Kerala cuisine is distinctly different from food elsewhere in India. The major difference that one can easily notice are dominance of rice as staple food and popularity of non-vegetarian dishes. Unlike other parts of India, the Kerala society do not emphasis on any religious dietary taboos or restrictions. Thus various beef and pork dishes take a key position in Kerala cuisine without any societal taboos. Seafood gets a lion’s share in typical Kerala’s cuisine and lavish use of coconut (in form of coconut oil, coconut milk, powder or paste) gives a distinct taste. Since spices are abundant, one can find its lavish use in most of dishes, making many fiery hot. Pepper, Cardamon, Cloves, Ginger, Chilies are common to most of the dishes.
Food in Kerala tends to include a variety of spices and most of them are extremely fiery. Kerala also has its own fair share of famous vegetarian cuisines and normally only vegetarian foods are taken during festival days, particularly Onam. However Jains will find hard in vegetarian selections, as most of Malayalee vegetarian dishes comprises tubular and root based vegetables as well as lavish use of garlic and onions. Jains need to look out for Jain special food, normally available in key cities or near Jain temples.
Kerala’s cuisine is divided into four basic regional styles, according to ingredient availability and historical influence: Malabar, Central Travancore, Southern Travancore, and Central Kerala. Although all four styles can be found throughout the state, the food will be most authentic within each given region.
One of the favourite for any connoisseur of food would be Kerala’s traditional buffet, the sadhya. It is served especially during festive occasion and normally presented upon a plaintain leaf. It generally has up to 24 items and is accompanied by various desserts and savories.
A typical sadhya consists of piping hot parboiled rice with popular Kerala vegetarian dishes like
- olan (a dish of pumpkin)
- avial (an assorted mix of all vegetables)
- injipulee (a ginger & tamarind flavouring)
- kaalan (made of yam and yogurt)
- thoran (pan-fried vegetables sprinkled with grated coconut)
- kichiadi (roasted cucumber in yogurt)
- pachadi (a sweet dish made out pineapple or grapes mixed with sour yogurt)
- erissery (pumpkin or beans cooked in thick coconut paste)
- mezhukkupuratty (Stir fries using marinated various vegetables, tossed with chilies )
- istew ( Stew curry of Potato or mixed vegetables cooked in thick coconut milk )
- kottukari (a mixture of few vegetables like raw bananas or pumpkin or potatoes, pan fried mixed with a spicy tomato puree curry base) etc.
In some sadhyas, options like masala curry, vegetable special curries are served.
The sambar (a watery all-Vegetable curry) and parippu (lentils, either mashed or curry form) along with ghee are served as the main entrée’. Normally 2 to 3 spicy pickles called as achar are served.
Other assortments include pappadam (fried Lentil-flour paper-thin bread), along with banana chips and jaggery sweet, served as main appetisers. Towards the end of sadhya, rasam (similar to mulligatawny soup made out of pepper and tomato water is served, which is good for digestion) as well as mooru or sambharam (spiced buttermilk) are served.
Bananas are also taken as a final note to end the elobrate sadhya’s main course. The desserts includes payasam (a sweet porridge-like, made of jaggery or sugar along with rice, cereals, fruits depending on what type of payasam) as well as boli, a sweet flour bread, which looks similar to an omelet, along with a banana and sometimes unniappam (sweet fried rice flour dumpling).
Normally sadyas are served on lunch time and normally will be pure vegetarian. Onasadhya (served on the Onam day) is the most famous, due to having more than 30 curries and an elobrate range of special payasams. Many leading hotels and restaurants now serve smaller versions of sadhya as part of a regular lunch offering. In Malabar, sometimes, fried-fish or chicken curry constitute part of the sadhya, as the Malabar sadhya does not have a vegetarian tradition.
Thalis/fixed price meals
Most of the hotels offer smaller version of sadhya called as thali or Meals(fixed or unlimited serving) as part of regular lunch. While an elaborate thali or meals normally has around 4 to 5 curries along with 2 pickles, pappadams and a payasam/any sweet dish, a normal lunch Meal served in most of small restaurants consist of 3 to 4 curries and 1 pickle and pappadam. Fish curry or fried fish (consists of fish of the day) are part of fish-meals, which are more popular.
Most of such meals/thalis would be served in steel plated with slots for curries.
Seafood is available all over Kerala and is part of regular Kerala cuisine. In regions bordering the backwaters and lakes traditional cuisine includes fresh-water fish such as karimeen (black pearlspot), prawns, shrimps, kanava (squid) and many other delicacies.
Cooking styles include Pollichatu (spicy marinated fish, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed until cooked), roasted (pan stirred roasting method mostly with dry gravy tossed with spices), deep fried as well as curry boiled. Fish curries are extremely popular, where fish are cooked in medium thick gravy of tomatoes, chilies, spices, coconut milk and slightly sour due to mixing with a special kind of local tamarind called Kodampully, used mainly for fish curries. Alleppey Fish curry style is one of most popular among Fish curries. Fish Moilee is another popular fish curry, which is more mild in nature, cooked in coconut milk. Another popular dish is Chemeen Manga Curry, where tossed prawns are cooked in mango curry. In Northern kerala, Meen Mappas are extremely popular where fish are cooked in a very thick cashew based gravy tossed with ginger-garlic paste, heavily garnished with fried onions, cinnamon, cardamons etc. Fish Mulakkittathu which is cooked in thick pepper-chilly sauce is also a popular choice, especially in Toddy shops for fiery hot lovers.
In most of the parts of Kerala, various varieties of sea fishes are extremely popular and consumed regularly in afternoon lunch mostly fried or curry or both. Another popular option is fiery hot fish cooked in chilly curry served along with ‘kappa’ (tapioca) or rice. Steamed and mashed tapioca flavoured with turmeric served along with spicy fish curry or mashed chilly gravy is a favorite among Malayalees, particularly those in rural areas.
Kerala cuisine takes a greater emphasis on non-vegetarian note, with multiple cuisine styles for almost all kind of meat. While Chicken, Duck, Beef, Mutton are the most popular among non-vegetarians, pork and lamb meat are taken as special festive cuisine. Its not uncommon to see rabbit, pigeon and quail meat based cuisine in some parts of the state. All meat are normally marinated heavily with spices before cooking. Pan stir frying (roast), deep fried and curry boiled are some of the popular cooking styles. Kerala is one of major state in India, which is extremely beef friendly, with no social/religious taboos attached to it. Beef is the second most popular meat, after chicken and used widespread.
Normally most of the meat are Halal, though formal certifications are very limited and often not made. To a great degree, most of Kerala’s meat cuisine style are Jew Kosher friendly as use of milk/yogurt are rare in typical cuisines, while its substituted to coconut milk. However many North Indian influenced dishes do use milk as base.
Kerala is very famous for its elaborate breakfast food. It has been adjourned as one of the best breakfasts in the world, partly due to its high nutritional value and low oil content . Unlike other parts of India, few non-vegetarian items are available on Kerala breakfast menus. Some of the popular breakfast items are;
Puttu, (made of rice powder and grated coconut, steamed in a metal or bamboo holder), taken along with kadala (a curry made of black garbanzo beans chana), Pappadams and bananas.
Idli, (steamed rice pancake), a soft fluffy cake taken alone with chutney (paste made out of spicy chilly or mint or grind coconut) and sambar.
Dosas, ( thin crispy fried ricebread) having flavorings of butter, ghee, masala or plain. In some places, thick Dosas are made, with toppings of Onion, Tomatoes etc and more specialty ones with eggs, curries etc.
Pidiyan, (dumplings made of rice and jaggery).
Idiyappam, (string hoppers – also known as noolputtu and nool-appam), taken with spicy egg curry or tomato curry.
Paal-Appam, (a circular, fluffy, crisp-edged pancake made of rice flour fermented with toddy or wine), taken with chicken stew (mild spiced coconut milk based gravy), or vegetable kurma (a mixed vegetable curry in coconut milk gravy).
Dinner traditionally used to similar to Lunch in Kerala, though instead of rice, congee or kanzhi (rice porridge) used along with spicy raw chillies and roasted pappadams. However today dinner is more like North Indian style, with chappathis and parathas dominating the main course along with some vegetable or non vegetable curries.