Discover Kerala with Chef Joe Thottungal

My beautiful state of Kerala wasn’t on the map for many Canadians. I wanted to change that. In 2014, I arranged a food tour of my former home, complete with rambles along the seashore and through busy ports, hands-on cooking demonstrations, tours of vibrant spice markets and of the quiet backwaters of Alleppey, and a journey to the highlands, to the Cardamom Hills and tea plantations of Munnar.  The first trip was such a success that I began hosting them yearly, until the global pandemic interrupted the pleasure of travel. So, what a joy to now offer a sixth culinary tour of Kerala, in March 2023. I do hope you’ll join me. See what others have said about the experience: (Joe, do you have comments from past guests?)

About the tour

It is one of the best tours we have taken. We added Dubai and Istanbul to the original tour. All the arrangements were excellent, including hotels, airport pickup, and drop-off, guides, tour director in India, transportation, food, and sightseeing. Thank you, Bestway’s, for a superlative tour experience in Dubai, South India, and Istanbul. Bestway’s provided excellent tour planning, advice, transportation, accommodation, food, guides, and itinerary. Bestway was very attentive to our needs and desires and planned our tours accordingly. Bestway’s has given us one of our best sightseeing experiences ever. Dev A

My trip was wonderful! In the South of India, the culinary tour was fabulous. Chef Joe was lovely; the Team we travelled with were excellent; we had an excellent tour guide; all of the sights were great and, our group itself were all terrific. The cooking demonstrations were exceptional; it goes without saying that the cuisine was superb; we toured a few kitchens, which was very interesting; and we received several recipes as a very nice keepsake, including a very nice booklet that the Spice Villages sent to our individual e-mails. Meeting, and interacting with, Chef Joe and his family was definitely a highlight for me.
I had a wonderful time in the North of India, too. Of special note was Shailesh, the rep in Delhi, who met me on arrival, and explained the general set up of everything. He then met me again on my return to the city from Agra. He then surprised me by meeting me when I was in transit on my way back to Canada (with a change of planes in Delhi) to make sure that all was well. His courtesy went above and beyond any service I had anticipated. It was truly impressive!
Re. hotels in the North: Vivanta by Taj Dwarka in New Delhi was fabulous. The Crystal Sarovar in Agra was very nice, as was the Gateway Hotel Ganges in Varanasi.
The Oberoi Grand in Kolkata was superb. Nor-Khill Hotel in Sikkim was beautiful.  Margaret G of BC, Canada

We had never been to India and the description of the tour intrigued us and we decided that if we were ever going to visit India a tour was the Bestway. I can’t say enough about our guide Johnson, he was so knowledgeable and personable. Sharon RI of ON, Canada

Host Joe, Guide Johnson, Driver Gijo, and Assistant Salim made the tour welcoming, educational, enjoyable, and worry-free. Harvey JS of BC, Canada

A wonderful experience with a wonderful guide. Tour guide was a special person who added immeasurably to the enjoyment of the tour. Good setup with spontaneous additions by the tour guide which added worth. It was the most fabulous adventure. James BT of ON, Canada

The Elephant Court Hotel was wonderful! The variety of activities and hotels and shopping and dining offered on this trip was fantastic. A wonderful tour, allowing an in-depth look at Kerala’s varied sights, sounds and tastes, including how and where the food and spices are grown. Overall I would highly recommend this tour.Linda M of ON, Canada

Fabulous experience. Loved Raju and the intimacy of the trip especially the local flair The guides were helpful and responded to any concerns immediately. We covered a lot of ground in 2 weeks but did not feel rushed.Laurie C of ON, Canada

The culinary program arranged by Chef Joe Thottongal was excellent. His contacts and relationships in Kerala were a great asset to him and thus to us. I feel that we missed nothing in his introduction to the culture and cuisine of Kerala. Hallam J of ON, Canada

It was a wonderful experience. India is an incredible country which needs to be explored. The driver and helper aside from being amazingly skilful were polite and always helpful and always smiled. The tour plan was excellent. It was packed full of things to see, smell, hear, touch and taste. The seeing… the scenery, the towns, the fabric, the jewelry, the spices, the vegetables, all so vibrant and lively. The smelling….the fragrance of vanilla pods, fresh cloves and cardamon, the food…a feast for the sense. The hearing….the singers and musicians who played at the dance, the wedding and for dinner..a delight for the ears. The touch… the warmth of the weather, the softness of pashmina, and the smooth teak floors of the house boats. And the taste…the crispness of early morning dosas, with their hint of sour, the cardamon yogurt a delight for the palate, the ginger chutney at the Sadhya and all the other delights…. alas I am again in Kerala. I have already started recommending this trip. This trip had a high wow factor. Every day I thought that this was the best day yet and the next day proved to be the same, another best day. Joe found his stride explaining to us the use of all things edible in Kerala. His love for cooking was palpable, and he delighted in showing us where the spices come from, how to climb a coconut tree, drink coconut water, and eat the tender jelly inside. Many cooking demonstrations introduced us to south Indian cuisine and I enjoyed a particularly fragrant and delicious biriani cooked by the chefs at The Elephant Court. Mr Amit Malhotra was very personable and helpful. Mr Phillip was proper and respectful. He had extensive knowledge about the area and answered all my questions. He was always helpful in requests for getting money and bathroom breaks. The whole trip was a WOW!!!!! The trip plan was excellent. Our first stop in Fort Cochin we visited a church and synagogue which were beautiful. Visiting with Joes family was a delight, being welcomed into their home was very special. What is more beautiful than mountainsides wrapped in velvet like green mounds of sculptured tea trees. Walking with the game wardens where elephants and tigers roam, soul refreshing. A mock Hindu wedding, to experience another culture, followed by a sumptuous meal. Then to the house boats where the teak on the floors were a delight the touch of feet. The cruise, the food and the company..priceless. A wonderful tour where every new day was a BEST day. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in food and a good time. Kathleen J of NS, Canada

This tour was a real learning experience. The people of Kerala and the other places we visited were so friendly. Their lifestyle is so very different from any other country I have visited so far; much simpler and content with less and so very, very religious. Really refreshing. Learning about the spices and food was appreciated. Since Joe has family and friends in the area we were treated to some visits that we would not otherwise have been able to do. This gave us additional exposure to the culture and the people over and above what regular tours offer. The group really appreciated this. We took a 5-day add-on to Bangalore, Mysore and Kabini. We were very happy with the guides and driver provided. We particularly liked the safari in Kabini. The accommodations were excellent every where we stayed.Shirley M of QC, Canada

The whole tour was exceptional especially with Raju and Joe as our guides. So many delightful things were added each day to make it special: fireworks during the last evening; prawns for the houseboat dinner; shopping excursions well organized; visits to hotel kitchens; visits to Joe’s in laws and with his Mother and Father. It was all a great treat. I learned a lot about Kerala cooking and the use of spices and miss it already. Having such a focussed tour was really what made it special. Having Joe with us, especially as he is from Kerala and knows its culture well meant a superb introduction to everything. This is an excellent introduction to the food and culture of Kerala. Kerala is called God’s Country as the churches, the landscape, the waterways, the natural vegetation and constant source of food and spices are awesome. Everyone had a great time and returned to Canada wanting more. I would not hesitate to recommend this trip to anyone and would consider another with Bestway again in the future.Vicki H of ON, Canada


Tour Images