Have you ever experienced the Chinese fishing nets in full glory? Seen and felt the 14 th century shore lift nets in operation? The giant contraption possibly brought to Malabar coast by Chinese explorer Zheng He are now setting for a memorable twilight dinner.
Gopinath Parayil, a pioneer of Responsible Tourism and founder, The Blue Yonder, curated, Nilavala , a unique dining experience, as the finale of a one-day tour, Pokkali: The Story of Rice. The experience focuses on climate change, depleting catch and the precarious conditions of the community who live by the nets.
As travellers get more discerning and conscious about global ecology, tourism stakeholders in Kerala have stepped up their act by offering unique eating out experiences—breakfast at a hill top, dinner on a boat, in a cave, full moon night dinners—that combine the serious with the sublime.
By the Chinese Fishing Nets
At 5.30pm I am at the land’s end in Ezhikkara, a small island village, for the twilight dinner on the nets. Prasad helps me on to a country boat tied alongside an adjacent canal. As he punts steadily against the excited waters, we are into a breathtaking expanse dotted with Chinese fishing nets.
Strong sunshine, breeze and water make for a dramatic setting as the boat sails past the nets towards the coastline on the opposite side. The mighty Periyar loops the island of Ezhikkara while Veeranpuzha (the river of the warriors) which holds the nets links the water bodies. In an hour of punting the sun turns a red ball that sinks fast into a rising twilight. The birds — terns, gulls, cormorants,crows, egrets— begin their homeward journey as we too head for our dinner amid growing darkness and the sound of lapping waters.
The first stars appear in the sky above and lights flicker on the distant coastlines. The far flung Chinese nets show up from the glow of the battery lights fitted on them. We slowly arrive on the deck of our fishing net, suffused with the light of a few candles in glass cases fitted on the posts.
Vishnu VV, part of the host team, offers cold towels to freshen up and a charming table laid out on the deck welcomes us. “We can seat 12,” he says adding that so far they have hosted 30 guests, since its launch in January 2023. The food consists of kappa and prawn curry to start with, followed by mackerel fry, chicken roast and curried, rice, thoran, vegetable curry and pappadoms, all made in Prasad’s home kitchen by his wife. The food was made while we experienced the waters and freshly cooked dinner arrives on a canoe.
A little drama unfurls while one sups. As Prasad pulls the ropes from which hang solid stone weights, the 20- odd metres fishing net rises from the waters, like a mammoth marine creature, holding a clutch of jumping silvery fish and prawns. The small catch is put in a cage to be sorted in the morning.
“Nilavala is coined from three Malayalam words representing moonlight, waves and net,” says Vishnu. We finish with Sulemani chai, fresh cut fruits and sit back to take in the magical evening and night.
Prasad helps with the life jackets as we leave. Back on land, Anithya, the woman behind the tasty dinner smiles, happy to learn that we loved her cooking. Says Gopi, “Ezhikkara is facing the impacts of climate crisis in the form of increased number of days of tidal flooding, increased salinity in freshwater sources, dwindling marine and freshwater life including fishes and reduced employment opportunities,” and adds that Nilavala is an initiative that repairs dilapidated fishing nets and repurposes them to host such dinners.
( Dinner is priced at ₹ 3000 per head. For reservation contact:8369427434)
The countryboat table at Kakkathuruthu
“You come up close and personal with nature. It’s just the two of you and the lake,” says Manisha Panicker,of the “moonlight dinners under a canopy of stars,” that her four cottage boutique private island resort Kayal Island Retreat,on Kakkathuruthu Island off Kochi offers. Subject to availability and depending on the weather, the vast Vembanad lake can be experienced is an evening boat ride with a five course Kerala meal on board.
“The only way to get to the resort is by row boats and so all one has to do is to give into the moment,” she says adding that a table is laid out on the boat and the dinner for a couple is prepared by the islanders who work at the resort. “We can host four couples in our four boats,” she says adding that stand alone dinners can be done at a day’s notice.
(A meal for one is priced at ₹2800 plus taxes. For reservations contact: 7736000989 , mail: email@example.com)
Cave Platter at Edakkal
One of the most popular experiential dining is the cave dinner offered by Edakkal Hermitage, a property very close to the famous pre-historic natural caves near Kalpetta in Wayand. A 300 square feet natural cave, the seating can accommodate six to eight persons comfortably.
“We use about 300 to 400 candles to light up the space. As the cave has natural acoustic properties we play instrumental music to highlight the aspect,” says CP Shailesh, who founded the property along with another architect, Sibi Raj Raveendran.
The dinner is a fixed Indian menu— breads, curries, rice and more—and the timings are from 7pm to 10 pm – “We host up to three dinner groups in the cave,” says Shailesh. The property which was built in 2002 has seven cottages and a striking view of natural rock formations.
( A meal for one is priced at ₹ 2000 plus taxes. For reservations contact: 9847001491, www.edakkal.com)