There’s no love sincerer than the love of food”, said George Bernard Shaw. And if you’re cooking when on a vacation, it’s usually a whole lot of fun. The beautiful backwaters of Kerala and the sun and sand of Goa is what attract tourists. But there are some people who visit these places to cook.
Culinary vacations, more than a decade old now, are slowly gathering ground. The people running the places where such stays are conducted don’t believe in serious advertisement. With the advent of the Internet, they are able to attract many more visitors than earlier.
Arthur Frommer, a leading travel writer, has named India as one of the top ten destinations for culinary vacations. Other countries include Italy, France, Morocco, Mexico, Japan, China, Spain, Indonesia and Thailand.
Jacob Mathew, of Pimenta Spice Gardens, located in Kadalikad, Kerala, used to conduct farm visits since 1995. Foreigners comprise a majority of the visitors. Their interest in Keralan culture and cuisine, led Mathew to conduct cooking demos at his farm. “I began full-fledged cooking vacations from 2002. And the response has been phenomenal,” says Mathew.
They don’t take more than eight people for one session. “It becomes too crowded,” adds Mathew Similarly, Gigi Thomas, who runs the Green Palace Resort, in Alappuzha, Kerala, doesn’t take more than 12 persons per session. However, Nimmy and Paul, who have been running their ‘At Home’ cooking lessons in Kochi, since 1997, conduct two kinds of cooking sessions. “If the guests are coming just for a day, then we take as many as 30 people per session. But if they stay back, then we don’t take more than two people per session,” said Nimmy.
While none of these have any tie-ups with tour operators, Judy Cardozo, who runs her cooking lessons in Panjim, Goa, operates through London-based ‘On the Go Tours’. “Our cooking holiday is known as ‘India on the Menu’, which I’ve been associated with, since 2006,” said Cardozo. However, she doesn’t house people at her place.
Apart from trained chefs who come to these places for peace of mind, and to hone their culinary skills, many amateurs also show a keen interest in learning Keralan and Goan cuisine. As Cardozo said, “Sometimes boyfriends trying to impress their gals with a home cooked Indian meal turn up at my place!”
While Mathew promotes vegetarian dishes, using ingredients he grows on his farm, the rest teach typical Syrian Christian fare, that includes beef fry, Kerala fish curry and a prawn stir-fry. As Nimmy said, “An all time is the appam and fish molee, which is finished off with out a morsel left.” A usual at Cardozo’s lessons happens to be her goan prawn curry and the gajar ka halwa.
Although foreigners frequent these places, they’re not doing much to attract Indians. “Most Indians have survival knowledge of Indian cooking. So there’s no need to advertise for them,” said Cardozo. “We can only demystify the complex Indian cooking for new cooks. We’re anyway having second generation NRIs interested in their culture, visiting us”, said Mathew.
The interest the hosts take in conducting the sessions makes it special. Anu Mathew, who runs Philip Kutty’s Farm, in Kumarakom, Kerala, takes the guests to the local market to buy the produce required. “We also provide fishing rods to our guests so we can get fresh fishes,” she said. The most popular dishes being the Kerala fish curry, the Kerala fish fry and avial (a vegetable stew).
The peak season for them is October to February. However, Thomas says, “We promote more during off season as we get less guests and thus, can concentrate more and give our best.”
But do culinary vacations have a future? “Of course they do”, said Cardozo. “The younger generation is turning more towards cooking traditional Indian fare. Considering Indian food is such a hot topic in the West, an Indian food holiday is a hot favourite.”
So, chase your love. And if cooking happens to be it, then enter it with abandon or not at all.