Peaceful backwaters, lush and vibrant greenery, and scrumptious food whose taste never leaves your tongue – Kerala always lives up to its title of “God’s Own Country”. The southwest Malabar coast of India houses this picture-postcard state offers a culinary experience like no other.
The soil in Kerala supports the growth of coconut trees, paddy, veggies like plantains, Tapioca (Kappa), Elephant Foot Yam (Chenai), and Bitter Gourd. Rice is also widely cultivated in the state, and this
Kerala Cuisine is an eclectic mix of culinary influences from Hindu, Christian and Muslim households, with coconut, rice and spices forming the core of a variety of dishes. A place that was a landing point for the Arabs, Portuguese, and Spanish in the yesteryear, Kerala carries strong flavors and dishes that mimic the cuisine from these countries too.
A Tale of Spices & Coconut
Malayalis are generally generous with the use of spices (Kerala is also known as the “Land of Spices” and coconut. By Indian standards, the Kerala food is mildly spicy, but foreigners can easily expect to get some fumes coming out of their ears. From shredded coconut and coconut oil to coconut milk and ground coconut, the region’s obsession with coconut makes it a ubiquitous ingredient in most dishes. It also creates a distinctive flavor that characterizes Keralite cooking.
A plethora of vegetarian and non-vegetarian recipes fill up the cookbook pages of Keralites. Non-vegetarian dishes are preferred, consumed widely, and celebrated all over Kerala. While they can be quite spicy and heavy, some dishes are incredibly tasty. There is no dearth of vegetarian options: Aviyal, Kaalan, Thoran, Olan, Unniappam, Pazham Pori, the list goes on endlessly. A majority of vegetarian food is moderately flavored, lightly cooked, and gentle on the stomach.
For charging up in the mornings, the classics are Puttu (a dish made of rice flour and coconut), Idli, Dosa, the Sambar-Chutney combo, Idiyappam, and Paal-Appam. Puttu in itself comes in an assortment of forms: Paruppu Puttu (made from 4 types of dal), Kuzha Puttu (the traditional format), Sora Puttu (made of Sora fish), Ragi Puttu (a ragi-based blockbuster), and Rice Puttu.
Next comes Appam – simple to make, no-frills, and uber-healthy Keralite pancakes for breakfast. The two most important types of this rice-based powerhouse are Palappam and Idiyappam. With many overlapping ingredients, these dishes are best enjoyed with sweet coconut milk or Kadala Curry. Palappam is usually cooked like Dosa with a batter, while Idiyappam is steamed after making them into a stringy consistency (these are also popularly called String Hoppers).
Let’s Do Sadhya
Onam Festival marks one of the most important cultural days of the year for Keralites. It’s celebrated in remembrance of the mythical king Mahabali, and ushers in a host of observances like Pookalam (a floral extravaganza), Thrikkakara Appan (clay pyramids), Tug of War, Vallam Kali (traditional boat race), and of course – Onam Sadhya.
Sadhya is Kerala’s traditional banquet served on a plantain leaf and is supposed to be done for lunch on Onam day. The platter is a medley of boiled rice, Sambhar, Parippu, Aviyal, Kalan, Poduthol, Thoran, Pulisherry, Olan, Puli Inji, Pappadam, Mooru, Kaya Upperi, Sharkara Upperi, Banana and Payasam. Check out a comprehensive list of lip-smacking recipes that you can serve up at home for Onam.
A vegetable stew that’s a crowd-favorite in South India, Aviyal is mandatory on a Sadhya table. Chenai, Plantain, Ash Melon (Wax Gourd), Snake Gourd, Ivy Gourd (Tindli), Carrots, Beans, Brinjal (Aubergine), Drumsticks, and Cucumber are all thrown together into a coconut and yogurt sauce with a finishing of coconut oil and curry leaves to make this super-healthy dish. You can consume it standalone or as a side dish for rice.
Thoran is a stir-fried, dry side dish served during Onam Sadhya. It’s a single vegetable dish mixed with grated coconuts, coriander leaves, and spices and garnished with coconut oil. Here is another show of variety in Kerala cuisine – Thoran can be made with Beans, Long Beans (Payar), Spinach, Cabbage, Cheera, Ladysfinger, Raw Banana, and Snake Gourd!
Dark brown, tangy, and long-lasting, Puli Inji is a curry made from ginger, tamarind, jaggery and a dash of green chillies. It is also famously served on platters at marriage and other occasions, and lasts for nearly a week.
Let’s not forget to cool down during Sadhya with Kalan, Olan, and Mooru. Sour with a hint of tanginess, Kalan is put together with yogurt, coconut, and plantain. Olan is a very unique Keralite dish made with white pumpkin, yellow pumpkin, coconut milk, red gram, salt and a drizzle of coconut oil. Olan packs a punch in terms of nutrition too – dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, protein and Vit-C.
Sadhya or not, Keralite desserts are unimaginably delectable. These are milk-based and usually served warm or hot. Some of the list-toppers are Payasam, Paal Payasam (milk Payasam), Ada Pradhaman, Paripu Payasam, Pazham Pradhaman, Jackfruit Payasam, and Wheat Payasam. The essential ingredients of Payasam are milk, sugar, cashews, dried grapes, and choice of rice or dal – all of it fried in oodles of ghee.
A popular snack in Kerala that not only melts in your mouth, but also serves as a social networking icebreaker is Unniappam. Made into a batter from rice flour, sugar/jaggery and water, it’s made into bite-sized balls, deep fried until crispy brown, and served warm with coconut milk or jaggery syrup.
Banana Fritters, also called Pazham Pori is an all-time favorite in Kerala. Slice up bananas, coat them in all-purpose or atta flour batter and deep fry to get this ultra-tasty dish that will literally make you go bananas.
Coastal Food & Beef
A majority of Kerala is on the western sea coast of India. This means sea food is a staple in the region. Kerala Fish Curry is one of the most popular sea foods. Meen Pollichathu, Meen Vevichathu (red fish curry), Fish Molee, Meen Peera are other famous seafood delicacies in Kerala. Beef is also quite popular in Kerala, with many recipes enjoyed by a massive demographic.
The culinary culture of Kerala is widespread across the country and abroad, with the Keralite community in the Gulf and western countries also relishing the products of God’s Own Country’s kitchens. Centuries of indigenous and overseas influences have really helped Kerala develop recipes that are delicious, far-reaching, and enthusiastically-enjoyed by all.