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Poster on local food of Kerala

The western coast of India, especially Kerala, has been known for its spices for centuries. The commercial importance of spices in the global market enticed the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British to take long, arduous sea trips to India. Therefore, when exploring Kerala, you must make it a point that you relish dishes that lavishly use spices that will fill your tummy, mind, and soul.

Kerala has long been known for its spice-rich cuisine too! Travellers who visited Kerala in the past left many positive “reviews” about the food and eating habits of Keralites. However, determining which of Kerala’s delectable dishes are “authentically local” will be difficult, given the state’s long history of exposure to travellers worldwide, foreign cultures, and cuisines.

Top Five  dishes you must try when you are in Kerala

  1. 1. Have Appam and Egg roast for breakfast
  2. 2. Enjoy Kerala Sadya with tons of vegetable curries
  3. 3. Relish the local’s favourite: Kerala Parota & Beef Fry
  4. 4. Go for Thallassery Biriyani at least once
  5. 5. Pazam Pori & Chai
Photo of Appam and egg roast in a bowl
Appam and Egg roast (pc : Wikipedia commons)

1.Appam and Egg Roast

This is a quintessential Kerala breakfast to sample. I’m a big fan of this dish and always recommend it to anyone new to Kerala. The allure of well-made Appam (crafted from fermented rice paste), with its chewy center and crispy edges, is irresistible. Vella Appam (meaning White Bread) pairs exquisitely with an Egg Roast, rich in spices, or a vegetable stew that’s indulgently coconut milk-laden and subtly flavored with ginger and green chillies. The stew can feature either meat or vegetables. Appam and Egg Roast is a favoured breakfast choice in numerous Syrian Christian households and is readily available in most Kerala eateries.

Is Appam originally from Israel?

Yes, a recent study reveals that the origin of appam traces back to the arrival of Jews from the Middle East in the 1st century AD.

Photo of Kerala sadhya on banana leaf
Traditional Kerala Sadya (Photo by Pally Planet)

2. Kerala Sadya: The Ultimate Vegetarian Feast

Sadya is a vegetarian feast that includes everything from appetisers to desserts. It can have up to 28 items. Sadya is usually served on plantain leaves. It will have parboiled red rice, multiple side dishes, savoury pickles, and desserts, and all served at various intervals throughout the meal. This dish is the main item during the Onam festival of Kerala (September every year)

In a Kerala Sadhya, parippu, a form of liquid curry produced from small gram and ghee, is served first, followed by boiled rice. Then serves sambar, a South Indian classic that’s a family favourite. Vegetable stew is made with almost any combination of vegetables you have on hand. They are then cooked in a sauce of ground lentils, onions, chilli peppers, ground coriander, and turmeric seasoned with asafoetida.

Complementary foods are also crucial in a Kerala sadya. Avial is a popular dish that combines various vegetables, coconut paste, and green chillies. Raw curry leaves, and fresh coconut oil are added immediately when the dish is ready to improve the flavour. Another important companion food is thoran. It is prepared with minced string beans, cabbage, radish, or grammes mixed with shredded coconut. The mix will then be seasoned with a tad of red chilli powder and turmeric powder. Another main dish, olan, is prepared with pumpkin and red gram cooked in coconut milk sauce.

Payasams, a traditional Kerala dessert, is served next. Payasams come in various flavours, known as Pal Payasam, Palada Pradhaman, and Kadalaparippu Pradhaman. Payasam is a simple pudding comprised of sweet brown molasses or milk, coconut milk, rice or wheat and spices. The cashew nuts and raisins are then sprinkled on top. Pazham, a ripe yellow plantain, is commonly served alongside it.

You will experience a riot of various tastes in your mouth when you eat a proper Kerala sadya. It is a gastronomical extravaganza you must experience when you visit India.

Parotta and Beef fry
Kerala Parota can be eaten with meat or vegetian curries (pc Wikipedia commons)

3. Kerala Parotta and Beef Fry

No dish is as widely available and popular in Kerala as parotta. Parotta, a multi-layered flatbread claimed to originate in India’s Malabar region, combines maida (plain flour), egg (in some preparations), oil or ghee, and water. After pounding, the dough forms a spiral ball with thin layers. The ball is flattened into a pancake, fried in ghee, and served with beef fry or curry. Beef curry features stewed beef in gravy with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices like bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns, and star anise.

Vegetarians can opt for kadala curry (black chickpeas) or veggie stew. Parotta and egg roast are popular in central Kerala, while Parotta and fish curry are preferred in the north.

Available from street stalls to five-star hotels, this dish is consumable anytime. I STRONGLY advise sampling it in Kerala

Photograph of Thalassery Chicken Biriyani
Thalassery Mutton/Chicken Biriyani (pc Wikipedia commons)

4.Thalassery Biryani

Thalassery, a small town in northern Kerala, boasts a unique cuisine that harmoniously fuses Arabian, Indian, Persian, and European culinary traditions. The region’s extensive maritime history and cultural connections to Arabia have given rise to the distinctive Thalassery cuisine.

Thalassery Biryani stands out among biryanis and holds a special place in my heart. Unlike the typical basmati rice used in other biryani variations, Thalassery Biryani employs a special type of rice known as Kaima rice (Kaimal jeerakasala). Various versions of Thalassery Biryani exist, with chicken biryani being my personal favorite. If you’re enjoying an extended stay in Kerala, I recommend trying the mutton, beef, and prawn biryani options as well.

Although it originated in Thalassery, this dish has gained popularity throughout Kerala. When ordering, be certain the restaurant offers authentic Thalassery biryani. The Kaima biryani rice and masala are first cooked separately. The meat is then slow-cooked with the masala and layered with rice before the container is sealed with dough. The cooking vessel is then placed over the fire until everything is perfectly done. Upon completion, it’s served with raita (yogurt), pickles, and other condiments.

Chain and Banana fritters
Banana fritters pair well with afternoon tea.(pc Nish Kitchen)

5. Pazam Pori and Chai

In Kerala, it’s customary for people from all walks of life to gather for evening tea in the afternoon. You’re invited to partake in this tradition. If you order tea, it’s likely to come blended with milk. If you prefer black tea, make sure to request “Kattan Chai.” Tea is a cherished afternoon beverage, often enjoyed alongside another Kerala specialty dish, “Pazam Pori.”

Pazham Pori, also known as Ethakka Appam, are delectable banana fritters traditionally savored as a tea-time snack. This treat is widely available in teashops across Kerala. Pazham Pori consists of ripe banana slices dipped in plain flour and fried in oil, resulting in a golden-hued delight that perfectly complements a cup of tea.