Honest, unpretentious food has a dimension that is difficult to match and it is this remarkable simplicity, taste and range that has helped Kerala's cuisine to create an identity of its own. The range that one sees today in Kerala food has been influenced by historical, cultural, geographical and social conditioning and especially its association with foreign lands. In very few places in the world will you find such incredible variety for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine in equal vigour.
Vegetarian delights like the Kerala Sadya have been strongly influenced by the principles of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a system of medicine where food places a crucial role. So Ayurveda which focused on vegetarianism as a way of life incentivized the search for a perfect balanced meal. The Kerala Sadya is a judicious blend of - sweet, sour, salty, bitter and astringent taste.
The lip smacking non-vegetarian menu of the Keralites has been influenced by the visitors. Arabs helped in the discovery of the Malabar Biriyani, Porotta and left Keralites with his penchant for tea. Syrian Christians have also got their own variety of food in products like Stew and moily. This kind of amalgamation was possible because of the Keralites openness to influence and willingness to adopt while maintaining its identity.
Besides all this, Coconuts grow in profusion in Kerala, and consequently grated coconut and coconut milk are widely used in dishes and curries as a thickener and flavouring ingredient. Kerala's long coastline, numerous rivers and backwater networks have contributed in much sea food dishes with fish, prawns, crab, conch etc. Rice, along with tapioca (cassava), is the main ingredient used in many Kerala food assortments. Having been a big exporter of aromatic spices for thousands of years, it is not surprising that black pepper, cardamom, cloves, ginger and cinnamon play a big part in Kerala's dishes. These spices lend the subtlety which becomes the hallmark of the cuisine.
Steam based rich rice based products is the theme of the traditional Kerala breakfast. Consumed in right quantity, the Kerala breakfast is normally light on the stomach while being lip smacking tasty. We have a small list compiled:
Puttu & Kadala
It is an all time favorite in the Keralite breakfast menu and is an authentic Kerala product. Basically it is steam cooked rice cake making it a very healthy breakfast in contrast to modern junk food. Traditionally it is made by stuffing a coconut shell and steaming it. It is decorated with grated coconut on the top. Kadala curry which is black chick peas cooked with kerala spices is considered the better half of puttu. Puttu also goes well with steamed ripen plantain. Puttu is supposed to be discovered by the Portuguese for their soldiers in war
Idli or Dosa with Sambar & Chutney
This is a very nutritious and delicious product. It is made by soaking rice and lentils, grinding them and allowing them to ferment to batter and then making fluffy Idlis by steaming or crispy Dosas by frying out of them. A variety of Dosas are available using different ingredients like onion, extra ghee, mint and so on. Chutney taken along with these two is made from coconut and mixing with spices. Sambar is the combination of boiled vegetables and masalas. The duo makes for a delicious breakfast while being pretty light on the stomach.
Appam with Veg. Stew or Chicken Curry:
Appam is a thin pancake made from coconut milk and fermented rice flour. It is a very popular dish in Kerala. Christians along the backwaters wished for a cuisine which has full potential to use fish, mutton and chicken and so on. It was here along the Kuttanad that Appam was invented. It goes well with Vegetable stew which has resemblance to the British stew and also chicken curry, mutton stew and moily. This is a traditional dish of the Christians of Kerala.
Idiappam and Stew
Idiappam can be briefly translated as 'Rice Noodles'. It is made by pressing out rice flour into the shape of noodles and them steaming it. It is a signature Kerala breakfast. The accompanying curries for Idiappam are similar to that of Appam i.e. Vegetable stew or some non-vegetarian curries usually mutton stew. Idiappam though it looks slightly odd is really enjoyable when dealt with bare hand and nicely mixed with the curry.
Pathiri and Chicken Curry:
Pathiri is the crown-jewel of the Kerala Muslim cuisine. It is usually served on festivals and special events. Basically, it is a thick pancake made from dough of rice powder. Pathiri goes well with Egg curry, Naadan chicken curry, green peas curry and pure coconut milk too.Like other Kerala dishes this also fits the concept of simple yet delicious
The Kerala Sadya:
The crown - jewel of Kerala's vegetarian treasures is undoubtedly the Kerala Sadya, literally 'a feast'. The serving of this elaborate lunch meal is on a banana leaf on the table with its narrow end on the left side. Serving starts with the crispies - Upperi (banana chips), Sharkaravaratti (jaggery coated banana chips) and Pappadam. Now the tangy, spicy and sour items including Injipuli (ginger and tamarindConcoction), Achar (pickle) and Inji Thayir (ginger and curd) are served. The Kootans (to combine with) come next. This includes Kurukku Kaalan - thick gravy with yam and pepper. Koottu Curry is mostly made with red pumpkin or pineapple. Erissery is a pungent combination of green gram and coconut paste, Thoran is made with any vegetable such as cabbage or beans that is prepared in a dry manner generally with coconut. Aviyal - is a mixture of all vegetables coated in a paste of coconut and curd and Oolan - is a watery curry with white pumpkin as its base ingredient. Pachadi is made with pineapple, curd and grapes, while Kichadi is prepared with bitter gourd and curd. Pachadi is sweet in taste while Kichadi is sour in taste. Next the Kerala special red rice is served in the middle of the leaf and gravies are poured over it. First come Parippu - a bland thick dal that is served along with nei (ghee) to give it a delicious taste. When Sambar - a lentil based gravy, is poured onto the rice, it signifies the beginning of the actual meal. After this is cleared, then curry made up of curd (Moru Katchiyathu) or Rasam is served with rice. Rasam is extremely watery, highly spiced and said to aid digestion.
The meal ends with maduram (sweet). There are usually two kinds of sweet in the form of payasam. Paal Payasam - which is thickened milk, has rice and sugar as its main ingredients and is extremely sweet. Parippu Payasam is darkly enriched by molasses and lentils. However, there are also other favourites like Ada Pradhaman, which is cooked rice flakes in coconut milk and Pazham Payasam, made of bananas. The meal always ends with buttermilk (Mooru), which is a digestive aid and a small yellow banana. This is one of the most comprehensive meals and is a must have in God's Own Country.
The famed Malabar Biriyani flavored with a medley of spices, accompanied by date chutney and garnished with nuts, raisins and coriander. The dish is rounded off with a Sulaimani chai (Black tea) which aids digestion. The Biriyani is preferably non-vegetarian made of chicken, mutton, beef, egg, prawn or fish (any one of these). This is a dish that the Arab merchants left us with and has gone on to define the taste of Northern Kerala.
Poricha Kozhi and Chapatti/Porotta
Kerala style chicken fry is a specialty. The chicken is deep fried to golden brown in a pond of coconut oil in a traditional chinachetti (Chinese Pot). The whole combination is infused with aromatic curry leaves and exotic spices. This chicken is had with chapatti or Kerala Porotta made from flour or maida. .
Kappa and Fish Curry
Tapioca is a staple food in some parts of the state. Tapioca is cooked with an adequate mix of spices especially chilly and grated coconut. The fish curry that goes with tapioca is exquisite made with red chilies, tamarind and larger variety of fish
Kuttanadan Duck Roast
This is superb dish available in the region with backwaters where ducks are aplenty. Duck is fried in coconut oil and cooked in coconut milk with suitable mix of traditional spices. The duck roast goes well with Appam and is a part of the Syrian Christian cuisine in this part of the state.
Another dish ideal for Appam or rice and finds place as a typical part of the menu of the Keralite Christians. It is distinct from the usual chicken curry because of its use of extra coriander powder and no chilli. This is recommended if you enjoy coconut milk based curries.
Karimeen (Pearl spot fish) is the most popular fish in this part of India and is the signature fish of Kerala. This dish has catapulted to fame in the recent past and now is a available in all major restaurants. The preparation is low calorie as the fish is not directly fried in oil. Baking is done to the fish wrapped in a fresh banana leaf. The fish is consumed directly from the banana leaf. This dish is worth having with rice or Appam.
Kuttanadan Fish Curry
This is a type of fish curry very popular in the Kuttanad region where fish is available in plenty. The dish has lesser of spices and the fish is cooked with drumsticks and mango bringing a unique flavour. The dish is best served with rice.
This dish is tremendously popular in all parts of Kerala. Beef is fried with traditional spices, coconut pieces and curry leaves. For many people in the land, a day is incomplete without his quota of Beef fry. The dish goes well with rice and Appam
Different varieties of high quality prawns are available on request. This is best served on the houseboats where the catch is fresh and authentic. The seafood is fried with coconut and spices especially chilly making for a lip smacking dish. The dish is enjoyed raw or with rice.
This product is the most savored snack and banana chips are almost synonymous with Kerala. Basically there are two types of banana chips. The well known version deep fried (in coconut oil) slices of banana and is available in salty and spicy versions. The second type is called Sharkaravaratti has a coating of jaggery on fried banana. This makes for a very sweet snack.
This is a quintessential Malayali snack and is available across the state. It has a special place in the cuisine of Kerala. A special type of thick long banana called Nenthram Pazham (cultivated only in South India) is used for making this snack. The banana is deep fried with a coating of flour and a pinch of turmeric. This sweet dish is a must try.
Vada is a south Indian savory of the shape of a doughnut. In Kerala two types of Vada are available - Uzhunnu vada and Parippu vada. Black gram is used for the preparation of the former and toor dal is used for preparation of Parippu vada. Coconut chutney and Sambar go well with both types of vada.
Cutlet is the most popular Syrian Christian snack and used sometimes used as an appetizer. They can be made of vegetables or more popularly with mutton, beef or chicken.
Other Snacks: Achappam, murukku, Cheeda, Kuzhappam are other popular snacks available in most bakery shops in most parts of the state
Tender coconut water:
Known as Ilaneer in local parlance, this drink is probably the safest natural soft drink in the world. Good quality coconut water is nutritious and refreshing. This drink has found its place in the tourist's menu as a welcome drink.
It is a very healthy and refreshing drink made from beated curd. Sambharam is served with a mix of curry leaves, ginger and salt making a genuine thirst quencher.
Kallu (Toddy) has been an age old tradition of Kerala. This drink is made from the sap of the coconut tree flower before blooming. There are 3 kinds of toddy - 'Madhurakallu' or sweet toddy tapped early in the morning, 'Andikallu' tapped in the evening which gives a slight high, and 'Muttankallu' that has been tapped the day before and has a higher level of intoxication. Toddy gives you a pleasant glow. Toddy is cheaply priced and is the common man's drink. The coconut tree's own mild alcoholic drink is certainly worth a try.
You will find the sweet dishes and deserts of Kerala simply mouth watering.
Payasam & Boli:
Payasam is the traditional sweet dish served with the Sadya. It is also prepared for all celebrations and is also a temple ceremony Prasad. It is made of rice products, jaggery and pulses and cooked in condensed milk and coconut milk. There are a lot of varieties of Payasams with different ingredients. Each variety seems better than the previous. The popular varieties are 'Pal payasam', 'Pazham Pradhaman' (Banana), 'Gothambu' (Wheat) and Ada Pradhaman (Rice flakes). Traditional payasam goes well with a sweet pancake made from sweet mixture with stuffed between layers called Boli.
Kerala Halwa is also something that every visitor should try. This sweet sticky oily product which you will find sold in a variety of colours glowing enticingly is said to have its origin in the Arab lands. Different colours of the halwa are made of different base and have different taste. Kozhikode halwa is supposed to be best variety in the world.
So, if you are coming down to Kerala be prepared to spice up your life with our entire gamut of mouthwatering dishes to indulge your taste buds in the exquisite cuisine of God's Own Country. Bon Appétit!