Food in Kerala
Kerala is known for its cuisine. It has a distinctive style of cooking that is the result of assimilating the essence of the food of Syrian Christians and Muslims of Malabar. It has drawn its dishes with their ingredients from Dutch, the British, the Portuguese, the Jews and the Hindus. It has also taken inspiration from the age-old Ayurvedic practices regarding food that makes it easily digestible and healthy even though it has plenty of spices.
Coconut, Rice, Banana and curry leaves play the most important role in preparation of a typical Keralite dish. A variety of spices in the dishes have taken almost an art form. The people of Kerala love their food and they prepare it ceremoniously to get the right flavour. There are occasions like Onam, Vishu, Rohini Ashtami, Diwali, Christmas, Eid, marriages, etc. when the Keralites enjoy their culinary skills the most. The prominent feature of the cuisine is the use of a large number of locally available vegetables.
Spices in Kerala
The people of Kerala love spices. It had been once the centre of the spice trade of India with Europe and the Middle East. Later the European traders came and opened their spice factories here. It is but natural all that living with and for spices should seep into the cuisines of Kerala. The spices used in Keralite food contain almost every spice known to man but some like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and curry leaves are prominently used in almost all the main dishes.
Coconut is also extensively used in all the cooked, fried, steamed or roasted dishes. Coconut in all its forms like coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut chopped, shredded and grated is the most important of all the other ingredients that are used in a variety of mixes in the cuisine of Kerala. Onion, ginger and tomato, etc. are also used extensively. The zest of green and red chilly dominate most recipes. Curry leaves make its way into almost all the dishes to be used as seasoning. Tamarind gives the special sweet and sour taste to most of the rasams and curries of Kerala.
Full Meal Dishes
These can be divided into vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The Keralites prepare the full meal dishes whether Veg or Non-Veg with a lot of spices, coconut dressing and different type of seasonings. Sadya is the word for the banquet of vegetable dishes.
Non-Vegetarian Food in Kerala
Kerala is famous for its non-vegetarian food. A variety of such dishes are prepared with mutton, chicken, fish, prawn and the other seafood available in Kerala in plenty. An important feature of the non-veg cuisines in Kerala is the North-South differences in the method of cooking and use of condiments for preparing a dish. The Northern cuisines can be called Malabar cuisine having Mughal influence and the Southern one, the Syrian cuisine, have traditional Keralite with Christian, Dutch and Portuguese influences. A speciality of a Malabar dish is that it is fried. This calls for the use of ghee in abundance. Moreover, these dishes are mostly non vegetarian and spicy like the famous Malabar Biryani with chicken, prawn, mutton or fish. The main dishes of Malabar are Ari or Chatty Pathiri that is rice roti, Ari kallummakaya-mussel-fry, Ari kadukka-stuffed mussel, Kadalaparupu, payasams prepared with jaggery, kai nirachathu, a variety of fish with a whole lot of stuffing and frying that goes for the other sea-food also.
Non vegetarian dishes include meat, poultry, fish and other seafood. Some of the famous mutton, chicken, fish, prawn, and lamb dishes of Kerala are given below.Aadu Attipathal
is boneless chopped mutton steamed with par boiled and white rice dough in a cover of plantain leaves. The rice dough is put on a plantain leaf and rolled into a ‘Roti’ disk. Mutton fried with all the main spices is spread on the rice roti disk and another roti layer is placed over it. One more layer is made similarly. It is covered with a plantain leaf at the top. The sandwiched layers of rice roti with mutton are steamed. Aadu Attipathal is ready.Irachi Pathal
is a beef curry prepared by steaming the beef pieces in the same way as done in Aadu Attipathal except that it adds a good amount of shredded coconut in the filling to be spread over the parboiled rice dough.Kozhi pidi
is a chicken dish famous in Malabar. A thick paste of parboiled rice, the turmeric powder and cumin seeds are prepared to make cocoon like bits steamed on plantain leaf. The curry base is prepared with stirring and frying all major spices, green chilli, tomatoes, and garlic ginger paste. Once the base is ready, the pieces of boneless chicken are poured on it with sufficient water. When it is ready the steamed rice cocoons are added to it and served hot.Beef Kurumulakittathu
is a boiled beef dish made in two parts. In the first part the pieces of beef are coated with turmeric and coriander powder, red chilli, garam masala and other spices and boiled well. The second part is to stir fey the boiled spicy beef pieces in to a fully sautéed paste of ginger, green chilli, and all the spices used on lamb pieces earlier. A dry dish will be ready to be served hot. Bread Pola
is a simple dish prepared with bread soaked in egg white and shredded chicken. The boneless pieces of chicken are boiled with a whole lot of spices and seasoning condiments. Bread is dipped in egg white and placed over a heated and oiled pan. The ready Chicken is shredded and a layer of it is spread over the bread. One more layer of egg-yolk dipped bread is put over it. Both sides of the bread are cooked golden brown. The Bread Pola is ready.Alleppey Fish curry
is a famous Keralite preparation. Fish is marinated with salt and turmeric powder and boiled in a paste of coconut, chilly, turmeric powder, raw mango and tomato and salt. The final seasoning is done with curry leaves and coconut oil. Chemmeen Moilee
is a prawn dish. Coconut oil is heated with the seasoning agents like mustard seeds, onion, garlic, ginger and curry leaves. When this masala takes a brownish hue the shelled prawns with coconut milk are boiled in it.
Prawn and fish pickle are prepared by marinating them in chilly, turmeric and ginger garlic paste for an hour and frying them. This fried item is mixed with masala separately fried in oil. Both are mixed and boiled. Salt and vinegar are used to preserve. This is a famous Keralite delicacy.Malabar Chicken Biryani
People may think that the whole of Kerala eats the same kind of dish and prepares it more or less in the same manner. But there are some dishes that have taken a vey localized fame. Malabar biryani is one such dish. It is said that the Biryani was a Mughal dish. But what goes today as Malabar speciality is a lot different from the original Mughal Biryani.
Do you know the legend pointing to something common between The Taj Mahal and Biryani?
Well it is a fact that the Taj was erected in memory of Mumtaz Mahal. The connection between the two stems from the lady herself. She is said to have initiated the preparation of Biriyani when she once visited the Mughal army in its barracks. She found that the army looked undernourished. The matter was discussed with the royal chefs and they were told to create a dish which would be delicious as well as nutritious. Biryani was the result.
The legend may be true or false but it definitely establishes the Mughal connection with the advent of Biriyani in India.
The Malabar Biryani is one of the most famous and delicious dishes of Kerala. On the face of it the biryani is just layers of rice stuffed with chicken and cooked in a special biryani pot. In reality a Thalassery Biryani is nothing short of an art. The very first difference is the base rice. It has to be Khaima. The grains are short and thin. Khaima or Jeerakasala rice is very unlike the Basmati rice. In fact its flavour is also different from the Basmati. The rice and chicken is packed in layers and the Biriyani is prepared with ‘Dum’ method in which the pot is tightly covered and heat is given both from bottom and top. The list of ingredients used for rice and boiled chicken pieces is a virtual who’s who of the spice world. The chicken biryani is now one of the most famous pan-Indian dishes like Dosa and Idli.
Non-vegetarian breakfast dishes are also famous in Kerala. Appam, simple or with crab masala, mutton, chicken or fish stew is traditionally a breakfast dish. It is prepared from white rice fermented overnight. The mixture for fermentation is prepared with grinding the soaked rice, yeast, sugary water with grated coconut. Achappam
is called rose cookies also. This is prepared in special Achappam moulds dipped into hot oil. The thick batter is poured into them to deep fry the cookies. The batter for the rose cookies is prepared with rice powder, coconut milk, sugar, salt, sesame seeds and egg beaten into a smooth mix of the Idli batter consistency.
Vegetarian Food in Kerala
When it comes to vegetarian food, Kerala is one of the richest regions in India. There is a typical term - Sadya - a banquet in Malayalam for the large number of vegetarian dishes served on specific occasions. Sadya is offered with not less than 26 varieties of vegetarian preparations which can be more also. The Sadya is, in fact, a gourmet’s delight, a foodies’ most cherished spot to be on Onam or Vishu and a gastronaut’s ‘delizia’. As a tradition only vegetarian food is served in Sadya but with certain communities in northern Kerala it can have some non-vegetarian dishes also.
The main vegetarian dish of Kerala is Rice prepared in a variety of ways. It is served with several kinds of curries, pappadam. Yoghurt, chips covered with sugar or honey or fried and the payasams, that is, the desserts sweetened with sugar or jaggery.
Do you know the Sadya service protocol?
It is to be served on a banana leaf to people sitting cross-legged on mats. The top left corner of the leaf is reserved for serving pickles. The bottom left corner is where banana is to be served. The rice should be heaped in the middle surrounded by all the rasams and chutneys. Men folk dominate in the preparation of a traditional Sadya.
Famous Vegetarian Dishes
Rice is the main food of Kerala. It is used in a variety of ways to make some of the most exotic dishes. The boiled rice is the main item of a Sadya. It is served with a variety of other dishes in which vegetables play an important role.Rasam
is a spicy soup prepared with tamarind paste, tomato, chilly, pepper and other condiments used for seasoning. It is boiled with crushed lentils- ‘toor daal’- and a lot of vegetables. It is a watery dish to be poured over the rice served hot.Avial
is a mixture of several vegetables with shredded coconut and curd. Coconut oil is used for seasoning. Cumin and green chillies make the main spices in Avial.Kaalan
is another dish prepared similarly but with only one vegetable. Moreover, it is kept thicker and
more sour compared to Avial.Pachadi
is a mix of assorted vegetables and coconut paste cooked in yogurt. Cucumber or pineapple is also added sometimes. Cumin seeds and green chillies are used for seasoning. It gives a special flavour to the dish. Thoran or Upperi
is a pan Kerala dish. It is made with a mixed bag of vegetables cooked dry. The vegetables used are green tomatoes, unripe jack fruit, bitter gourd, beans, cabbage, carrots, spinach, garlic and onion. The vegetables are finely chopped and mixed with grated coconut. The seasoning of mustard seed, curry leaves and turmeric powder gives the special flavour to Thoran.Erissery
is a curry made with pumpkin and cow peas. These base vegetables are cooked with coconut paste. It is kept to the consistency of a good stew to be eaten with Dosa or rice.
Some other traditional Kerala dishes are Poriyal or Cabbage Thoran, Kooty Curry, Mory Kootan, Olan, Pulisseri, Puliyinchi etc. These are basically various kinds of vegetable dishes that are cooked dry or as curry cooked with coconut paste, yogurt, ginger, and other seasoning agents.Lemon pickle
is prepared with boiled lemon. All the pickle masalas are stir fried and stuffed in the lemons by making four lengthwise gashes in it. The lemon is kept in oil and vinegar to preserve. Mango pickle is also prepared similarly using unripe mangoes.Date pickle
is liked by those who like sweet and spicy pickles. It is prepared by finely chopping the deseeded dates and frying them with sautéed mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, ginger, green chillies, curry leaves, salt, and red chilli. Vinegar is used to give it the sour taste and preserve the Date pickle.
Cuisines for Breakfast in Kerala
is a speciality of Kerala. Puttu Rice is roasted and after mixing salt, cumin seed it is mixed and poured over a layer of grated coconut kept in a coconut shell with a hole called Chiratta. The Chiratta is steamed to bake the batter and served hot.
Cherupayar is a green gram and coconut preparation with a seasoning of mustard, onion, chilly and curry leaves.Idiappam
is different from the well known Idli; it is prepared without fermenting the rice flour. Hot water mixed with salt and oil is poured over the rice flour to make dough. The smooth dough is filled in the Idiappam maker. It is squeezed over grated coconut and steamed. It is taken with egg roast which is prepared by sautéing all the main spices and ginger, onions etc. and cooked with boiled eggs with a little quantity of water. Kallappam
is a dish of rice paste mixed with yeast, sugar and salt fermented overnight. Grated coconut, garlic paste, curry leaves and onion are added and the mixture is shallow fried on both sides.
Kappa or tapioca puttu is a dish of grated tapioca, and rice flour steamed with the help of a puttu maker. Shredded coconut is sprinkled before pouring the mixture in the maker.Madhura Kizhangu Uppumavu
is a delectable dish prepared with grated Sweet Potato called Madhura Kizhangu.Puttu and black gram curry
are two items that go together. Puttu is made with the help of a Puttu Kudam to steam rice flour and grated coconut. Kadala Curry is a simple black gram curry in Coconut paste.Travancore Appam
is just sweet Idli for which batter is prepared with yeast, sugar, rice flour and coconut milk.
Popular Snacks of Kerala
is a dish made with banana split dipped in a mix of ‘Maida’, baking powder and seasoning agents. It is deep fried till crisp and taken as a morning snack.Mulaku Bajji
or pepper banana fritters is a fiery dish. It is prepared with banana pepper dipped whole in a batter of gram flour, rice flour, and spices. The pieces are deep fried in coconut oil.Unniappam
is another favourite Keralite snack prepared from banana paste, jaggery rice and fried coconut pieces. The batter is fermented for a few hours. It is poured into an unniappachatti vessel in which oil has been heated to shallow fry the Unniappam till it gets golden brown. Sukhiyan
is a deep fried ‘moong bean’ fritter. It is prepared with cooked moong beans, grated jaggery, and grated coconut, and ginger paste, cumin powder put in a batter of rice flour, mixed flour, turmeric powder and salt.
Desserts of Kerala
Payasams, tender coconut soufflé, Ada Prathaman, Chakka Prathaman are some of the common dessert dishes of Kerala. These are served after Rasam rice.Payasam
is actually what the north Indians call ‘Kheer’ with the difference that the rice used in the Keralite Payasam is red rice. Moreover, the use of ‘moong daal’ and ‘chana daal’ makes the recipe quite different from North. It is called Paruppu Payasam in Kerala. The sweetening agent is jaggery. Coconut milk is the base. Cardamom is used for flavour and Cashew nuts, raisins etc. make it rich. Another variety is called pal payasams. This is prepared by boiling rice, wheat or vermicelli in milk. Sugar gives it the sweetness. Tender coconut Soufflé
is prepared with corn flour, egg white, cream sugar and boiled milk mixed and cooked to custard thickness. Gelatine, coconut extract, tender coconut, beaten white of eggs are added to the custard and poured into moulds. These are kept in the fridge to set. Prathaman
comes under the sweet dish variety like Payasams. There are various kinds dependent on the ingredients. For instance Ada Prathaman uses rice flour and molasses. The Pazham Prathaman uses ‘Nentra Pazham’- a plantain native to Kerala. Sugar or jaggery act as sweeteners with coconut kernel. The Parippu Prathaman is prepared with pulses.
Famous Chips of Kerala
Banana chips called Ethakka Upperi
are a traditional Keralite snack. It is also a must have item in Sadya. These are prepared by cutting wafer thin round pieces of unripe plantain called Ethakka. These are deep fried in coconut oil and spices. It is salty to taste. Sharkara Upperi
is prepared by drying the round banana wafers and coating them with sugar, honey or jaggery to provide sweet chips called Sharkara Upperi.
Jackfruit Chips called Chakkavaruthathu
are prepared from the raw jackfruit extracted from the middle of the fruit. This kernel is pressed and a lot of fruit pieces are extracted, deseeded and stir fried in coconut oil. Salt and turmeric powder is added at the time of stir frying.
Famous Restaurants in Kerala
Here are some of the famous restaurants in Kerala.
Mother’s Kitchen on NH 47 is situated at Karunagapalli. It is at a distance of 89 kms from Thiruvananthapuram. This highway dhaba is famous for its authentic ‘Meena Polichatu’-a steam cooked fish. The delicacy has earned fame for the Mother’s Kitchen among people passing the highway to and from the state capital.
The mother’s Kitchen, Vavvakkavu, NH 47, Karunagapalli, Kollam-690547
Sharma Punjabi Dhaba
The Sharma Punjabi Dhaba is a chain of restaurants in Thiruvananthapuram. These are famous for their North Indian food. The chain has three restaurants situated at Trivandrum Bakery Road Thampanoor, near Infosys and at Kazhakuttom. The wonderful ‘Kulcha’, roti, plain rice and ‘daal’, ‘baingan bharta’, ‘aaloo-onion parathas’ and paneer dishes as liked in North India are the specialities of this chain.Sharma Punjabi Dhaba Address:
Trivandrum Bakery Road, Thampanoor-695014
There are several good eateries at Samudra Beach Kovalam but Oyster Restaurant is famous for its dishes prepared to individual preference. The chefs take orders as per individual taste especially in spices. The location of the restaurant is such that the food is taken right in view of the ocean. It makes the meal a lasting impression.Oyster Restaurant Address:
Samudra Beach, Kovalam- 695527
Manipuzha Vysali Restaurant
Manipuzha Vysali restaurant at Kottayam prefers to call itself a family restaurant because the dishes served here are in the Naadan-traditional-style of Kerala. This makes the cuisine fiery and spicy to be cooked with coconut oil and a lot of shredded, grated or extracted coconut. The famous dishes of the joint are fish and prawn delicacies.Manipuzha Vysali restaurant Address:
Mullapanthal Toddy Shop
This toddy shop at Mullapanthal, Kochi is primarily a toddy shop. But that is not all there is to its fame. It is often frequented for its Keralite food prepared with authentic spices from Kerala. Dishes made of duck, prawn and mussels are some delicacies of this joint. But the fish head curry prepared with chilly, coconut and rice is a speciality. Mullapanthal Toddy Shop Address: