Toddy Shops of Kumarakom

Kerala truly stands out as God’s Own Country as I began to explore the beautiful backwaters of this wonderful land. I and my team of three rode all the way after breakfast in search of bay water and the shade of coconut trees. It was a three-hour drive to Kumarakom. We brought our camera equipment and we did look very professional as we went about our business. “Let’s take a Kerala wooden boat into the backwaters. We can shoot from the boat itself.” Shiju gave his wise suggestion as by now, he had become an expert in shooting stills and live videos from the Canon Mark 5 camera. We had to meet our target today and there was a lot to capture. From the rising afternoon sun to the green expanse of the backwater lakes, the hunched coconut trees and, yes, birds, ducks, cranes and doves all floating either in the water or hovering over our wooden houseboat, there was enough space for all of us. I began to deliver my stories and other technical information about blogging. I tried to change my tone and expression all the time and spoke the punch line way too many times during the shoot, “This is Anuj Tikku for” The other assistant cameraman was capturing me with the GoPro.

It was especially thrilling as our boat glided through hundreds of ducks which were flowing in the water. There was huge quacks and fluttering of duck feathers as the boat sailed through this unique bird sanctuary. The backwaters of Kerala are home to many such species which was a treat to a new visitor like me. The backwaters of Kumarakom stretched for hours on end as we shot one video after the other. Then we stopped over to take a glimpse of the famous toddy shop of Kumarakom.

I sat in the wooden shop with wooden benches and mud floor. It was very basic and had the local fishermen as its main customers along with local tourist families who come here to enjoy the delicious fish curries and rice. The men drink toddy which is a drink that is unique to Kerala made out of coconut palm and date palm extracts. It looks a lot like rice water in colour and texture and has a pungent and sweet flavour. It is like a cloudy soju, the favourite alcoholic beverage of Korea which is distilled and clear and made out of wheat, rice and barley extracts. I did a little gig for my video in front of the toddy shop as I described all that was in my view to my audience. The GoPro came handy in taking moving shots as well as simple shots of the scenery.

I walked into the kitchen of the shop where food was being cooked in pans and large aluminium utensils. It was clean and hygienically kept. The food was hot, fresh and spicy. I saw lots of fish that were baked, cooked, fried and in curry form. We also had Kerala fried pork which was very tender and succulent but the bombshell was the masala prawns. I was reduced to tears and my tongue almost exploded due to the impact of the chilli paste from the prawn masala. One bite and I had to rush to the nearby water well to quench my thirst and put out the fire that had ignited in my mouth due to the chilli in the prawns. “Take it easy, man. It’s hot, I know. Water will not help, it will only increase the chilliness. Have toddy, it will relax your palate and calm you down.” Shiju said like an expert. I did as he had asked of me and drank three glasses of toddy on the trot. Yes, indeed, it gave me a lot of relief. I went on to try the fried fish with appam. We sat there for hours to escape the sun and the humidity. I had some more toddy and then talked a bit about our food and the experience with toddy on the camera.

It was evening by now and the few families sitting nearby had also started walking to the backwaters which would carry them back in pointed boats. There were a few shops selling cigarettes and other knick-knacks as I and my crew trotted back to our boat. The boatman, a typical Keralite, wearing a white dhoti and blue shirt welcomed us back.

The toddy had taken its effect and I felt mellow but not drunk, just soulful. Plus the evening breeze over the backwaters was a welcome change as I took out a smoke and prayed that we had good shots today.

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