7 Must-Have Dishes In Kerala: Try More Than Just The Dosa!

13th April 2014

Southern India states each have with their own unique identity, culture, language, customs and cuisine. Unfortunately, many North Indians categorize them as the same without realizing how distinctly different they are. One of the best ways to understand this distinction is by eating the food. There will always be certain dishes typical to Kerala which might be similar but are never the same in other states.

A recent trip to God’s own country has opened my eyes and after spending 15 glorious days frolicking in spice gardens, tea plantations, lazing on houseboats eating home cooked meals, badgering every chef I met with questions and eating off numerous banana leaves, I think I’m able to list out some of the typical Kerala dishes and foods that they enjoy.

Disclaimer: There isn’t a single idli or dosa that made it to this list- shocking but true.

1. Avial (v):  This is one of the most popular dishes found on a traditional Kerala feast called the Sadya. Avial is a preparation of chopped vegetables cooked in curd and coconut and seasoned with curry leaves and coconut oil, staple ingredients in any food cooked in Kerala. This doesn’t come in a gravy form but it’s not a dry dish either. No festive meal or feast is complete without this coconut and curd concoction.

2. Thoran (v): Another popular dish which can be found on the Sadya as well as at mealtime in several homes is Thoran. Traditionally this is a dish of chopped vegetables with curry leaves, mustard seeds and the main ingredient, grated coconut. It can be made with carrots, cabbage, beans but all chopped and cooked with grated coconut. Their equivalent to a regular ghar ka sabzi but with coconut.

3. Meen Moilee: Meen Moilee translates to Fish curry which has a yellowish- green colour and usually prepared with local river fish but tastes fantastic even with a red snapper. The curry staples like coconut milk and spices are the same but the copious amounts of turmeric give it it’s luscious colour. Of everything I tasted on this trip, with this dish, it was love at first bite. If you find yourself in Kerala, please don’t deny yourself a well made Meen Moilee.

4. Payasam (v): India might be the land of sweet and confectionary but oddly enough Kerala doesn’t seem to have much of a sweet tooth. While you will find valiant but misguided attempts at gulab jamuns and pedas, they are not typical Kerala desserts. . Every meal in Kerala will end with a traditional dessert of Payasam which is a sweet dish made of rice or semolina, sugar/ jaggery and milk. There are over a hundred variations of this dessert by adding wheat or different fruits like banana or jackfruit but the main ingredient is the milk. This is one dish you will find on practically every menu in Kerala.

5. Unniappam (v): This small plump fried snack is made from rice, jaggery and coconut and while it’s a popular item found in temples as prayer offerings it’s also easily available at local tea shops. Unni appam reminds me of a Parsi style bhakra as it’s very similar in texture. However, it is completely different in taste. Unni appam literally translates to “small rice cakes”.

6. Malabar Parotta (v): This is possibly the best type of paratha I have ever eaten. It’s unlike the ones you get up north. This paratha has no stuffing at all; it’s soft, moist, golden in color and quite flakey. It’s delightful to just nibble at on its own but the secret to enjoying a good paratha is to dunk it in a bowl full of curry.

7. Appam and Stew: Appams are thin rice pancakes which are eaten with almost anything, especially curries. It’s another equivalant to the roti and served with chicken stew which is basically the meat cooked in coconut milk with added spices. This is a popular breakfast dish in Kerala. The stew can be made with any meat , fish or vegetables but traditionally it’s made with chicken or mutton. Unlike other curries there isn’t any heavy spice flavour so it’s delicate enough to be appreciated first thing in the morning.

In case this is your introduction to Kerala cuisine, here are a few tips that will help you understand:
1. Everything has coconut and I mean EVERYTHING.

2. Tender coconut soufflé isn’t typically a Kerala tradition but it might as well be one because almost every hotel will have their variation of it.

3. Banana is popular because it’s found in abundance. It’s served anyway possible. They even eat steamed banana for breakfast, though the most fun is the slightly spiced crispy banana chips!

4. Jackfruit is their favourite fruit after banana and is cooked six ways to Sunday. It’s a main dish, a dessert, a starter, ice cream, souffle (provided they’re in season) and of course, the ever popular fried jackfruit chips which are crunchy and probably the best way to eat the fruit.

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