Kerala is one of India's absolute highlights. From the gorgeous beaches, hillstations, tea plantations and bustling cities this state is also a foodie heaven.
The Keralans take their food very seriously, and with the entire west side of the state kissed by the ocean, seafood features heavily. I remember as a kid watching the fishermen pulling in the huge nets by hand on Lighthouse Beach, silver glistening fish flapping around entangled in fibres. Then the women would flock down with their baskets arguing about which fish to buy, before hurrying off to the market or beach shacks to try and eek out a profit.
Fort Kochi (formerly Cochin) is a travellers paradise. From the old Chinese fishing nets, the numerous museums, crumbling architecture and a plethora of unbeatable food options you can't really go wrong throwing down your backpack here for a few days.
We have been here more than 5 times and spoken at length with locals and friends on which places are unmissable for a good feed. Here is what we discovered over the years:
Places to eat
A few years ago a friend of mine recommended that I eat at Oceano’s on my visit to Kochi. I landed from KL late and took a cab to my guesthouse. The cab driver stopped outside Oceano’s and for a second I thought there must have been a mistake. Turns out my guesthouse was behind the restaurant. I headed in and ordered the Keralan mango curry with prawns, rice and asked for it spicy. They did not hold back. Fresh, plump shrimps, epic spicy as hell curry sauce. Also recommended is the vegetarian thali. An absolute institution in Cochin.
Tip: Get the Keralan green mango shrimp curry and ask for it spicy!
Tibetan Chef's Restaurant ($$)
If you’re hankering for Momo’s or a Thukpa after eating through Kochi’s amazing array of curries and seafood, head over here. The place is small, friendly, service can be rather slow but the food makes up for it. Sit downstairs if its really hot cause they actually have some fans. Upstairs in the roof area becomes hotter than an oven.
Mary's Kitchen ($$)
This tiny rooftop place is great for fish curries. The service can be painfully slow, but its worth sticking it out. Temperatures can soar sitting up on the roof, but a spicy curry will benefit you in the long run.
"B" for Biryani ($)
A tiny restaurant a bit outside the main drag of Kochi, located on a street corner and literally packed to the brim with hungry punters. This place sells out every day, and there’s good reason for it. The Biryani is sublime, moist, flavoursome rice and tender chicken or lamb. You can’t beat the prices.
Tip: This place sells out every day, so go around midday to get the freshest, succulent meat.
Possibly the most famous restaurant in Cochin, based on their food and "location, location, location", this place churns out hundreds of meals a day to finger-licking customers and tourists alike. Massive kudos goes to their curries, the beef fry, the pepper garlic shrimp, the chili chicken.
They serve beer and the views if you get to the balcony are unbeatable.
Fusion Bay ($$)
A sister restaurant of Oceano’s with similar menus (including Indian Jewish Food). Worth a shot if you are in town for a bit longer, but could be missed if you only have a few nights. The beef thali (a rarity in India) was delicious, although the beef was on the chewy side.
Pizza Italia ($$)
Ignore the incessant roadside touts attempting to wrangle you into one of the 4-5 restaurants along that small strip, and head to this place if you are tired of rice and fancy some pasta. Sure, this isn't the most amazing Italian food you've ever had, but at least they cook the pasta right and the sauce is salty but fine.
Worth it for a change of scenery.
XL Bar ($$)
Every town needs a wateringhole, and being a Christian state Kerala is lacking in this department. Kochi offers precious little in terms of bars, but XL is an option. The downstairs area is cosier if you want light and open windows out to the street, the upstairs is where Indians tend to drink, shadowed in shame.
Peak season its impossible to find a table here, so come early, stretch out your legs and strike up a conversation with your neighboring table. I have consistently met the most fantastic people here.
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.