries.

The Brown Bread Bakery’s claim to fame (apart from a nice rooftop restaurant) is that it has a huge cheese list, of many cheeses made nearby (South Asia, from Nepal, the Himalayas, Auroville near Pondicherry). So, of course, we looked through the two pages of lists of cheese and ordered!

And, well, they basically didn’t have anything that we asked for. So after a few tries, we gave up and asked if they would give us a selection of cheeses that they do have available…

When it came, it was clear that we had three similar cheeses, one plain, one with chili flakes, and one with herbs…. okay… so not exactly the variety that we were expecting! And when we ordered our bread, same thing, they didn’t have the multi-grain or the rye bread on the menu, but would give us the bread basket, a mix of their best breads, which they thought that we would enjoy…

And it was all fine. I enjoyed the cheese with the chili flakes and the salty, meaty texture of the black olives. The brown bread in the bread basket was also pretty good… the rest we could have taken or left.

And then came our pizza… we got one with mushrooms, Italian ham and mozzarella… when it came, I’m not sure it was really mozzarella, but hey, it did the job. Not the best pizza I’ve had, but it filled us up and was a change from the curries and tikkas we had been eating for the past week.


The cool thing about the Brown Bakery, really, is that you’re sitting up on a rooftop. You’re caged in, as there are many monkeys that like to rooftop hop and would be only too happy to  come share your food, but sitting four flights up above the city really is a cool view. You can see people out on their rooftops as well, hanging laundry, hanging out and playing, or shooing monkeys away.

And the kites… it seems like there are at least forty of them in the sky at any time… We spent a while watching the kids on the rooftop next to ours try to launch their kite into the sky, a patient give and pull to get the kite up and weaving through the air…

Then, we headed back to the river for en evening cruise, to see the same city we’d seen from land and during the day at night, which culminated with us spending in time of the same funeral pyres we had seen up close during in the day, but now by night.


Baradari, Jaipur City Palace, Jaipur, India

Next, on to Jaipur, we walked all morning and visited a surprisingly interesting outdoor museum of sun-dials and other astrological feats, then went to visit the Jaipur City Palace. By the time we were done, we were starving, so went to check out the restaurant within the palace walls. And I’m glad we did!

There’s a small veranda with outdoor seats, some covered and some out in the sun, with some dining tables and a bar… very civilised!

We both ended up going for iterations of paneer and veggie dishes… Andre had the vegetarian soyta with haryali paneer… basically, a mix of spices and vegetables cooked in a grain (that Andre said basically tasted like a more moist quinoa), a sambar and the main, a skewer of roasted paneer, onions, peppers and tomatoes in a green chili marinade. I enjoyed picking this off this plate 🙂

I went for a similar dish, with roasted paneer and veggies in a red chilli marinade, with falafel, hummus and moutabal (aubergine dip) on the side, along with an herbed couscous.

My red chilli and Andre’s green chilli tasted pretty similar… and were both very good, moist paneer and crispy veggies.

… so much so, that the next day, at a loss of where to go for lunch, we came back to the same place! Andre got his meal again, and I got this below… I can’t remember what it’s called, but its basically plant stalks (erm, no idea what kind…) with black beans in a curry sauce with cashews… and it was very good.

Then we hiked up to the fort on the hill and took all the pictures…

The Royal Afghan, ITC Windsor Hotel, Bangalore, India

That night, we ate at our hotel, the ITC Windsor, which is an old English colonial building with grand drawings and pictures of the times when the British were still in India. The hotel has several restaurants, including our favourite, the Royal Afghan, a tandoor restaurant where most of the dishes are roasted.

They ask you to eat with your hands, so as you can see, our napkins are actually large bibs that go down to our knees… by the time my meal was over, I had used up all the clean space on the napkins!

And the food? Really good. All of it. We ordered a feast, or roast shrimp, chicken and lamb, all with different marinades, along with roast cauliflower (in a special fried shell) and potatoes (very soft and stuffed with mash, raisins, cashews, coriander and green chilis…) I’m not usually a potato person (unless it’s in mashed form!) but these were incredible.

On the side, we had a 24-hour roasted daal, which we scooped up with paranthas… and were in heaven.

Then some kulfi “ice cream” to finish off… we waddled back to our room very happily.

It should probably be mentioned that we flew out of Bangalore and back to London at the end of our trip… we stayed at the same hotel and ordered the exact same menu the last night there 🙂

The next morning, we hit up the breakfast buffet, which is one of the better ones I’ve seen at a hotel… and I got my beloved masala dosa. This is a rice and lentil batter “pancake” that you can either eat plain, or stuff with different foods (usually, it’s potatoes in a masala spice, for a masala dosa). Then, you get several chutneys, a red (spicier), white (coconut) and green chutney, and a veggie sambar, basically a liquidy sauce with veggies in it. This one was especially good, maybe because it had been a few years since I’d had one!

Truffles, Bangalore, India

It’s here, a two week trip through India! I have been waiting for months and am SO excited to be back. I don’t know what it is about India, but I land here and all the craziness, the fast-paced everything, the traffic and pollution and noise, all comes back to me, it’s overwhelming… and I love it.

This time, I have Andre with me, who is here experiencing all of this for the first time! We have a week planned in Rajasthan, Agra and Varanasi, playing tourists, then a week in Kerala down south, where we will basically be sitting on a beach and chilling out!

Our initial flight lands in Bangalore and gives us a day there to explore, before moving on to the north. Walking around, we come to the center of town, to the local park and then to a number of restaurants nearby. It’s Saturday and lunchtime, so most of these restaurants are packed. We find the restaurant suggested to us… and find it to be closed down for renovations! Right… so we head back to the last restaurant we saw with a huge queue outside. They manage to sit us in minutes… and we really have to make an effort with the menu, as there are at least 50 options to choose from.

Jetlagged, we go for easy options, a vegetarian thai coconut curry, and a vegetarian thali to share.

The thai curry is very good, a thick curry with a good bite and not too creamy…

The vegetarian thali is also good, served with chapatis (that basically look like tortilla wraps), with two kinds of paneer, one version dry-roasted with a rub, and another with a tomato-ey curry, both quite good… and a pea and cauliflower, gravy-based curry on the side.

And lots of coffee, as it’s lunchtime and we’re already starting to flag. We eat up, have some more coffee, and then it’s back to exploring the city!