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Foreign influence on the cuisine of Kerala is marked, with each religion from Muslims to Syrian Christians developing their own cuisine and style of preparation. The Moplah cuisine of the Malabar region has a distinct flavour, borrowed from the traders who regularly visited the region. Kerala cuisine has an abundance of coconut, rice, tapioca and spices like black pepper, cloves, cinnamon and ginger. The Portuguese introduced cassava, now widely eaten in Kerala. The region is also famous for its Sadhya, served at the Hindu festival Onam and consisting of boiled rice and a host of vegetarian dishes on a banana leaf. Kerala cuisine also features a lot of sea food like fish, prawns, mussels and crabs because of its long coastline.
Don’t leave Kerala without trying…
Puttu and kadala curry
This is a breakfast staple eaten all over the state. Puttu is a cylindrical steamed rice cake cooked in a mould with grated coconut. It’s usually served with kadala curry, a dish of black chickpeas made with shallots, spices and coconut milk, that can also be served with ripe bananas and grated coconut.
Appam with stew
Appam is a Keralan staple made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk. It’s similar to a thin pancake with crispy edges. These crepe-like bowls are made from fermented rice flour, coconut milk, coconut water and a little sugar. Ishtu or stew is a derivative of the European stew and consists of coconut milk, cinnamon, cloves and shallots, eaten with appams. The stew may also feature mango pieces, vegetables, chicken or lamb. The addition of aromatic whole spices, ginger and fresh coconut milk enhance the natural flavor of the vegetables. The crucial ingredient is fresh coconut milk, which lends a sweet flavor.
Karimeen pollichathu (fish)
This is one of Kerala’s traditional delicacies. Karimeen or pearl spot fish is a speckled fish commonly found in the backwaters of this state. This is traditionally a Syrian Christian delicacy but has become part of Kerala’s rich cuisine. Pearl spot fish is marinated in a mixture of lemon juice, red chillies, and other ingredients, wrapped and baked in plantain leaves, giving it a unique flavour.
Malabar Parotta with Kerala beef curry
Layered flat bread that originated in the Malabar region called Parotta is made by kneading maida (plain flour), egg (in some recipes), oil or ghee and water. The dough is beaten and later shaped into a spiral with thin layers. The ball is rolled flat and roasted into a Parotta with ghee. This is then eaten with beef curry – pieces of beef simmered in a curry made with tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices like bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns and star anise.
Erissery or pumpkin and lentil curry
This is a popular curry in Kerala, made from either raw plantains or sliced yams. It also usually includes slightly sweet pumpkin that has been boiled in water with salt, chillies or pepper, dried lentils, grated coconut, turmeric powder, cumin seeds and garlic, served on a bed of rice. It appears on most menus at religious festivals like Onam.
Palada payasam (dessert)
A sweet rice kheer prepared with palada is a delicacy made in almost all Kerala households during the festival of Onam and many other special occasions. There are many variations of it, however, the traditional recipe uses only basic ingredients like rice ada, milk, sugar and ghee. Rice ada is easily available in Indian Kerala grocery stores.
Kerala prawn curry (chemmeen curry)
This is a signature dish of the state – a prawn curry from the Malabar region made with a blend of fenugreek, black mustard and fennel seeds, coconut milk and green chilli. It also includes a special ingredient called kudampuli (also known as brindleberry) to give it a sour taste, plus it uses marinated prawns, drumsticks and raw mango to give it a spicy, tangy flavour.
Try making your own Keralan prawn curry
A rice biriyani is the most common dish of the Muslim community. Thalassery sea port was a centre for the export of spices where European, Arab and Malabar cultures came together and influenced the cuisine. Thalassery biriyani uses a unique, fragrant, small-grained, thin rice variety named kaima. The biriyani masala and cooked rice are arranged in layers inside the dish. Meat is cooked with the masala on a low heat and layered with rice before the lid of the container is sealed with dough. Hot coal or charcoal is then placed above the lid.
Try making your own version of biriyani
A famous Keralan fish stew made with coconut milk, which is a typical Syrian Christian delicacy. The curry is usually prepared in a traditional manchatti (earthen vessel) and stews lightly fried fish in coconut milk, and spices like turmeric, pepper, cinnamon and cloves along with fresh green chillies to give it a tangy taste. The fish (usually kingfish or seer fish) is marinated with oil, turmeric, red chili powder, lemon juice and salt for 30 minutes before being used in the curry.
Banana fritters (dessert)
Pazham pori or Ethakka appam are juicy banana fritters tha feature as a traditional tea time snack. They’re available throughout Kerala and are simply ripe bananas coated with plain flour and deep-fried in oil.
Have you sampled authentic South Indian cuisine? We’d love to hear your foodie experiences. We have lots more for gourmet globetrotters in our travel section.