We love the food of Kerala, and it’s so difficult to find any (decent) in Mumbai, so when we first thought of visiting Kerala, our mouths started watering thinking of appams and stew and parota and beef fry. Unfortunately, while the food at Fort Kochi was good, it wasn’t what we’d been dreaming off.
Imagine our luck when we got to not only spend time with, but to taste some of the chef’s recommendations at Kumarakom Lake Resort. Executive Chef Subin Michael runs a tight kitchen with a multi-cuisine buffet restaurant, a seafood speciality restaurant and an authentic Kerala tea-stall to cater to.
The multi cuisine restaurant – Ettukettu is an open air pavilion that was once a palatial home, gifted by Kerala royalty, to his martial arts instructor. The entire structure, was dismantled, and re-assembled bit by bit, by skilled craftsmen at KLR. The food here, caters to almost anyone. The average meal has a salad bar, cold cuts, thermidor, roast chicken, dosa, grilled seafood, parota, varieties of rice, biryani, dal, Syrian duck curry, fish curry, tandoori, halwa, ice cream, pudding and more. Mind you, Ettukettu can get a bit crowded at meal times, since it is the restaurant named in the ‘meals inclusive’ packages. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have a good meal, considering your attention will be on your plate at all times.
Vembanad, Chef Subin’s speciality seafood restaurant, is another matter entirely. Located on a deck over the lake, the restaurant also has a well stocked bar. You’ll find one of my favourite Indian wines (which is so normally so hard to find) here. Big Banyan Wines are owned by the same company that owns KLR. Vembanad has a romantic setting, with music, alcohol, candlelight, and soft, polite, almost invisible service. This was where we enjoyed long languid dinners, enjoying gourmet dish after gourmet dish that emerged from the kitchen. 3 hours to be precise. And we still have no idea where the time went. Some of the best things we ate here (I think I’m just going to be naming everything) was the divine Karimeen Pollichattu (which is chef’s original recipe) with appams, masala grilled scampi, crispy crunchy little bits of Neythili fry with boiled tapioca, a melt on your tongue Beef fry with Parota, and an I-wish-it-would-never-finish grilled lobster. We absolutely loved the way he embraced authentic Indian flavours in a gourmet setting. Most unlike anything we’ve ever eaten before. Dessert however, (banana crème brulee) was something that we didn’t enjoy as much.
In the evenings, with the sun setting on the lake, Chef Subin lays out an elaborate tea. Served out of an authentic tea stall, complete with a coal burner for the water, slow retro music crackling through on the radio, and a tea-man in a vest and lungi with a washcloth thrown over his shoulder, the Thattukada makes quite a sight. Serving out authentic milk tea and coffee, it also serves various fried snacks. My favourite by far were the slices of banana fritters. I’ve since tried in vain to taste them again, because nobody else in Kerala can match up.
We were lucky enough to have tea with Chef Subin Michael and we got talking about our common passion for food. Having worked in Fort Kochi and Puducherry before KLR, chef brings with him a fair bit of experience, but that doesn’t mean he’s done learning. And no, he’s not being modest, he truly believes that you can spend a lifetime trying, but you’ll never learn everything about food. We found he had similar views on how cooking is the purest form of anything anyone can do, and how his mother’s cooking still leaves him in awe. What lies ahead? He won’t rest till he’s made his mark, created something that changes the gourmet scene. And we’re quite sure he will.
We love experimenting with local cooking wherever we travel, and why should Kerala be an exception? So we managed to score two bits of gospel from Chef Subin. His number one tip on cooking Kerala cuisine – Slow. Time. Patience.
And, here’s the surprise, his star recipe for his Karimeen Pollichathu that you won’t find anywhere but in his kitchen. Go ahead, we just tried it today, and while it wasn’t anywhere near as good as his, it did transport us back to Vembanad at Kumarakom Lake Resort.
Prep: 20 mins
Cooking: 15-20 mins
- Karimeen (Pearl Spot) (250-300 gm) – 1 fish
- Coconut Milk (fresh) – 150 ml
- Ginger – 5 gm
- Curry Leaves – 1 pinch
- Garlic – 5 gm
- Coconut Oil – 50 ml
- Lemon Juice – 1 lemon
- Vinegar – 1 tsp
- Red Chilly Powder – 3 tsp
- Turmeric Powder – 1/2 tsp
- Coriander Powder – 1 tsp
- Mustard Seeds – 1/4th tsp
- Cumin Seeds – 1/4th tsp
- Salt – to taste
- Fried Small Onions – 15 nos
- Banana leaves – 1 leaf
- Crushed Pepper Corns – a pinch
- Ginger & Garlic Paste – 10 gms
- Lemon Juice – 1 lemon
- Salt – to taste
- Clean fish and make gashes on both sides, marinate for 5 minutes.
- Make a fine paste of ingredients 3-14.
- Heat the coconut oil and cook the above paste for 5-10 mins.
- Apply this paste to fish and set aside for another 15 mins.
- Heat a non-stick pan or an iron wok, put a few drops of oil and place the banana leaf on it. Place the marinated fish on it with a few curry leaves.
- Add coconut milk, and salt if needed.
- Allow the fish to cook on one side for about 8 mins then turn and cook the other side similarly. Add coconut milk if required.
- Allow the milk to reduce to required consistency.
- Serve hot with appam.
Onion Rings with Lemon Wedges.
Restaurants Ettukettu & Vembanad and the Thattukada are at Kumarakom Lake Resort.
Kumarakom North, Kottayam – 685566, Kerala, India
Ph: +91 481 2524900