This could be the little song that could follow you like the gentle wake of the houseboat you are on. If it is a true break from the world you are looking for, board a well-outfitted house boat moored at either the Punnamada finishing point or the Pallathuruthi Kadavu in Alappuzha, Kerala’s own Venice. For, here, you can break into a song anytime, literally.
The houseboats range from one-room non-AC ones to large vessels equipped with 100-seater conference halls. There are at least a 1,000 boats here but the routes the boat take and the menu are largely the same.
The crew’s refrain, in typical Alappuzha dialect, is that the fish curry of Alappuzha is matchless and hence the same menu. This Food Journey explores culinary delights on the boats - from roasted pearl spot to chicken ‘ularthu.’
The food on the houseboat is garnished and served in excellent order. The menu is slightly customised as per the requirements of the guests. For the frugal ones, it is fish curry and rice. The supper comprises special chicken curry. The breakfast will have Appam and egg curry. In addition to the meals, the ‘routine menu’ includes a welcome drink and evening tea and banana fritters. Those who indeed care for an indulgence - with pearl spot, prawns, duck, and tender coconut – should mention that at booking. The food is cooked in the on-board kitchen.
The Bamboo Green houseboat which started from Pallathuruthi had Saji at the stern. The engine-room of the premium boat was operated by Shiju, ably assisted by Suresh. The chefs were Jose and Thomas and the tasty food was served dutifully on plantain leaves by Arun.
The boat drifted along the sides of shrubs on which darters rested with outstretched wings. The recently inundated paddy fields of Kuttanad were visible at a distance. On some of the plots, the scorched remains of paddy stood.
“Those who were born in Kuttanad would not leave the place,” said Jose, eager to say more about the land and its lore. “Those who were born in the midst of water, do not fear it. That is why no one left their homes even when the water rose to the roof level,” he said.
The crew of the houseboats have stockpile of tales to keep the guests engaged. “Some guests would want to listen to rustic songs. Others prefer trying a hand at cooking. The guests should be satisfied, that is our aim,” says Saji.
The welcome drink is served as you board the boat. Foreigners prefer tender coconut. Keralites are price conscious and pick food accordingly. Domestic tourists love duck, pearl spot, and pomfret.
“The pearl spot in Kuttanad has a distinct taste. Pomfret tastes like ghee,” Arun says as he serves piping hot tapioca seasoned with Kerala spices. The taste buds go on a tizzy as the chilli-red gravy of the fish curry rumbles over the tapioca. As the culinary line-up – Avial, pickle, Thoran, Mezhukupuratti – are all arranged on the table, the drawing room of the houseboat appeared like a royal banquet. And, it is nothing but the curated dishes of Kuttanad which make the houseboat trip really memorable.
The frontrunners of the present-day houseboats very large country boats that were the mainstay of the Kerala economy. The boats used to carry rice from the fields of Alappuzha to Kochi. No one would have then thought the ‘transporters’ would undergo a sea change and host guests. The new houseboats, 100 ft in length and 20 ft in breadth, are floating ,mini-palaces. The timer of the Jungle jack tree is used to build the boat. Coconut pith and bamboo are used to do the roofing. Some of the luxury boats cost Rs one crore to build. The interiors are done to the tastes of the makers. The design and interiors keep changing but the menu and the tastes of the dishes are rooted in the depths of Kuttanad. And, it looks to stay so for a while – as long as Kuttanad breathes the scents of tapioca and the lakes are swollen with pearl spot and other fish.