Known as “the Queen of the Arabian Sea,” the historical port city of Kochi lies along the Laccadive Sea coast in southwestern India. It’s the most densely-populated city in the state of Kerala with roughly 2.1 million people living within its urban area. It also goes by the name Cochin, which means “like China.” Also sometimes referred to as Ernakulam, Kochi is the commercial, industrial, and financial capital of Kerala. Because of this, it is home to countless things to do and eat in Kochi, Kerala, India. The city is also home to numerous institutions of higher learning, the Indian Navy’s Southern Indian Command, and the Port of Kochi, among others.
The History of Kochi
Kochi was the epicenter of the Indian spice trade since ancient times. It was known by the Chinese, Jews, Greeks, Arabs, and Syrians. Portuguese explorer Pedro Àlvares Cabral founded the first settlement in India at Kochi in 1500. By 1503, Fort Kochi had become the first European colony in the country. It remained in Portuguese possession until 1663 when it was overtaken by the Dutch, who then lost it to the British in 1795. Now known as Kochi’s Old Town, Fort Kochi boasts a unique mix of colonial homes and churches. They’re built in the Portuguese, Dutch, and British architectural styles, including the landmark St. Francis Church.
Fort Kochi lies just southwest of the more modern city of Kochi. The bustling metropolis strongly reminded me of Mumbai as I rode through the city upon my arrival. Its elevated metro line snakes its way around the entire city, which brought back memories of the transportation system in India’s largest city. Kochi was even named the sixth-best tourist destination in India by the Nielsen Company and Outlook Traveller Magazine. Lonely Planet also ranked it seventh on their list of the top ten cities to visit in the world in 2020.
After spending a whirlwind 24 hours in Kochi in January 2020, I must say, the city deserves those accolades. With a unique vibe that was like a cross between Mumbai and Caribbean islands I’d visited in the past, Kochi is an enigma waiting to be unraveled. It boasts some of the nicest people I’ve ever come across while traveling, as well as some of the tastiest food I’ve had anywhere in India. These are the 10 things you must do and eat in Kochi, Kerala, India.
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See the Chinese Fishing Nets in Fort Kochi
When you visit Kochi’s Old Town, Fort Kochi, you’ll be greeted by a number of interesting sites as you disembark the ferry. I recommend taking the 3-minute ferry ride, as driving to Fort Kochi from the city will take upwards of 45 minutes. As you stroll around this historic area, which is a unique mix of European architecture in a tropical setting, you’ll come across lots of fishermen along the Arabian Sea coast.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the area is the series of Chinese fishing nets along the water. These 20-meter-wide nets hang, suspended, from elegant-looking contraptions roughly 10 meters off the ground. It is thought that these pre-colonial fishing nets were brought to India by Chinese explorer Zheng He. In India, they’re almost exclusively used at Fort Kochi and Kollam, as other parts of India use drastically different fishing methods.
The nets hanging above the waters of the Arabian Sea are extremely photogenic. One of my favorite things to do was to watch the fishermen haul in their prawns, crab, and fish below them. If you’d like to further immerse yourself in the area, you can cast out a net for 500 rupees/$6.56 USD. Because of the amount of seafood that comes through this area, the air has a very pungent and fishy smell. Taking a stroll along the waterfront to see them easily makes my list of the top things you must do and eat in Kochi, Kerala, India.
Visit St. Francis Church
Without question, one of the most prominent landmarks in Fort Kochi is St. Francis Church. This iconic house of worship dates back to 1503, making it one of the oldest European churches in India. Also known as Vasco de Gama Church, the church was built the same year Fort Kochi was founded. It also shares a special connection with the famed Portuguese explorer it’s associated with.
Vasco de Gama is the explorer credited with discovering the sea route between Europe and India. He first set foot on Indian soil at Kappad Beach near Kozhikode, also known as Calicut. After Pedro Àlvares Cabral and General Afonso de Albuquerque followed his route to India and founded Fort Kochi, de Gama made two more trips to India. His third trip would be his last, as he contracted malaria soon after arriving and died on Christmas Eve of 1524 in Kochi. His body was buried at St. Francis Church and remained there for fourteen years until it was transported back to Lisbon in 1539.
As a modern-day world traveler, I’ve long been fascinated by the exploits of the explorers who set out to see the world long before me. Getting to visit the church were an explorer I once read about in grammar school was buried was such a unique treat. I’m also a history and architecture buff, so seeing the Portuguese-style church up close is something I’ll never forget. If you’re building a list of the top things to do and eat in Kochi, Kerala, India, visiting St. Francis Church needs to be on it!
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Have a British Breakfast at Kashi Art Café
When I travel, it’s important to me to fully immerse myself in the local culture and food scene as much as possible. Even though Fort Kochi is in India, where you’d think Indian fare would always reign supreme, continental British and European food is actually quite popular. So, when I visited Kashi Art Café, I did as the locals do and enjoyed just that, albeit with a slight Indian twist.
Kashi Art Café is known as one of the best places in Kochi to eat a tasty lunch. It’s also an actual art gallery. Just inside its entrance is a room with lots of paintings on the wall. You can enjoy coffee and various fruit juices at their juice bar, and just past that are an open-air café area and dining area. There, you can enjoy foods like pancakes, oatmeal, homemade granola, poached eggs, fruit, appam, and vegetable stew.
The John Abraham Omelet
I ordered the John Abraham omelet, which is an egg white omelet with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, sunflower seeds, pesto, pickle, and toast. The dish is named after a famous Bollywood actor from Kochi. It also had a slight Indian flavor due to the spices used in it. The sun-dried tomatoes were fantastic and I loved the pickle and the bread. It was also bursting with yummy vegetables, which instantly made it my favorite omelet I’d had in India. I’m a big fan of eggs, so having this omelet was a nice way to switch it up from all the traditional Kerala food I’d been eating!
Coffee and Tea
Enjoy your meal with some strong, dark, black coffee. I never add milk or sugar to my coffee, and this coffee didn’t need it. You know it’s good coffee if it doesn’t need anything added to it! Then, to finish up, have some ginger tea with honey. I’d been nursing a scratchy throat for a couple of days, and this tea really hit the spot. It tasted like pure ginger and the honey added a nice sweetness. Together with my friend Ebbin’s meal—banana pancakes—our total only came to 770 rupees, or about $10.11 USD. It’s a fraction of what I’d pay for the same meal at home in Miami!
Explore Jew Town
After enjoying your breakfast, I recommend doing some more sightseeing. One of the best places to check out is the local Jew Town. Just keep in mind that the roads here are very busy despite being extremely narrow. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself stuck behind a truck or car loading or offloading goods on your way there from Fort Kochi! I recommend parking somewhere and either hiring a tuk-tuk or walking on foot.
SPR Naturals Natural Home Fragrances
In Kochi’s Jew Town, you’ll find lots of craft vendors and shops selling lots of textiles among the historical buildings. Here, you can shop for everything from fresh spices to handicrafts. One of my highlights from my time there was my visit to SPR Naturals Natural Home Fragrances. This shop sells fragrant perfumes made from pure, natural oils.
Each oil in the shop smells better than the last! Their oils include kiwi, pink lotus, white rose, sandalwood, peach, coffee, red rose, lavender, cinnamon leaf, and more. I sampled a few and found my personal favorites: the white rose oil and pink lotus oil. I bought the pink lotus oil for my wife as a gift. A 12-mL bottle will only set you back 600 rupees, or about $7.88 USD.
Another of the things you must do and eat in Kochi, Kerala, India is check out the clothing shops. I met a very nice vendor who gave me a discount on some shirts for my niece, daughters, and newborn nephew.
Continue to browse the shops, where you’ll also find intricate wood carvings, statues and sculptures made from brass and copper, Bhutanese masks, and much more. Be sure to also check out the oldest Jewish synagogue in the commonwealth nations, which was built by descendants of Spanish, Dutch, and European Jews in 1568. It only costs 10 rupees/$0.13 USD to enter, but just remember, filming and photography inside are strictly forbidden.
But the highlight of my time in Kochi’s Jew Town was finding a beautiful Kathakali mask wall hanging in a local shop. I try to collect a mask from every place I visit and display them on my wall at home. I especially wanted a Kathakali one because it’s from a type of performance art that is indigenous to Kerala. After experiencing a Kathakali show earlier in my trip, I figured it was the perfect souvenir to remind me of my time in Kerala. It cost me 2,000 rupees/$26.25 USD and was well worth the price!
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Buy Fish & Eat at the Port Area
Of all the things to do and eat as you explore Kochi in Kerala, India, buying a fish and eating it at the port area is a must! The port area is home to a fish market that is quieter in the early morning but is teeming with vendors and customers by lunchtime. They offer tons of fish, which you can buy by the kilo, including red snapper, grouper, king fish, and my personal choice, sea bream. My friend Ebbin and I bought one for just 280 rupees or about $3.68 USD.
The great thing about the port area is that there are several restaurants nearby where you can ask them to cook your fish for a small fee. We headed to an open-air restaurant with outdoor seating to have our fish. They grilled it with a mouthwatering masala. Alongside it, they gave us dal, rice, and prawn roast in a thick, tomato-based sauce. It only cost us 150 rupees/$1.97 USD for them to cook our fish and add the sides!
If you’ve never eaten south Indian seafood, you are in for a treat here. The sea bream’s flesh was soft and flaky, and the spice-filled masala was perfection with it. I recommend eating the eyeballs, which are a little tough but so good!
Eating the sea bream with the dal, rice, and prawn roast bolstered the deliciousness of the fish. The dal was nice and earthy, and the masala on the prawns was out of this world. They’re next level when you mix them together. I’ve been to southern India several times now, and I have yet to be disappointed with any of the food there. It’s one of the best cuisines on the planet!
Stay at Coral Isle Hotel
Of course, while you’re in Kochi, you’ll need a comfortable place to stay. Luckily for travelers, there’s no place more comfortable than the Coral Isle Hotel. This incredible hotel boasts 47 beautiful rooms. Mine was a modern room with elegant wood floors and furnishings, a king-sized bed, a comfortable chair, and a workstation. The most unique element in my modern rustic room was the window to the left of the bed, which looked right into the bathroom!
The Coral Isle Hotel is also the perfect place to grab a bite to eat. Their rooftop restaurant, Upper Berth, is right next to the pool and offers 360 degree views of the entire city. They also serve some of the most mouthwatering prawn curries I’ve ever eaten in my life. The combination of prawns, chilies, black pepper, curry leaves, coconut paste, and onions would have been enough. But then, halfway through cooking it, they wrapped the mixture in a banana leaf and grilled it to infuse it with more flavor.
The end result was a succulent, tender prawn curry. It had a nice kick to it and was bursting with fresh coconut flavor. The banana leaf’s flavor permeated the prawns and the creamy curry. I personally would have loved it with a parotta, but even by itself, it was outstanding. I cannot recommend it enough. Staying at the Coral Isle Hotel is one of the top things to do and eat in Kochi, Kerala, India for this dish alone!
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Enjoy an Egg Dosa with Tomato Chutney
Anyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite things about southern India is the variety of dosas there. Dosas are savory pancake- or crepe-like dishes made from a batter of fermented rice and lentils. That said, dosas can vary drastically in size, texture, and appearance from state to state and even city to city. One of the most unique dosas I’ve had in southern India was the egg dosa I had at a startup food truck in the back of a tuk-tuk in Kochi.
This dosa was made similarly to the tata dosas I’d tried earlier in my trip in Varkala. They looked more or less like standard pancakes, except an egg mixture containing chilies, onions, and spices was added on top as it cooked on the griddle.
The egg dosa came with a side of tomato chutney and a tomato-based soup called sambar. The eggs had expanded over the dosa and soaked into it so much that I would have thought it was straight scrambled eggs if I hadn’t known better. The combination of pepper, chilies, and onions was great, and I loved the juicy, flavorful tomato chutney. The sambar was light, just the way I like it, and had a minimal amount of spice. But it was so good, I couldn’t help but devour it!
Unbeknownst to my friend Ebbin and I, the egg dosa wasn’t even on their menu, so they wound up giving it to us for free even though we offered to pay. It was yet another example of the friendliness and kindness of the people of India. If you can find an egg dosa during your time in Kochi, give it a try! It’s one of my favorite things to do and eat in Kochi, Kerala, India!
Try Mud-Baked Chicken at Midnight Chicken
Another great thing about Kochi is how varied its food is. In addition to some of the best seafood on the planet and tantalizing dosas, you can also find drool-worthy chicken. For that, I suggest heading over to Midnight Chicken. While they also offer juicy shawarma and heavenly-smelling Arabian chicken, I recommend having their mud-baked chicken.
The mud-baked chicken there is a version of Beggar’s Chicken, a dish I tried and loved in China the previous year. Both dishes involve the chicken being cooked under a layer of mud, which infuses it with a unique flavor. You can see it after your waiter brings it to your table and unwraps the layers of foil around it. In-between sheets of foil is a layer of hard, baked mud. When he finally gets to the center of the bundle, you’ll finally see the chicken and rice, which comes wrapped in a banana leaf!
While this dish is meant to serve four people, I could have easily eaten it by myself. The chicken and rice combination reminded me of biryani, and the flavors were simply sensational. The chicken itself was so tender it fell apart at the slightest touch. The meat wasn’t spicy at all, but it came with a spicy chutney that had my mouth on fire! I also tried the chicken with a fresh, house-made mayo. I usually don’t like mayo, but this kind was so fresh that I actually loved it!
Between the mud and the banana leaf, the chicken had a flavor that was both earthy and healthy-tasting. It’s, hands down, one of the best things to do and eat in Kochi, Kerala, India. And at only 630 rupees/$8.30 USD, it’s a steal!
Indulge in Beef Dry Fry & Chicken Fry
When you visit any new city or country, you should always make a point to try the local specialties. In Kerala, one of their many specialties is beef dry fry, a crispy, fried beef that doesn’t contain any wet ingredients like gravies or curries. If you’re lucky, you may find a street food stall that sells both beef dry fry and chicken fry!
I visited a stall like that at 9:30 at night, just as the city was winding down for the night. But even though it was late, the stall was bustling, with many locals clamoring around it, eating, and ordering food.
The beef dry fry had a really nice crunch, but it wasn’t super greasy or too deep-fried. It was a nice, chewy meat with a really nice crust on the outside. It felt like the type of dish that would pair well with a nice, cold beer.
Meanwhile, the chicken, which I watched them marinate before they fried it, contained a nice masala on it. Even though it was fried, I could taste its freshness. It was an organic chicken, and because of that, it was incredibly tasty. I’ve eaten some of the best fried chicken of my life in South Korea and in the deep south of the United States, and this chicken was right up there with it! No list of the best things to do and eat in Kochi, India is complete without this chicken and beef dry fry!
Eat at a 40-Year-Old Street Food Stall in Thrissur
If you’re traveling to Kochi from Thrissur, or are heading to Thrissur from Kochi like me, you must stop at a street food stall about 16 km from Thrissur. This particular street food stall is 40 years old and sells some of the tastiest food I ate during my time in Kerala!
Pork & Tapioca
There, you can enjoy an incredible dish made up of tapioca, pork, coriander, and onions. It also contains a nice amount of pork fat, so it’s full of incredible flavor. The tapioca was buttery and smooth, almost like mashed potatoes, while the meat was nice and tender, and the onions added a palatable crunch.
The dish tasted like bacon mixed with mashed tapioca and reminded me of Latin-American dishes that contain mashed potatoes and pork. But the coriander was the best part. It tied all of the flavors together!
If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll probably know that I absolutely love organ meat. In India, there’s nothing quite like mutton organs, which I first tried in November of 2018 in Chennai. When you visit this 40-year-old food stall, you must try their mutton intestines, mutton brains, and mutton liver. They all come topped with onion and coriander and are out of control!
Intestines have to be cleaned well before they’re cooked. That’s not something everyone does a good job of, but at this stall, they’re masters at it. The intestines taste clean and have a spongy, chewy texture and contain an exceptional masala. Meanwhile, the brains were a little tougher than the ones I had in Chennai, but they were still tender enough.
I saved the liver for last because it’s my personal favorite organ meat. I was prepared for it to be good, but I was not expecting my taste buds to be completely blown away. The liver had the earthy, iron-rich flavor I crave, and the masala and black pepper just added to it. But the thing that took this liver from great to some of my favorite liver ever, were the bits of coconut.
The coconut in the liver gave the meat a big burst of tropical flavor. It was like pure coconut milk. Combined with the earthiness of the liver and the spices of the masala, coriander, and black pepper, my taste buds were in heaven. It rounded out a meal that wound up being one of my favorites in Kerala. Best of all, each mutton dish costs less than $2 USD. The prices listed below were accurate as of January of 2020:
Brains: 100 rupees/$1.31 USD
Intestines: 80 rupees/$1.05 USD
Liver: 140 rupees/$1.84 USD
If you are a foodie visiting Kerala, stopping at this food stall is one of the top things you must do and eat as you’re leaving or heading to Kochi, Kerala, India. Trust me, the food there will change your life!
As Kerala’s main commercial center, Kochi has a lot to offer. Whether you’d like to see the local fishermen haul in their morning catch, take a trip back in time to learn about the rich history of Fort Kochi, or take a deep dive into Kochi’s street food scene, it’s all ripe for exploring. I encountered so many unbelievably kind people there, and it really touches my heart every time I experience the warmth and hospitality of the people in India. Book a trip to Kerala today to experience the things to do and eat in Kochi, India for yourself!
I have to thank my boy Ebbin Jose for taking me around Kerala and showing me his hometown of Kochi. He helped organize most of my Kerala itinerary, and my Kerala articles and episodes would not have been possible without him. Follow him on Instagram and subscribe to his food and travel channel on YouTube!
I also have to give a huge shout-out to my friends at the Coral Isle Hotel. The staff was so kind and accommodating and it was the perfect place to lay my head after a long day. As I mentioned earlier, their prawn curry is to die for! Check out their website to book a stay with them!
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