BACK TO KOCHI
HUMMING BIRDS AND FUSION BAY
Yellow bougainvillea, red bird of paradise, white oleander, iridescent green hummingbirds, a blue topped Kingfisher, a rooster pulling up the morning sun, mangoes ripening outside our bedroom window, crows cawing cravenously from sunrise to sunset, a black and white cat lying languid on the terrace and an Ever-Bark-Dachshund next door (no matter where we stay there’s a barking Dachshund next door – is it Karma or are there just way too many dachshunds in Kerala?) - I feel at home again. It’s a if I walked out of my door at 706 C Street straight into the backyard of the Jade Homestay in Kochi with no time or space in between. And back in my USA home, I hear they had three inches of snow in Washington. Here? It’s 8:00 AM and the temperature is 75 degrees.
Some of you may recall the my telling you about the cooking lessons I took three years ago from Chef Benny, who, at the time, was guiding the Oceanis (“Keralan, Portuguese and Syrian Cuisines”) Restaurant to greatness, and deservedly so. Oceanis was the number two restaurant after Kashi, the prototypical “this is how you attract Western Tourists” café cum restaurant with its chicken salad sandwiches on thick, nutty brown bread and watermelon and feta salad with walnuts on the side. (Note: the Jade Homestay is owned by the former owners of Kashi; they sold the place a couple of years ago to, I’m assuming, a magnificent profit.)
Two years ago, Benny opened a new place closer to the center of Fort Kochi taking half the old Oceanis staff with him, and named it Fusion Bay with the same combination of cuisines he had created at Oceanis. Because of the cooking lessons, or maybe because we just praised the hell out of his venture on Trip Advisor and to his face, Benny always gives us complementary deserts and each year on our first time back in Kochi after our sojourn in the U.S. he always comes out to greet us even though he speaks but a smidgen of English. Our first night back we ate dinner at Oceanis – it’s closer to the Jade Homestay and we were exhausted - and since Benny’s departure it has maintained the quality, freshness and tastiness that Benny had instituted there. Even though we are fans of Benny, we still patronize Oceanis. After all, the food is really great. And cheap. Last night, was our first dinner at Fusion Bay. The guys were glad to see us and we did get our complimentary dessert and greeting from Benny. The place, as usual, was busy as hell.
I usually order fish, both Oceanis and Fusion Bay do fish really well, (we are on the Arabian Sea, after all and each morning there are boatloads of fresh fish, squid, and prawns for sale) but last night I ordered Grandma’s Chicken Curry, certainly a staple here in Christian/Communist Kerala, and my partner ordered an okra curry and an aubergine curry. As I was eating my chicken curry I thought it was overcooked and it the tasted as if the cooked chicken had been plopped into a ready made curry sauce and heated rather than being cooked together as chicken curry should be. Now I can’t say this is what happened, only that it tasted this way.
So I’m sitting there surrounded by German, English, Dutch and French tourists, thinking, “This is not good. This isn’t at all like Benny’s cooking.” “Well,” I thought, “maybe just a one-off. A bad night.” At which point, my partner across the table says to me “You know the curries are really mediocre tonight. Both of them. ” I tasted them – the okra curry had no okra flavor, the aubergine was just bland - and I conveyed my disappointment over the chicken curry to him.
Both places, Oceanis and Fusion Bay are basically upscale local restaurants, something any tourist would love to write home about beginning a prasiworthy recommendation with “I found this marvelous little down-home restaurant last night ….” And both, until last night offered really good food at really cheap prices for what they are. And without a single screw-up. But now the conundrum. Do I voice my disappointment to Benny over last night’s meal? I’m not sure how he would take it. He’s no newcomer to the restaurant scene and has had a couple of local cable TV cooking shows too. But he should know about the slippage in the dishes we ate (this had never happened before) so that he can correct whatever might be causing the gap. Of course, it could be just the volume of business, the place is packed every single night, that has gotten to the cook staff. Or him. I guess I’ll give it a couple more times and see what the outcome is. Don’t want to be too rash here.
But I have to say that I am sad that my former favorite place for dinner and a couple of truly fabulous Trip Advisor reviews by me, has come up short this time. The problem is that there are very few places in Kochi that serve solidly good food even though there are hundreds of restaurants here. So discovering an Oceanis or a Fusion Bay is not only a treat but an antidote to all the tourist crap that passes for “cuisine” in town.
On the other hand, the two Keralan breakfasts we’ve had so far at Jade Homestay have been superb, the product of the wife of lovely Father, Mother, Daughter family that runs the place. Could not be happier about it.
All right. There you have the latest Breaking News. Now, I’m off to get my dongle recharged and if you don’t know what a “dongle” is, just let your imagination run wild and see what you come up with!