The Kerala cuisine is intricately woven to its culture. God’s own country may be a heavenly abode of magnificent backwaters and beautiful landscapes. Yet, the exotic dishes of Kerala hold a special place in the hearts of both the localities and travellers. The cuisine in various ways defines the aromas and the gastronomy of the state that is much loved for its exquisite traditions and flavours.
Kerala – The land of spices
So what is so special about the food of Kerala? Why does it have its designated revered spot on the a la carte of national and international menus? Well, the simple answer is that Kerala is also called the ‘land of spices’. A variety of different spices are grown here and Kerala has always been a central hub for spice trade over the years. With both high quality and quantity of spices being grown, Kerala is also considered one of the largest world producers of spices. Interestingly, the spices are not only the backbone for the flawless flavours, but also have several medicinal and health benefits for those consuming it.
Some common ingredients of Kerala cuisine
Besides, the spices Kerala’s location and climate are also best suited for the growth of rice. Lush paddy fields interspersed with coconut trees are the most eye-catching scenic postcard moments of the state. Therefore, unsurprisingly, both rice and coconut play a huge role in its cuisine. Kerala dishes are fraught with rice preparations, as well as, coconut is used as one of the main ingredients in various dishes and different forms. Many special dishes use coconut milk, coconut gratings or even dry coconut as one of the principal ingredients.
And then there is the long coastline of Kerala coupled with many backwaters, rivers and streams. All of this means a rich marine fauna that also finds its way on platters. Fish, prawn preparations and curries are also an important part of the cuisine of the state.
A wide spread platter
Kerala cuisine is not confined to a single type or genre of food. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes find an equal presence in the cuisine of the state. In fact, side dishes are also an important part of meals. Whether it is the kadumanga or mango pickle, pavakka achar or bitter gourd pickle or the inji curry or ginger pickle, each of these is loved along with the main course meal. Some of the other popular side dishes of Kerala cuisine include the chammanthi podi, vellarikka pachadi, papaya or mango pulissery, kalan, sambhar, rasam and more.
Top Dishes of Kerala
Now, let’s plunge into the main course and check out some of most exotic dishes of Kerala cuisine.
Puttu – Kadala curry
Puttu is a traditional steamed cylindrical rice cake that can be eaten with various combinations. Though it can be eaten with any curry, the kadala curry made from chickpeas is the most popular. The dish is high on protein and provides for long lasting energy. It is one of the most common breakfast dishes of Kerala.
Appam and stew/curry
Appam is a rice pancake. Yes you heard it right! After the puttu, a rice cake, appam the rice pancake is a thin and soft round pancake that can be eaten with almost anything. Usually combined with a stew, either vegetarian or non-vegetarian, the coconut flavored curry along with the appam is a perfect delicacy.
As the name suggests, this crispy and flaky parotta finds its origins along the Malabar Coast. With a sweetened after taste, the Malabar parotta tastes good with any curry or side dish too.
Idiyappam and curry
Another dish that can be dipped alongside a curry is the idiyappam. Made from thin strips of rice dough and steamed, the soft idiyappams provide for that perfect warmth of homely nourishment.
Nadan Kozhi Varuthathu or spicy fried chicken
Yes, one of the lip-smacking non-veg delights of Kerala cuisine, the spicy fried chicken is an explosion of flavors. Marinated and cooked in various spices and later fried in coconut oil, this crispy from outside but soft inside chicken will blow your mind away.
Naadan beef fry
Another flavorful non-vegetarian dish, the beef fry is a popular dish of Kerala. Layered with the aroma and taste of spices and curry leaves, this dish can also be enjoyed with the Malabar parotta.
Malabar Biryani and Thalassery biryani
Made usually during the special occasion of Eid, both the biryani preparations use dry fruits and varied spices. Served with pickle and curd, the biryani is not accompanied by curry.
Kerala Fish Molee
Flavored with kocoum and coconut, this fish curry is an absolute cracker of a dish. The fish is lightly fried and then cooked along with the Kerala styled gravy with generous loads of spices.
Turning our attention to vegetarian delicacies, the erissery is a mouthwatering dish prepared from pumpkin and lentils. This stew is strewn with spices and has a blended coconut flavor. It can be eaten with rice or also with appam, idiyappam or parotas.
Also known as dal curry, this simple dish is in fact, a delicious variation of the usual dal fry. Made from gram and ghee this dal is rich in spices and a definite twist from the usual dal that we cook at home.
No one really cooks seafood the way it is done in Kerala. The traditional prawn curry is a coming together of opulent flavors and spices, dipped in of course, coconut milk and jaggery! The prawn theeyal is a definite dish to try!
The sadhya is not a particular dish, but a full-course meal that is served especially during Onam. Laid on banana leaves, the meal includes a range of traditional vegetarian curries accompanied with side dishes, buttermilk, papad and payasam. The wholesome experience projects a well balanced diet that is authentic in culture and taste.
Erachi varutharacha curry or mutton curry
The mutton marinated with sumptuous spices is fried and then added into the delicious coconut gravy. The dish originally prepared by the Syrian Christian community is a hit amongst both locals and tourists.
This sea food delicacy is prepared with care where the mussels are cooked in a variety of spices including shallots, turmeric, garlic and grated coconut. Known locally as Kallumakkaya ularthiyathu this dish requires time and patience to prepare.
Kappa and meen curry
Tapioca or cassava is called kappa in Malayalam. The tapioca is boiled to make a smooth paste and is served along with the fish or meen curry. The meen curry is laden with spices and the tangy tamarind along with the taste of coconut makes it a wonderful combination.
Any mention of south Indian food without the dosa is incomplete. The thattu dosa is a popular street food of Kerala that is served with chutney, sambhar and also many times with omelette.
Karimeen pollichathu or fish fry
This dry dish will leave you asking for more. This dish is usually prepared from the Pearl Spot fish, a common fish type found in the backwaters. The fish is marinated and then wrapped in plantain leaves and baked.
Naadan Kozhi curry or Chicken curry
The Kerala style chicken curry is creamy and fraught with spices and coconut flavors. Spicy and hot, the dish can be eaten with rice, Malabar parotta, idiyappam or appam.
Also called ethakka appam or pazham pori , this is a perfect snacking option during late evenings or tea time. Coated with flour and then fried these tiny crisps are thoroughly enjoyed by all age groups.
Dosa/idli with sambhar
The last on the list, is the most ubiquitous and loved dish of south India. Though the idli and dosa are common across southern India, the Kerala sambhar has a distinct taste and is best enjoyed with a crisp ghee roasted dosa.
The sweet tooth
No meal is quite complete without a sweet dish. The same holds for the exotic cuisine of Kerala where traditional and exquisite sweets are a much delightful part of the meals. The palada payasam is one of the most popular sweet dishes made from milk and vermicelli. Neyyappam, the sweet fried snack, unniyappam, the coconut rich elaneer pudding, the basic mutta mala or the nut heavy ada pradhaman are some of the main sweet dishes of Kerala. And yes, of course, there are the coconut laddoos, the various forms of payasam and the coconut pitha that are good to go for all occasions.
Drinks in Kerala
A good hearty meal can definitely brighten the day. But drinks are also an essential part of the cuisine. Kerala is not far behind in churning out some cool exotic drinks that are defined in its local flavours and ingredients. Coconut water, of course, remains one the most natural and healthy drinks to satiate your thirst. However, some of the other drinks one can try to include the panakam made from ginger, lemon and water, the traditional spiced sambharam which is buttermilk seasoned with other ingredients. The popular street drinks, kulukki and nannari sherbet are extremely refreshing.
The cuisine of Kerala is an essential part of the rich culture and heritage of the state. The heavy dependence on local ingredients and the usage of locally grown materials adds flavour and aroma to the dishes that are both exotic yet traditional. Kerala cuisine reminds one of homeliness and bonhomie, of richness and subtleness and of warmth that can enliven your very being.