Kerala Cuisine and What to Expect from It

Kerala, located on the southern belt of India, one of the most serene states of the country. Surrounded by golden beaches, misty mountains, and beautiful backwater – Kerala offers smorgasbord experiences to its guests.

The vibrant culture, history, demography, and heritage of the state has shown it influenced its people, their lifestyle, and food. The Kerala cuisine is a fusion of Indian, French, Arabian, and Malabari influences. Starting from elaborate Sadyas to an array of non-vegetarian dishes – the cuisines of Kerala are a spicy affair.

See also Kerala Foods

Introduction to the Keralite Gastronomy

Rice is the staple food of Kerala, accompanied with a host of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Unlike the rest of the India, in Kerala, meat especially beef is easily available and eaten in commercial establishments. Spices are liberally used in the cooking, after all Kerala is Land of Spices.

Kerala has been an ancient trading center since 3,000 BCE. The state has been a vibrant center for exchange among different cultures including Jews, Christians, Muslims, and many other merchant communities of India. Many of these trading communities settled at the coastal plains of state – influencing the food habits of the locals over the course of time.

Usually, the traditional Kerala cuisine can be broadly divided into three groups – Hindu, Muslim, and Christian gastronomies. While a small community of Hindu home-style food is vegetarian, the Muslim and Christian cuisines include red meats, eggs and fish.  In the Hindu vegetarian fare, the usage of milk, honey, pulses, and vegetables is mostly seen.

Apart from that, slow cooked and dum biryanis with different variety of meats including mutton, beef, chicken, prawn, or lamb can be found in Kerala. Usage of spices are common in these communities. They mostly use curry leaves, chilies, mustard seeds, coconut, tamarind, turmeric, and asafetida are all frequently used.

Some Common Ingredients of Kerala Cuisine

As mentioned earlier, rice is the staple food of Kerala. Apart from that, spices play an important role in bringing the dishes alive. Some of the commonly ingredients used in cooking a proper Keralite meal includes asafetida, cumin, coriander, chilies and pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, curry leaves, cilantro, garlic, ginger, and mustard seed. The slight tanginess of the dishes is mostly due to tamarind in the cooking. Food is mostly cooked in coconut oil, but usage of vegetable oil or ghee is also popular among the locals.

Traditional Sadya on a Banana Leaf

One of the most identified symbols of Kerala, beside the banana boat race, is the traditional Sadya served on a banana leaf. This Kerala-style banquet is mostly served in a traditional Hindu home during important Kerala festivals like Onam. Usually, a vegetarian fare, in the banquet almost 28 dishes can be served in a single course. The number of dishes can be increased or decreased based on the occasion. The food is mostly eaten through hand.

Some of the main dishes in a traditional Sadya includes rice, and a collection of curries referred to as Kootan. It can consist of mixed lentil soup, olan, sambar, pulisseri, pickle, avial, pachadi, thoran, etc. At the end of the meal, buttermilk is served that aids in digestion.

Popular Kerala Cuisine

Here are some of the most popular dishes from Kerala, which are worth trying:

★ 1.  Idiyappam

- What is it? Stringed noodles eaten as breakfast
- Where to eat? A2B, Saravana Bhavan

A popular breakfast dish of Kerala, Idiyappam is often served with egg curry. The string noodles are not only filling, but also easy on the pocket. Often these noodles are made with rice flour and water, which are mixed together and passed through a narrow mold giving its familiar structure.

Read more about 7 Authentic Kerala Breakfasts

★ 2.  Pathiri

- What is it? Rice flour pancakes
- Where to eat? Best Pathiris are served at homes of Moplah communities, you can even order the dish from Fortune Hotel at Kozhikode

Among the breakfast of Kerala cuisine, Pathiri is one of the most popular Moplah dishes hailing from the Muslim communities of Kerala. These thin pancakes made from rice flours, preferred by many locals. The pancakes are usually served with spicy meat curries – something that will leave a pleasant taste in the mouth.

★ 3.  Karimeen Pollichathu

- What is it? Spicy fish curry
- Where to eat? Grand Pavilion restaurant in Kochi, Karimpumkala Restaurant in Kottayam

The official state dish of Kerala, the Karimeen Pollichathu is a beautiful dish. The main ingredients of the fish are picked up from the backwaters of the Alleppey. The fresh fish is marinated with spices, wrapped up in a banana leaf, and secured tightly with a thread. Parcel is then steamed in a steamer and served with rice.  

★ 4.  Thalassery Malabar Biryani

- What is it? Spicy meat and rice
- Where to eat? Paragon Restaurant or Mezban Restaurant in Calicut (Kozhikode)

Thalassery Malabar Biryani is traditional Kerala-style biryani. Although there are several varieties of biryani in India, this variant is very popular in this region. It is believed that during the middle ages, traders from the Middle East brought this dish along with them. Later on, they adapted the dish with the Indian spices and local ingredients.

Overall, the Kerala cuisine is a beautiful combination of Muslim, Christian, and Hindu culinary traditions. The usage of spices and local ingredients gives these dishes a distinct taste and texture. Interestingly, you can find beef – being sold openly - in some local eateries.

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