Kerala is a beautiful state on the south-westerly tip of India, surrounded by lush green hills to the east and with 590km (370mi) of Malabar coastline to the west. But with a climate known for its heavy rainfall– the area sees two monsoon seasons a year – how does this affect the food eaten by the people of Kerala? And what dishes are typically enjoyed over the course of a day?
The region is famous for its waterways, with a vast number of rivers, lakes and canals – not to mention the coastline – keeping around 220,000 fishermen in business, and locals supplied with a steady supply of fresh fish. The area’s paddy fields and coconut groves are also fed by the abundance of water, meaning that rice and coconut feature in various forms.
To get a better idea of the foods eaten in Kerala, let’s take a look at some of the most traditional and widely-eaten dishes that appear on tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner – all eaten using your right hand, of course.
Puttu – This satisfying dish consists of ground rice and grated coconut, steamed and shaped into a cylinder using a special metal puttu maker. Served with either a creamy chickpea curry or ripe banana and jackfruit, it makes the perfect hand-held morsel.
Appam – Eaten widely across the southern Indian states, these pancakes taste sweet at first but leave a salty, tangy after-taste due to the fermented rice batter they are made with. With a crisp outer layer and soft centre, they can be served with anything from vegetable or meat stews to chutney.
Kozhukkatta – These sweet, rice-flour dumplings open up to reveal a delicious filling of grated coconut and jaggery, a type of dark cane sugar eaten across Asia and Africa.
Kappa Meen Curry – Tapioca is a key part of the Keralen diet – here, it is cooked with onion, garlic and turmericand mashed with coconut to make Kappa. This is then served as the ideal accompaniment to spicy fish (meen curry).
Sadya – Coming from the word ‘sadhya’, meaning banquet, sadya consists of a variety of vegetarian curries, pickles and boiled rice served on a large banana leaf. Each dish has its own designated place on the leaf, which diners eat with their hands in a specific order.
Kanji Payar – Eaten for dinner in most Keralen households, this soupy rice dish is often paired with payarthoran, an accompaniment made with mung beans and grated coconut. Milk is sometimes added to the kanji payar to make it extra creamy.
Thalassery Biriyani – Each region of India has its own take on biriyani, the aromatic rice dish. The main difference with this version – also known as Keralen or Malabar biriyani – is that it uses Jeerakasal or Khaima rice instead of Basmati. The rice is slow-cooked in a pressure cooker with chicken, spices, and cashew nuts.
If you’re in the UK and feel inspired to try some of these traditional Keralen dishes for yourself, head to one of London’s fine dining Indian restaurants – whether it’s lunch or dinner that you’re after, the city’s most highly-trained chefs will be able offer something truly authentic.