Christmas in Kerala
I don’t like Christmas. I know that many of you love it – the excitement of the lead-up, the sheer joy of the day itself, the mellow laziness of Boxing Day. But I like to celebrate every single day that I’m alive. So I ignore all other designated special days.
For that reason, working around Christmas, as I did in Kerala, suited me very well. I was one of two Managers, each with separate duties not always clearly delineated, in my Heritage Hotel, Raheem Residency at Alleppey Beach. Christmas and New Year were not only the high season but December 24th (Kerala follows the European Continental model of celebrating on Christmas Eve) and December 31 st were known as ‘the peak of the high.’ Not a room to be had anywhere, restaurants buzzing, swimming pools sploshing and Ayurvedic Massages a-plenty.
Choosing a suitable Christmas Dinner menu was far from easy. Firstly, roasting either flesh or fowl was never going to happen. All Kerala cooking, both in homes and hotels, is done on the hob. Stupidly, when I first decided to stay and therefore rented a small house the first thing I did was buy a proper stove. I had hired a cook, a local woman, but she’d never seen one before so the oven was never used. Last time I saw it the hobs were merrily rusting in the tropical Kerala air.
So without a roasting facility and being in a Hindu country, a menu that would satisfy our predominantly white, western guests was a bit of a challenge. But we were a Heritage Hotel after all – formally classified as such by the central Delhi government – so a traditional homely menu seemed to fit the bill. Alleppey Fish Curry because we were located at Alleppey Beach, Carrot Thoran (a stir-fry of grated carrot with coconut and curry leaves), Chicken Patiala which we borrowed from north India for the gentle souls who didn’t like the fiery spices of the south and grilled lobster for the snobs!
Coincidentally, the worst hotel disaster ever in a total of fifteen years of Hospitality happened at a Christmas dinner. I must have unknowingly built up some wickedly bad karma because the horror of hotel-life horrors, just as the Christmas dinner service began at 8 pm, there was a power-cut – a daily occurrence in Kerala which is why we always had our own generator. But on this occasion for the first time in ten years, our trusty generator gave up the Christmas ghost and plunged the entire property into thick darkness and sticky, fan-less heat.
In truth, we had no back-up plan at the ready. So I swung into action and took to the bottle for the panacea. All tables got free wine for the rest of the night. We put lit candles in every nook and cranny, romanticising the place even more and the kitchen continued to turn out good food on their gas hobs with not an electric oven in sight!
Our profits took a nosedive but aside from that, it turned out to be what was probably the merriest Christmas of all.
Author, TV presenter, wellness and motivational speaker, former hotelier.
Her new book ‘The happy book vol.2’ is out now and can be ordered from Michael Mulcahy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter and Instagram @BibiBaskin