Cooking & homestay on Vypin Island, Kochi

Vypin island chinese fishing nets

Chinese fishing nets at Vypin Island


I think the rise of Airbnb has contributed to how we travel these days. Now even traditional b & b and homestay have opted to list their accommodations on Airbnb to increase competitiveness. I have had both positive and negative experiences using Airbnb, and the negative experiences did leave a bitter taste in my mouth, which made me more cautious than before.

Nowaways, many of of us prefer to travel independently and connect with the locals; we want authentic experiences and hang out in non-touristy areas. Occasionally I would join specialised guided tours (like the textiles tour in Gujarat last year), but most of the time, I would plan my own itineraries, which does have some ups and downs as well. Sometimes I don’t necessary pick the most convenient accommodations, but I do get to see how the locals live, which I think makes the trip more interesting.

After one night in Fort Kochi, I moved to an island opposite called Vypin/Vypeen, which is a residential area reachable by ferries and a few bridges. Actually there is not much to see on Vypin Island, but if you want to get away from the tourists in Fort Cochin, then Vypin may be right for you. Fort Kochi and Ernakulam are accessible by commuter ferries, which operate daily and are fairly frequent.


ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

ferry Vypin kochi

Commuter ferries to Fort Kochi and Ernakulam


On the island, there are some homestays and one of them is a 2-room homestay called Bungalow Heritage Homestay, which is a 1930s heritage home built by the owner, Neema‘s father. The main attraction for me was the cooking class offered by Neema, as I was keen to learn about South Indian cooking. Neema is a passionate cook and she even has a Youtube channel where she shares her recipes and cooking tips.

Since Neema‘s husband was a Captain on Merchant ships, which meant that their family has sailed around the world, and their home is filled with nautical decorations and items. Even the rooms are named after the world’s greatest explorers, Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus. As I was the only guest there during the two nights, Neema upgraded me to a bigger room and even invited me to her relative’s birthday party next door. It was interesting to meet her extended family and chat to the locals who were all very hospitable.



Bungalow Heritage Homestay

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Bungalow Heritage Homestay

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Bungalow Heritage Homestay



Inside a relative’s home


Another positive aspect of homestay is that breakfasts are never dull! I am not a fan of many hotels’ breakfast buffets, so I appreciated Neema’s homecooked breakfasts featuring a variety of local dishes. I don’t usually eat spicy food for breakfasts, but when I travel to hot places, eating spicy food for breakfasts suddenly becomes quite appealing.


kerala breakfast

kerala breakfast

kerala breakfast

Homecooked breakfasts


My cooking class took place in the afternoon, and I learnt to cook five local south Indian dishes using fresh spices from Neema‘s kitchen. The dishes I learnt are not complicated, but various spices are required in all dishes. After eating at different restaurants in Fort Kochi, I do think that my (Neema‘s)  homecooked meal was the best I have had so far!


neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen

neema's kitchen


Although there isn’t much to see on this island, you can enjoy a laidback stroll along the waterfront to see the Chinese fishing nets. Since there are no tourists here, you can watch the fishermen at work and take many good shots.


Vypin island

Vypin island chinese fishing nets

Vypin island chinese fishing nets




flowers vypin

flowers vypin


Like in most part of Kochi, churches and shrines are conspicuous… By the ferry terminal is the Roman Catholic Our Lady of Hope Church (Igreja Da Nossa Senhora Da Esperança), one of the oldest churches in Kochi built by the Portuguese in 1605. The church was renovated in 2005, which explains why it looks fairly polished. I visited the church early in the morning in between the masses, so it was empty and very peaceful.


Our Lady of Hope Church

Our Lady of Hope Church

Church of Our Lady of Hope

Church of Our Lady of Hope  church door

Our Lady of Hope Church


Besides the small churches and shrines, there is a large pilgrimage centre on the nearby Bolgatty Island called The Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom/Vallarpadam Church. This is an important prilgrimage site in India and around one million people visit the Basilica every year. Originally built in 1524, the former churcn was destroyed by heavy flood, and a new church was reconstructed in 1676. It became famous after a miracle happened in 1752 when the lives of two devotees were saved from a violent storm. In 1888, the church was declared as a special church by Pope Leo XIII and later the Union Government stated it as a major pilgrim centre. I didn’t have the time to visit the church, but took a photo of it when the taxi drove past it (see below).




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Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom

Bottom: Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom


I think two nights on this island was enough; it offered me a different perspective and I enjoyed the tourist-free time. If sightseeing is not your main priority, then I do recommend a short relaxing stay on this island.


architecture vypin







Winter soup dinner diet & comfort homecooking

farmers market

Autumn/winter vegetables bought from the organic farmers market


Last winter, I embarked on a ‘soup dinner diet’ for a few months during the autumn/winter period, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I did it again this year. Oddly enough, I don’t actually believe in diets, and have only been on diets a few times in my life (for a short period each time). I love food, and would not want to restrict myself, but I noticed that I would put on weight during the winter months due to lack of outdoor activities. Hence I came up with the idea of having just soup for dinner as an experiment, and to my surprise, it really worked. I did lose weight after a few months of having mostly soups in the evenings, even though I wasn’t extremely strict – there were nights when I just didn’t feel like it. I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted during the day, and kept a record of what soups I made in the evenings.

Besides losing weight, I also discovered that soup meals are more economical. Sometimes a big pot would last for days, even my food shopping has become more ‘focused’ and less random.

Being a pescatarian means that my soup would be made of vegetables (and occasionally seafood). The trick to this diet is to a make a big batch of vegetable stock beforehand (usually during the weekends) and then freeze it in small tubs. Over the winter months, my freezer would be filled with tubs of vegetable stock, which would be used as the base of my soups.

I am a big fan of farmers market, and luckily I live near one too. Every week I would stock up on fresh organic vegetables for my soups. Although I do shop in the supermarkets as well, I try to buy vegetables that are in season rather than the ones shipped from Africa and South America.


vegetable stock

Vegetable stock made from skins and scraps


I learned from a popular Japanese cook/food writer/designer Masaki Higuchi to use only the skins, ends and scraps of vegetables to make the vegetable stock, which not only tastes good but also reduces food waste. When I told this to the vegetable farmer at the market, he said it makes sense as the ends of vegetables tend to have more flavour, and he would try making it too.

Rooted vegetables are seasonal during the autumn/winter periods. Pumpkin, beetroot, sweet potato, parsnip, and various squashes like delicata butternut, ambercup, acorn and sweet dumpling etc are not only good for soups, they are good for roasting, too. I found that parsnip soups are really filling and comforting during the cold winter months.


pumpkin   pumpkin soup

roasted vegetables

squash soup

Top row: Pumpkin soup; 2nd row: roasting different variety of beetroots; bottom row: minestrone with squash


Minestrone is an easy and versatile soup to make, and you can easily alter the ingrdients depending on what you have at home. I also like to add some orzo pasta topped with some freshly-grated parmesan to make it more satisfying.

Besides rooted vegetables, there is also an abundance of mushrooms during this perid, and one of my favourite soups is mixed mushroom soup.


parsnip soup

mushroom soup

corn soup

Top: parsnip soup; 2nd row: mixed mushroom soup; bottom: sweet corn soup


For the last few years, I often would get colds during the winter months especially when work becomes busier and more stressful. Yet this year, I did not catch a cold, and I would like to believe that my soup diet was one of the reasons.

Probably the most immune boosting soup in winter is French onion soup. According to health expert, onions can cure cold, cough and boost immunity, so this soup is one of my winter favourites and it tastes delicious too.


onion soup

French onion soup topped with Gruyère cheese


My soup recipe book now contains close to 100 soup recipes that I have made in the last two years. I rarely plan on what to buy before my visits to the farmers market, instead I pick whatever I fancy and then come up with something afterwards. Although I like to read cookbooks or check out recipes online, I never follow them exactly as I view cooking as a creative process, thus being spontaneous makes it more fun.


mixed veg soup

fish soup

Top: vegetable soup with kale and barley; bottom: fish soup


Ramen is one of the most comforting dishes in winter, but it is hard to find an authentic ramen shop that serves ramen with vegetable base in London, so I tend to make it at home using my own broth. I have also made dashi at home, which can be used as the soup base for miso ramen.

Occasionally, I would see fresh tiger prawns being sold in my local supermarket, so it gave me the idea of making Thai tom yum noodle soup. The heads and shells of the prawns can be used to make the stock, and adding rice noodles makes the soup more substantial. The spicy and sour soup is perfect as a healthy winter meal.


japanese ramen

tofu soup

tom yum soup

tom yum soup noodles


Oden is a classic winter comfort dish in Japan, which are often sold in food carts, but you may also find it in some izakayas, restaurants and even convenient stores. The one-pot simmered dish is often consisted of an assortment of fish balls, fish cakes, deep-fried tofu with rice cakes and daikon etc. The soy-favoured dashi broth becomes more flavourful as the pot simmers away, and it tastes even better the next day. I love having this dish around New year.




Homemade oden


As much as I love this winter soup diet, having soup every night for four months can be a bit boring, so occasionally I would cook other non-soup dishes either as weekend treats or as sides to accompany the soups.

Since I bought the Dishoom cookbook, I was eager to try some dishes from the book. The two paneer dishes worked out extremely well, especially the curry, which I think is an uplifting dish to eat at home when it is grey, cold and rainy outside.



paneer tikka

flat bread  flatbread

Indian nights: Matar paneer (paneer and pea curry), paneer tikka, flat bread


Although I find winters quite depressing sometimes, cooking gives me joy and motivation. If I am stressed out during the day, cooking helps me to destress and relax. I love experimenting and creating something new. Since quitting meat some years ago, I learned to be more open and adventurous with vegetables, and I discovered how versatiles vegetables can be. I almost always cook from scratch, and I rarely eat ready made meals as I believe that “We are what we eat”, so never underestimate the benefits of healthy eating.


homemade pizza


polenta chips

avocado salsa

inari sushi

Top: homemade pizza; 2nd row: Padrón peppers; 3rd row: polenta fries; guacamole with pitta chips; bottom row: inari sushi



Beat the winter blues… baking

My walking group’s outing to the Chilterns has been cancelled due to the snow, so I am staying indoors for the day. Then I suddenly had this urge to bake… I love cooking but baking isn’t exactly my thing. However, since I discovered a great muffin recipe last year, I have been experimenting on variations based on this recipe.

This healthier recipe uses yogurt instead of milk and olive oil instead of butter. I have previously made blueberry muffins with blueberries and blueberry yogurt. This time, I am using Rachel’s Organic low-fat vanilla yogurt with chopped banana and crushed dark chocolate.

The muffins may not look like the ones sold in the shops, but they are healthier and more delicious. For someone who has never really enjoyed baking, I am starting to enjoy it more, maybe this is also due to the influence of BBC’s ‘The Great British Bake Off‘. So if you haven’t baked for years, why not try again because you may be quite pleasantly surprised!


Clams & linguine alle vongole

Unlike most people, I am not a huge fan of pasta and I don’t particularly like pasta with tomato-based sauces. My favourite pasta dish is linguine alle vongole, which is simple, easy and quick to cook but taste delicious.

Since I embarked on a ‘meatless’ home diet last year, I have been experimenting on many vegetarian dishes ( esp. recipes from ‘Plenty’ by Yotam Ottolenghi). As much as I want to become a vegetarian, I find it hard to quit seafood because like Rick Stein, I just love it too much!

I never understand why seafood is not appreciated as much here in England, it is an island afterall, so we should be getting affordable and fresh seafood at all times! Yet in reality, most of the catches from the U.K. are exported (for higher profits) to other countries and with higher demands, so we are left with limited choices and average quality seafood in supermarkets.

Apart from fishmongers (usually quite pricey), local markets are also good places to buy fresh and affordable seafood. Although I find Borough market quite overpriced and touristy ( try going there in on Thursdays/ Fridays), my mouth watered when I saw fresh clams at one of the fish stalls there as they reminded me of linguine alle vongole, a dish that I haven’t made for quite a while.

The ingredients for it are simple: clams, linguine, olive oil, chilli, garlic (lots of it), white wine and fresh parsley. The most important thing is not to overcook it and to clean the clams properly, i.e. scrubbing them first before soaking them in salted water for about an hour or more. I have had this dish in an upmarket Italian restaurant in Mayfair where sand was among the ingredients, not exactly a pleasant experience!

The next day, with the leftover (uncooked) clams, I made a sake-steamed clams, along with the teriyaki salmon that I marinated overnight… yum…

Nobody needs to be a Masterchef to enjoy some comforting home cooking!