Kerala is a gastronome’s paradise that caters to diverse palates. From an array of spicy and tasty non-vegetarian food to a delectable spread of vegetarian dishes and sumptuous desserts, local cuisine often prove to be a great treat, especially those who wish to explore the Malabar region’s specialities. Local food scene is heady blend of recipes created using different styles of cooking drawn from Muslims, Syrian Christians and Hindus residing here. Kerala holidays are just not complete if you haven’t tasted at least a few dishes out of our pick of top 15 foods for you to try while you are here.
For hardcore non-vegetarians, the seafood preparations and meat recipes will leave you spoilt for choice. As for vegans, a multitude of vegetarian dishes lavishly seasoned with coconut oil, curry leaves and other spices wait to be tasted. If you aren’t already aware, coconut finds a heavy use in regional cuisine! Traditional sweets laced with cardamom, cloves and dry fruits are bound leave you craving for more.
- Karimeen Polichathu
The Pearl Spot aka Karimeen marinated in a fiery mix of shallots, ginger, garlic, red chillies, lime juice and curry, is then packed in plaintain leaves and seared to perfection to create one of the mouth-watering delicacies of this region.
- Naadan Beef With Malabar Parotta
Soft multi layered spiral bread made from dough of plain flour, ghee and water (optional egg), is cooked using ghee and served with beef cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, garlic and onions and spiced with cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns among others.
- Malabar Biriyani
Speciality of this dish is the local small-grained rice used for the preparation and the cooking style. Meat is first cooked with the necessary spices and rice is cooked separately. Cooked rice and the cooked meat are arranged in alternate layers, along with the Biriyani masala in a large vessel, which is then sealed tight. Hot coals are placed over the lid for the flavours to blend, resulting in a dish that will leave your taste buds tingling.
- Chemmeen /Meen Moilee
The abundance of fish and prawns in Kerala is evident from the number of fish-based dishes you find on the menu. Prawns, Seer fish, or Kingfish is cooked in coconut milk with a dash of Malabar tamarind aka Gambooge, along with green chillies plus the regular spices – cinnamon, pepper cloves and turmeric.
- Naadan Kozhi (Varuthathu / Porichadhu)
Despite the popularity of seafood, there is an ardent following for fried chicken either tossed up with onion, chilli,garlic, coriander and vinegar or deep fried with a coating of ginger-garlic paste, chilly powder, curry leaves and a dash of fennel seeds. This spicy crunchy mouth-watering dish is sure to bring tears as well.
- Puttu with Kadala Curry
One of the signature dishes of Kerala, this staple cylindrical steamed rice cake laden with grated coconut served with black chick peas (Kadala) curry made using coconut milk and shallots and signature spices. There are several variations to both steamed cake and the side-dish as well. The Puttu is also relished with grated coconut and ripe plantains.
This is a simple yet sumptuous stew/curry from sweet pumpkin, plantain or yam and dried lentils. Other ingredients such as grated coconut, chilli /pepper and cumin impart the characteristic flavour to this dish, which is an integral part of festival menus and is served with rice.
- Vella Appam /Stew
This enticingly soft white pancake made from fermented rice batter has a thick center and crisp flaky periphery. While vegetarians can opt for a rich and tasty vegetable stew to go with the Appam, the pancake tastes good with almost any side dish cooked up with generous helping of coconut milk and mild spices.
When in Kerala, enjoying a full course vegetarian meal served on a fresh plantain leaf is a unique experience. Small portions of delectable dishes are served along the entire length of the leaf, while rice and sweets are served beneath them. Avial, Theeyal, Olan, Kalan, Payasam, and deep fried appalams are but a few dishes on this course.
- Idiyappam / Thenga Pal
This fluffy, soft, delicate, intricate web of steamed fermented rice batter is not a pleasure to behold but to taste as well. Served usually with coconut milk, these noodle cakes go well with almost all side dishes to make a great breakfast.
- Palada Pradhaman
This payasam or kheer is a sumptuous delicious sweet prepared using milk, sugar, ghee and spices. Rice ada is cooked in milk till it achieves a thick consistency and slight pinkish colour and then garnished with dry fruits.
- Pazham Nirachadhu / Porichadhu
Ripe plaintains are filled with coconut and jaggery, dipped in flour and then deep fried for a tasty snack during festivals.
- Chakka Pradhaman
Very similar to Palada pradaman, but Jackfruit slices replace rice Ada and jaggery is used instead of sugar to cook up a delicious thick kheer.
This steamed sweet pancake is made from a simple mix of milk, coconut milk, jaggery, eggs and sugar and seasoned with cardamom.
A mix of rice flour, jaggery, ripe bananas and small pieces of roasted coconut seasoned with cardamom powder are deep fried in oil or ghee to cook up lipsmacking unniappams. Readily available in most temples in the form of prasad, these mini, sweet, one-bite appams can soon prove an addiction, especially for those with a sweet tooth!
Kerala Tourism regularly organizes culinary and food festivals in different parts of the country to showcase Kerala cuisine and lifestyle as a part of its promotional activities. Do visit these events to sample the choicest of dishes from the Malabar region!