Living the dream

Food, travel and lifestyle writer Johanna Derry has joined the Kerala Experience to explore the colour and taste of South India’s culinary heartland. Johanna takes a trip to a foodie’s island paradise.

On our way from Thekkady to Kumarakom, I was in for a real treat.

Hidden away in Kerala’s equivalent of Venice, among a network of waterways running parallel to the Arabian Sea and the Malabar coast, is Philipkutty’s Farm. We took a boat across to the farmhouse where we were greeted by the smiling face of Aniamma.

In the late 1990s Aniamma’s son, the Philipkutty in the farm’s name, took over the land from his father, who had reclaimed it for cultivation. He began to build small lodges to let out as part of a homestay scheme. He left his job in Mumbai and moved to the backwaters and began to build. His dream was to have six cottages where he and his family could host visitors with good food and good rest in a beautiful place.

Tragically, the day the last roof tile was laid, Philipkutty suffered a devastating heart attack, leaving behind his mother, his wife Anu, and two small children. Anu and Aniamma decided the most fitting memorial to Philipkutty was to continue to welcome and host visitors to their farm.

So as Aniamma, affectionately called Mummy by all who come to stay, welcomed us on the jetty, her daughter-in-law Anu joined her and brought us in to the house to learn how to make chicken stew. What she made we would be eating for lunch.

What I didn’t realise is that at the same time, lots of work was taking place behind the scenes in a bigger kitchen. We sat down to eat our stew, and ten different dishes joined it on the table – cooling yoghurt dishes made with cucumber or beetroot, spicy chutneys, pickles and sambols, huge bowls of comforting vegetable curries, a fish fry, and of course, the traditional fish curry, among poppadoms, croquettes, salty banana chips and a whole host of other treats.

I can’t help but feel like I’m living the dream. With every mouthful it became clearer – this is a taste of Philipkutty’s dream. A fitting tribute.

Johanna is a freelance journalist, writing for publications including The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Financial Times.

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