The Pimenta Spice Garden, Kochi, Kerala

Having been immersed in the fascinating, sense-assaulting chaos of Mumbai for a couple of days, it was both with sadness and relief that I alighted the Netravati Express train that was to take me all the way to tropical Kerala. The journey was one of the highlights of my trip; I loved the teeth-tingling sweetness of chai and the delicious vegetarian curries brought to your berth, and being knee-to-knee with your fellow travellers meant I met a host of locals, all of whom were keen to share their tips for travel and to know more about the cold country I’d come from. And, the journey brought me to another highlight – a one-week vegetarian cookery course at The Pimenta Spice Garden in Muvattapuzha, Kochi, where this amateur yet enthusiastic chef was put through her paces.

My host was Jacob Mathew, a quietly confident cook, guide and historian who not only taught me how to make dishes such as kovakka peera pattichathu (gourd with spices, curry leaves and tamarind), fresh paneer and mung dhal curry, but introduced me to the locals and took me on a tour of the nearby plantations, markets and factories. Jacob also brought some of the best breakfasts of my month away. He’s passionate about well-sourced food, and you don’t get fewer food miles when the coffee and pineapples come from your very own homestead. From the markets came fresh papaya, passion fruit and melon, and eggs from neighbourhood hens were whipped up into nicely salty omelettes by Madhu, Jacob’s highly skilled and softly spoken “kitchen fairy”. Delicious and simple, this breakfast was a perfect introduction to the tropical bounty you can find in Kerala, and a wonderful way to start a day of culinary adventuring, market shopping and wrestling chapatti dough into submission. It’s not cheap, but being firmly off the tourist trail means you’ll see parts of the state you might miss otherwise. Worth every penny.

Price: 82, 500 Rs (double)&  59, 400 Rs (single) for the week-long course. 3-day courses and bespoke trips available on request.

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