Dispatches from Fort Kochi: Spice and all things nice

Our Kochi welcome has been nothing short of surprising. We landed expecting balmy breezes and dazzling sunlight, and found, instead, misty skies and freshly laundered streets. Still, if there’s one thing we can’t get enough of, it’s the aroma of wet earth (“petrichor,” or the earthy scent of rain on dry soil) and a salty sea breeze. We’re here for the third edition of the Kochi Muziris Biennale, of course, and we’ve brought our traveling shop, The Nicobar Edit.

Our pop-up shop is at the delightful David Hall, and is festooned with tropical fronds and raindrops that twinkle off white canvas covers. Fort Kochi is a time capsule of its own, with broad pavements and colourful houses stacked high and deep, hinting at its past as a trading post for the world. Walk slowly, and you’ll find tiled sloping roofs and portico entrances. The city’s extraordinary history of foreign trade is visible in its architectural styles, and the air is heavily scented with the aroma of spice, and only a hop away is the source: the spice market in Mattancherry.

Home to the world’s oldest pepper exchange (shambolic and almost defunct, but still in existence), Mattancherry dates back to the 14th century when Fort Kochi’s dalliance with spice started. The port city is designed for meandering, and as you walk you’ll find spice markets, Chinese fishing nets, a synagogue, a Portuguese palace and India’s first European church.

While at one end the spice trade keeps up, the Biennale beckons across town, and we head to the many galleries around David Hall for a little dip into its offerings. The colour, the mood, the spices… yes, the spices. It’s only fitting that Kochi’s love affair with spices creeps into the art here as well. At Beyond Malabar, an art gallery only a stone’s throw from David Hall, Meenakshi Sengupta employs spices like pepper, chilli, and turmeric as pigments in her drawings of nude women. This particular show explores sexuality and its representations, and with Meenakshi’s art she’s turning common metaphors about spiciness amusingly literal.

Down the road there’s The Drawing Room, a dining space we’re keen on settling in for the night. See you on the other side.