Learn Indian cooking – hands on – in Kerala, India

‘Stir faster’ I’m told –  it seems Indian cooking is not for sissies.  Jacob, my tutor, said he’s not a good cook which didn’t sound promising, but then went on to say he’s a great teacher which was encouraging.

This hands-on cooking course takes one to ten days and there is no standing back and watching – it is a learn-by-doing course.  I’m here for 3 days and a real asset is having Madhu in the kitchen.  He is a great cook – he is also an expert in preparing everything we need: chopping, measuring, slicing, dicing, peeling, blitzing, and blending the ingredients.  Even better, he cleans up after we’ve done the cooking and taken the glory!

But before the reflected glory, I’m still ‘stirring faster’ and now expect my right bicep to have developed centimetres and strength before I leave Kerala.

the kiwitravelwriter tries to stir faster !

Jacob had introduced me to all the ingredients for my first vegetarian curry – and that’s a trick I’m taking home – this way nothing is left out of the dish.

Ingredients are all in order

All the ingredients are lined up in order of use – each container with the exact amount needed.  This happens every time we cook – we know the name of the recipe, the ingredients, and how to cook it before starting.  In keeping with the learn-by-doing method, we’re not given the written recipe until the dish is complete.

A lawyer for some twelve years, Jacob returned to this family land where, as a solo dad, and with his widowed mother, he farmed Haritha Farm for a while and, impressed by Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, Jacob stopped using pesticides. ‘I’m not an ecocentric or big crusader’ he tells me, ‘I’m human first and just thinking about the next generation.’

The 6.5 acres of land had been in rubber for some ten years and he has slowly ‘. . . turned back the clock. I’m recreating the old Kerala – a small holding which is self-sufficient, plus some to sell’.  The land is now producing many fruits, vegetable, and spices, including coffee, coconut, ginger, banana, papaya, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, and of course jackfruit, a regional, carbohydrate staple.  It’s also growing mahogany and bamboo.  The bamboo is good for holding water and land as well as a cash crop for scaffolding.  He calls it ‘do nothing farming’ and it seems to be working well.

Part of his self-sufficiency and diversified income stream, are four stand-alone bungalows set on the hill behind the main house which he built as homestay accommodation. Sitting on the patio up among the mature trees, birds and squirrels, I realise this is a different type of Indian tourism, eco-agro-cultural. Most cooking classes are show-and-tell, this is a dive-in-and-do-it course.

Over the three days I’m reminded to ‘cook slowly’, to ‘stir constantly’ and, to ‘always have a smile on your face.’  A pressure cooker is essential in an Indian kitchen and I’m also told, ‘cook for one whistle’, or two, or three, depending on the dish.

Evidently Kerala cooking is very much like the state – a fusion state he called it.  Over thousands of years trading and the mixing of diverse cultures –  Egyptians, Romans, Arabs, and Chinese – all who bought their religions and food. Coconut, originally from the Pacific, is an absolute staple in Kerala, while rice, another primary food was rarely grown here. Of course, the various churches, mosques and synagogues alongside Hindu temples also show its chequered past as a spice trader.

Pimenta Homestay is about 1 ½ hours inland from Cochin but a thousand miles away in atmosphere.  Starting the day with freshly ground coffee, grown and roasted there, Jacob ensures his guests have an authentic experience of the culture and flavours of Kerala.

In between eating and cooking guests are taken to various places and saw activities in the area: this of course changes with the seasons.  As well visiting farms and food markets, I also saw rubber bands being made in the middle of a rubber plantation; clay pots being made by hand; and the dying art of cotton-weaving. I especially loved watching men decorate trucks with a riot of bright floral motifs, miniature landscapes and messages such as, Save Oil Save India; Prayer is Power; and the common, noise inviting, Horn Okay or Horn Please.

Unlike many tourists’ tours around the world these day trips are personal with nothing for tourists to buy – just great interaction with locals who are rightly proud of their crafts. Well done Jacob, you exude generosity and warm hospitality along with the mouth-watering food lessons.

©Heather Hapeta 2018



Kahoe Farm Hostel ……. the place to stay in Northland!


Kahoe Farms Hostel , 12ks north of Kao, Northland, was recommended to me by Bare Kiwi: going by my experience of this homestay I will listen to his other recommendations!

So, what do you call a cross between a rural resort, a farm-stay, a holiday club and a homestay? Why Kahoe Farms Hostel of course!

Arriving in the morning, I spent the afternoon hiking in native bush behind this 1930s homestead; (the other one is from the 19thC. and both were built by the owners family) then watched my fettuccine being made for dinner.

kunikuni pigs

I also spent time talking to the cute-in-an-ugly-sort-of –way, kunekune pigs who will not be on the menu – ever!

Kahoe Farm Hotels started when a Kiwi met an Italian in London and they came back to NZ to the family farm which was started by Lyndsay’s Swedish great-grandfather who actually ‘jumped ship’ into the local harbour as his fellow sailors were heading back out after whales – the rest, as they say, is history.

Of the people staying here, one couple from The Netherlands are back for a 2nd visit in a year; an American surfer is also back for a second time, and a Frenchman is on his way up from Auckland, also a repeat visitor says it all.

This farm is also famous for its annual, New Year football (soccer) match … the world’s first tournament of the year here at the Kahoe Valley Stadium. The qualifying matches are held on New Year’s Eve and the final kicks off at midnight. The winners are presented with the Virgili trophy.

Stefano is an avid Inter Milan fan and often invites guests to play a friendly match on the Kahoe Farm stadium.

This is the crème-de-la-crème of backpackers and is surrounded by many walks and activities including a 3-hour round hike to the kauri dam, called ‘the rock pool’ by the family. It’s also a great base to for kayaking from. Canoeing among mangroves is always fun, or you can head out in the Whangaroa Harbour

This is a place to chill for a while, or get involved with the many activities on and around the farm – absolutely ideal for both kiwi travellers and tourists.

Have you stayed here? Or are you planning to?

Football anyone?
Football anyone?
Nearby Kao
Nearby Kao


Lunch with a view
Lunch with a view

Christchurch accommodation increased with homestay beds

In Christchurch recently to check out Look After Me, a New Zealand-wide web-based accommodation group, I stayed at two of them, the modern Merivale apartment, and Country in the city: I also had the chance to meet some of the other hosts.

With a shortage of accommodation in Christchurch these beds increase places to choose from, and as most are in the suburbs they’re idea for those who are concerned about being in the post-quake city centre now – although this need not be a concern as sadly most of the beautiful old, and many of the new buildings, have been demolished because of quake damage.

Two of the questions I had in mind as I flew south were,

  • Why use this service?
  • What is the difference between this concept and other homestays?

Lois Connelly, a local host and a previous a guest of some North Island hosts told me she ‘liked the feeling of being instantly comfortable and like being at home.’  She also said both she and her husband enjoyed the experience and will use Look After Me again.

The only other homestays I have used were in Malaysia and Hungary and they offered the same advantages as these Christchurch ones do – getting to know local people and having a great room with a different level of hospitality than in other accommodation. As a travel writer I like to try many places and this service is one I can recommend for international travellers as well as locals.

Many women find travelling alone daunting and this provides a great alternative … travelling alone but staying with locals, and in Christchurch right now, local knowledge of what’s open and what’s shifted is invaluable.  This assurance is reflected in the name to ‘look after me.’ The costs are reasonable too – ranging across the different homestay levels which include classic and premium.

The target groups for this concept are not only women travelling alone, but small groups of women travelling to the same destination for a common purpose – they can all book a bed on the website but each will stay in a different room, in a different area, with hosts with different interests.  Julia Charity tells me, during a phone call, that she “expects her idea to be really popular with mature women travelling alone who will like the safety of staying with people.”

As to my question about what’s the difference between this idea and other homestays, well, the biggest difference I noticed is that the majority of women who have signed up are people who have a spare room (often as children have left home) and are interested in others.  Many enjoy walking and are happy to include their guests in their daily walks!

These Christchurch women are also keen on helping their city by providing a bed in an area that is short on accommodation:  and, with this group of people assisting the city, Christchurch, like the Edmonds brand that was born there, the city is ‘sure to rise.’

Thumbnail sketches of the people I met follow:

  • Yvonne and Trevor (Merivale Townhouse) – she is interested in education issues and the politics of education, and Trevor loves music.
  • Sandy and Trevor (Country in the City) love family, animals, hiking, mountain biking, and boating
  • Wilma (Home away from Home) loves embroidery, walking and rugby
  • Annie and Bert (Oak View) are movie and art buffs with a lovely dog called Molly – they also love walking
  • Sandy (Lavender Towers) Lovely cottage garden; has two cats and a dog and says many overseas guests ‘stay here so they can be with my animals’

I laughed when I saw what Te Radar said about the founder of look After Me I thought NZ used to suffer from Tall Poppy Syndrome. Now I reckon we just suffer from lethargy. That was until I met Julia Charity. Look at her. She’s a pocket rocket with as much passion and power as I’ve ever seen. She’ll go places that one.”

An eclectic set of photos for you …

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Great new accommodation in Christchurch, New Zealand

Recently I was invited to my old city to check out a new concept in home stays:  Christchurch, New Zealand is short of beds after the series of quakes that meant many hotels have had to been demolished.

Now a new concept and a great group of women have ensured that you need not worry – you will be able to find a bed and accommodation there that suits you.

I took this picture off their website as it so wonderfully portrays the concept – a virtual hotel with lots of rooms, in diverse styles and in different parts of the city. Smart idea.

Look After Me  founder Julia Charity told me her website means mature travellers (particularly women) can find safe places to stay, and with authentic kiwi hosts and making genuine connections.

With homes from north of Whangarei down to Queenstown  to choose from, there is bound to be a host with shared interests (gardens, recipes, wine, literature, education, walking, fishing, grandkids) near to where to are going – whether its six of you travelling for a work conference, or an person who likes her home comforts and not an inner-city hotel.

Some hosts offer pick-ups and home-cooked meals, all of which are fairly priced and below standard commercial rates. The two I stayed at in Christchurch were different both in accommodation and hosts interests.

My first night was in a modern Merivale apartment  where host Yvonne Preece  told me her suggestions to visitors there on holiday would be to check out the Court Theatre and the  Fo Guang Shan galley, tea-house and Buddhist temple, and of course at the end of her street, her favourite shopping centre, the Merivale Mall.

Yvonne is interviewed for a TV1 Breakfast show
A great looking meal is ready for us

The next night was a perfect example of “the same hotel –Look After Me – different rooms” as my room was now, off the flat plains of Canterbury and up on the Port Hills overlooking the city, plains and the Southern Alps. Country in the city sums it up perfectly – from miniature highland cattle and ducks, dog and wonderful views and where Sandy offers real kiwi hospitality.  Despite being ‘country’, it’s also only moments from Princess Margaret Hospital where many people who will need to come to Christchurch to visit sick friends or family and only a short bus or taxi trip into the city centre to visit the new container mall.

Great views – even in the kitchen

While this virtual hotel has rooms spread the length and breadth of New Zealand, it’s particularly welcome in Christchurch with the scarcity of beds there and some people’s fear of staying in the city or in high-rise buildings, this is a perfect solution.

So, if you are travelling on your own, or ten of you are in a city for work or play, you can all stay in the one widely spread venue and just meet-up at the conference, sport or music event!

Check out the Look After Me website to see details of each home, and check this site for more stories about my home-stay visit to Christchurch.

And, thanks for introducing this to me Julia, and my hosts and their family!

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