I must start off by saying that I think India may have the best food in the world. There, now this post can begin!
The town of Alappuzha, lovingly called “Alleppey” (thank goodness), in the state of Kerala was our second major stop in India. After many days of beaching it in Goa, we took a train overnight and then a bus to reach the little town known for its backwaters and houseboats.
The way we figured it: great Keralan food + touristy town = we’ll totally take a cooking class in Alleppey.
But it wasn’t as easy to find a class there as we’d hoped. In Goa, at least we’d seen flyers for cooking classes, but man we were super lazy there! We didn’t see anything of the sort in Alleppey. Nothing on the interwebs struck our fancy and so we asked the guy at our guesthouse if he knew of anybody. Ding ding ding! When in doubt, ask a real human being. Shocking, I know.
Note: Guesthouses in India are THE way to go. Some are listed online, but many aren’t so you just gotta roll up there and ask. Especially if you’re traveling with somebody, they work out to be the cheapest accommodation option. Okay, even if you’re solo they’re still pretty damn affordable. We paid 600 rupees ($9 ish USD) per night for a clean room, good wifi, and our own bathroom at Brown Residency in Alleppey.
Sure enough, he said he would “call his boys” and ask around. We got back to the guesthouse that afternoon and he handed us a business card for a place where we could take “cooking lessons.” Done.
We stopped by the address – a little family-owned guesthouse located on the beach – that afternoon to tell meet our future instructor and tell her that we were up for it (but had to go on our houseboat cruise first) and she told us to just give her a call on the day we were ready to cook. That way, she could go pick up the ingredients we needed, like fish, fresh that morning.
We were already liking the sound of this…
She let us check out the menu of the guesthouse restaurant so we could give her some ideas about what we wanted to make. First, we wanted some to learn some traditional Keralan food – she suggested banana leaf fish tika – as well as some stuff we’d been digging the whole time we’d been in India – paneer butter masala and jeera rice. And for good measure, some bread that reminded us of Malaysian roti – parotta. (My mouth is literally watering as I type this.)
The price? That might be the best part. According to her, “You just pay for the food you cook and then, if you like, you give a little “gift” at the end.” A cooking class that’s based on the tipping system? Yes please!
Of course, this wouldn’t be your usual “everybody gets their own burner and cooks step by step” class, like in Thailand. We’d be joining her in the guesthouse kitchen, watching and helping out with the cooking alongside her. Which was, um, perfect!
We began the day of the cooking lesson by following Rule #1 – Don’t eat breakfast (or anything) beforehand. We’d be cooking a lot and I was planning on consuming as much as my stomach could possibly handle. Did I mention that India really did wonders for my figure? (This is total sarcasm, my friends.)
A little after lunchtime, Marko and I waited on the deck by the beach while our instructor prepared the kitchen, sent for eggs, and generally got everything ready for us. She called us in, handed me a notebook for writing down the recipes, and then we got to down to business. And by that I mean we just totally followed her lead.
She called it a “cooking lesson” rather than a cooking class because honestly, she did most of the hard work. It was super interesting and kinda ended up being just what we were looking for. We mainly just wanted to learn to the basics of Indian food – like how to make all of the curries! She let us lend a hand when we could, and because it’s Indian food, that meant a lot of frying things in ghee that we just couldn’t mess up if we tried.
So, the good thing about fish tika and paneer butter masala is that they both start with the same base – red onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, green chilies, and salt. Thrown all together and fried over high heat in a healthy amount of ghee (clarified butter), things started to smell great right away.
Meanwhile, the bread.
The stretch, flakey, buttery, amazing parotta. It was hard to believe that we were really gonna make it and it was going to turn out perfectly. Especially when it’s just flour, water, eggs, salt… and ghee. But what can I say? In India, dreams do come true.
We’ve repeatedly said that we’re gonna make parotta now that we know how, but shockingly that hasn’t happened yet.
Then it was time to make our masala base into two distinct dishes. This involved several different types of chili powder, garam masala, cumin, curry leaves, fenugreek, etc. There’s no measuring here folks, our fearless leader just repeatedly reached for different containers on the shelf and tossed the powders and seeds into the pan and the amazing spicy aromas (and coughing fits) began! This woman was such a baller.
We were allowed the occasional stir or toss or taste, but at this point she was cookin’ with gas (HA HA), so we didn’t interfere too much. We just jotted down what she said and stayed the hell out of the way. She added the frozen cubes of paneer to the pan of fragrant curry below and we’d finished our first dish!
Meanwhile, the fish… she scaled it, gutted it, and cleaned it faster than I’ve ever seen it done. A little rinse with lime and water and she was done. Then it needed to me massaged and stuffed with all of our dry spices for the banana leaf fish tika.
And then guess what happened to them?
Oh, you wanted to know where the banana leaf came from? Our teacher’s husband (and co-owner of the guesthouse) came in with banana leaves from the yard and expertly carved us some good ones with a machete. He was also a chef himself, having worked in a hotel restaurant for years.
And how are we gonna use this large banana leaf you ask? Simple.
Throw your fried fish on top. Add your the rest of your spiced-up masala. Wrap it up and YUP, fry it. Again.
By this point, we were about to drool all over ourselves and make a scene by stuffing whole parottas soaked in curry into our mouths in the middle of the kitchen. So our teacher loaded us up a metal tray with all of our masterfully prepared dishes and laughed as she hurried us off the to oceanfront deck to eat our feast.
I mean, she probably just wanted us out of her kitchen, but I’d like to think this was done out of love, Indian hospitality, and a knowing eagerness for us to taste her incredible food.
At this point, we said “to hell with taking more food photos” and sat down to stuff our faces. It was one of those meals with minimal talking but multiple satisfied noises. And no, we weren’t able to finish it all.
I mean, we did make a lot of ghee-soaked rice too…
The verdict: I’d highly recommend an impromptu cooking lesson like this one. In India especially, I feel like this is a great chance to talk with locals, learn some insider cooking tips, and help out a small business owner. And if you’re looking for a cooking class in Alleppey, SeaShore Guesthouse is a must!
Our teacher had been cooking this food her whole life and welcomed us into her own personal kitchen. I mean, she cooked for guests of the restaurant and guesthouse here too, but it was literally attached to the family home. We even saw both of her kids come home from school that day and speedily run through the kitchen to the bedroom to watch TV. It was a very cool experience, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a casual, informative home-cooking style way to learn about Indian food.
If you’re a diva and need a super structured class or pristine cooking surfaces, this class isn’t for you. Don’t expect fancy (there may be some bugs and dirt around) but do expect a friendly face, expert cooking knowledge, and f’n fantastic food. And price-wise, there’s no question that it was a great value, even with a generous tip. We didn’t need to eat any other meals that day!
If you’d like to see the cooking class recipes (as I hastily wrote them down), you can view that nonsense here. Beware, my units of measurement may be a bit off… and some of them complete guesses. I’m still learning this metric system thing.
Where I Stayed: Brown Residency. Walkable to town, the bus station, and the beach. The owner is super friendly and helpful! The entire home is verrry nice and our room was spacious, clean, and the wifi was pretty solid. You can book online to make sure you get a spot, or you can roll up and negotiate (we got the master for 600 rupees per night because it happened to be vacant). The location on Google Maps is correct, but there’s no sign out front, so just open the gate and ring the bell. We were confused initially and the people at Prince homestay contacted the owner for us by phone.
Great Cooking Class in Alleppey: Seashore Homely Stay & Restaurant. Call ahead (or have your guesthouse do it) if you want to take a cooking lesson. You can also spend the night here if you prefer to stay on the beach! They have fun little nautical themed huts.