Though mainly known for its backwaters, palm-lined beaches and culturally united population, the state of Kerala has another ace up its sleeve – a unique, wonderful & colorful cuisine
From the filling culinary adventures of the Malabari Muslims, the vegetarian delights of the Thrissur & Palakkad region to the scrumptious seafood & beef dishes of central Christian and the flavorsome chicken curries of Thiruvananthapuram, The “Gods own Country” is undeniably a gourmands paradise – and we love it!
Granted, with so many varieties across many regions, we know that it’s nearly impossible to include all the Kerala “Must Have” foods in one shortlist.
Yet, that’s what we’ve tried to do here.
What’s Special in Traditional Kerala Dishes?
Inspired by a fusion of Malabari, French, and Arabian cuisines and enhanced with Kerala’s own unique culture, every dish you try in Kerala can be an experience in itself – one that will definitely leave you asking for more!
Spices like turmeric, pepper, chili, ginger, cloves, etc are a mainstay in Kerala cuisine. However, you’ll rarely find any dish with a spice overkill (balance, remember?).
Fresh coconut, curry leaves, shallots, green chilies, and coconut oil are almost always on the pot and so are Seasonal delicacies with Mangoes and Jack fruit.
Thanks to the big coastline, there are a lot of seafood cuisines like mussels, prawns, crabs, etc, for you to binge on as well.
Like most Indian cuisines, Kerala dishes have a very unique interplay of favor and textures: if you are new, it’ll take a while a while for your palate to adjust. Once it does though, you’ll probably be hooked forever – it’s that good!
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Visiting Kerala Soon? Don’t Leave Without Trying These Top 20 Traditional Foods
From strict vegetarian to delicious meaty dishes and palate-smacking seafood, the Kerala kitchen has everything you could ever ask for.
Here are 20 awesome foods from Kerala, which have formed the culinary identity of the state;
1. Puttu and Kadala Curry
The default breakfast for millions of Keralites, Puttu is a cylindrically shaped delight made by steaming rice powder in a mold with grated coconut in layers. It filling. It is usually served with Kadala curry by its side – a mildly spicy curry dish made with black chickpeas, spices, coconut milk, and fried shallots (yup, it’s the Kerala version of “Kala Chana”).
You can also have Puttu with ripe bananas and Pappadams. Granted, the dish might look simple, but trust us, it seriously packs a flavourful punch – and a healthy one at that. It’s also easy to digest and is mostly oil-free as well.
2. Appam & Mutta Curry
Wholesome and yummy, Appam is like a pancake with crispy edges but made from fermented rice flour, water, coconut milk, and a tiny bit of sugar. This crepe-like dish is best enjoyed with Mutta (egg) curry which adds a bit of spiciness to the otherwise bland taste of the Appam. The boiled eggs further add to the wholesomeness of the dish.
You can also have appam with potato stew or kadala curry. Chicken or beef curry also goes well with this versatile dish. Make sure to eat it while it’s hot though as appam can lose a lot of its taste & crunchiness once it cools down.
Also known as Noolappam in certain regions of the state, this noodle/cake dish is made by rice or wheat dough which has been pushed through a mold to give it its noodle design and is then steamed to perfection. Like Appam, this too has a bland taste and is, therefore, best enjoyed with spicy dishes like Mutta curry, kadala curry, or beef fry.
Those in the Malabar region, however, like their idiyappam with sweetened coconut milk. The unique stringy texture is the key highlight here. It’s mainly a Breakfast dish & can be found being consumed fervently in Kochi, Kottayam side.
4. Dosa Ghee Roast
Made from fermented rice flour batter and lentils, the Dosa Ghee roast is your typical Indian dosa – but with one major difference: it is cooked using pure ghee, and is roasted till it gets crispy and has a wonderful golden-brown hue. This is one of the original dishes of Kerala. It is very easy to cook and is light on the stomach.
The Dosa Ghee roast is best enjoyed with coconut chutney or the Sambar. The latter has time and again proved to be the most popular combination. Prepared right, the Ghee roast will offer sufficient crunchiness with a melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Perfect the healthiest food to ever come out of Kerala, Avial is made with mixed vegetables cooked in a thick paste of grounded coconut and coconut oil and is expertly flavored with turmeric and jeera. This dry dish is best had with white rice. Avial is a major mainstay in “Kerala sadya” – the traditional Kerala feast that is usually enjoyed at onam festivals.
Typically, the vegetables used in Avial include raw bananas; Elephant foot yam, drumstick, ash gourd, potato, French beans, carrot, green chili, snake gourd, and spices. In fact, you can add any green veggies to this dish, as long as they are not soft or pulpy.
6. Karimeeen Pollichathu
Without a doubt, Karimeen pollichathu is one of Kerala’s most stand-out dishes. It is prepared by marinating Karimeen – or the freshwater pearl spot fish – in a mixture of lemon juice, red chilies, and other spices and is then wrapped & baked/fried in plantain leaves. Along with giving the fish fry a unique smoky flavor, the cooking style gives the meat a melt in your mouth quality.
It is mostly enjoyed in Kerala’s famous backwater areas, especially in Christian households. You can enjoy it independently or with white rice. This dish is a massive hit with tourists as it introduces almost all of Kerala’s main spices in a mouth-watering way.
7. Nadan Kozhi Varuthathu (traditional chicken fry)
Served with onion, spices, garlic, and vinegar on a banana leaf, Nadan kozhi varuthathu is sort of like the KFC of Kerala. Marinated in a spicy gravy, the chicken is then deep-fried to a crispy golden brown color while still keeping it juicy and tender inside. Notably, the masala used will be fully handmade with freshly picked spices and other ingredients.
This meaty dish is best had with chappatis and Kerala Parotta (a layered flatbread made from Maida flour) appam or rice. This is one dish you can find in both high-end restaurants and street shops that also serve it with Dosa. Obviously, we prefer the latter.
8. Kerala Fish or Prawn Moilee
Inspired by Portuguese flavors, Kerala fish or prawn moilee is a thick stew made with fresh coconut milk. It is mainly prepared on a traditional Manchatti (earthen vessel) and stews lightly fried fish in coconut milk along with spices like turmeric, cinnamon, pepper, and green chilies to give it an authentically unique tangy flavor.
This dish is best relished with a generous helping of white rice. In some parts of Kerala, they put extra red chilies to make the dish really spicy and serve it with Kallu (toddy) – a white tinted alcoholic beverage made from young coconut trees.
9. Malabar Biriyani
Also known as Thalassery Biriyani, the Malabar biriyani is known for its intense flavors and aromatic nature that set fire to your palate. Cooked with Jeerakasala – a thin, small-grained fragrant rice variety, both the masala and meat is layered inside the dish, and is then slow-cooked inside a large container that has its lid sealed with dough.
The Malabar biriyani is notable for its melt-in-your-mouth texture. If meat isn’t your forte, you can also find it prepared with Fish or prawn. Keep in mind that this is a heavy dish so it’s best had with Salads or Raita – chopped onions with curd.
10. Erissery (Pumpkin and Lentil Curry)
If you are vegetarian and want something traditionally “keralean”, look no further than Erissery. Made from sliced yams, plantains, or slightly sweet pumpkin, this thick gravy-like dish feature a lot of spices, including chili, pepper, dried lentils, turmeric, cumin, garlic, and grated coconut. It is usually served on a bed of white rice once cooked.
Erissery is actually is a mainstay in religious celebrations like Onam or Vishu in Kerala. The richness of the dish gives a great way to fill your tummy while the sweet/savory flavor of it keeps your palate engaged and happy. Indeed, it’s one of OUR favorite Kerala recipes.
11. Parippu Curry
The Kerala version of Dal curry, the parippu curry is made with Small gram and ghee with an impressive amount of spices and chilies. Once prepared, it has a creamy texture that goes well with rice and is a great starter dish to cover before moving on to heavier dishes like chicken curry or varutharacha (fried coconut) sambar.
Kerala parippu curry has that unique “bite” courtesy of the chilies used and so this one’s a must-try for all spice-loving vegetarians. Tip: make sure to buy Parippu curry only from reputed restaurants as some may use Vanaspati instead of pure ghee & this will affect the taste.
12. Kallumakkaya Ularthiyathu (Mussel Stir Fry)
Inspired by the French and is an exclusive seafood item of Kerala, Mussel fry is definitely a must-try if you are ever in coastal Kerala. Freshly coat mussels are cleaned & are then cooked in a gravy featuring shallots, garlic, chilies, turmeric, garam masala, and a generous helping of grated coconut. After hours and hours of slow cooking, the dish will be ready.
Juicy and tender, the salty and spicy mussel meat will literally melt in your mouth after a slight hint of chewiness. It’s best experienced in person, and preferably with something alcoholic by its side. Trust us; you’ll be licking the curry off your finger in no time.
13. Nadan (Traditional) Beef curry
Nowadays, Kerala is the only state in India where you can binge on beef without getting judged (or in some cases lynched). The Nadan Beef curry is revered for its thick spicy gravy and tenderized meat which is slow-cooked to perfection. The spices include ginger, shallots, pepper, garlic and tomatoes, and some fried coconut pieces to give you that smokey “kick” in your palate.
The Parotta beef combo is legendary. However, you can also have your beef curry with Chappatis and white rice if you prefer that. Another killer combo to try is Beef and Tapioca mash. In our opinion, the best beef dries are best found on Kochi and Ernakulam sides.
14. Kerala Ela Sadya (feast)
If Kerala cuisine is a kingdom, then surely Ela Sadya would be the king! Served on a large banana leaf, the 100% vegetarian sadya features more options than you can count. Accompanying white rice, you can find pickles, papadams, Sambar, Erissery, Rasam, Curd, banana chips, Avial, Theeyal (shallots curry), thoran, and payasam and a lot more drool-worthy dishes in one place.
Kerala ela sadya is mostly enjoyed on events like Birthdays, anniversaries, etc. It’s also a mainstay in celebrations like Onam and Vishu. There are special rules to enjoying the feast, like which item to be had first, to what side the leaf should be pointing to, etc…
15. Ada Prahhaman
Sweet, creamy, and fragrant, ada prathaman is a unique Payasam (kheer) variety that chiefly contains pieces of steamed rice batter (ADA), coconut milk, ghee, and jaggery or sugar. It’s a high-sweet dish so diabetics stay far away. The Ada prathaman is mainly served alongside ela sadya as a dessert on occasions like Onam, Vishu, and happy life events.
In some parts of Kerala, this dessert is also known as “Palada” payasam. On many temples, this is offered as Prasadam (offering) to deities & is served to the public after poojas. There are several variants to ada pradhaman per region though the core ingredients remain the same.
16. Kappa Kuzachathu
Once considered a food for the humble folk, Kappa and Meen curry combo can be now found even in 5-star restaurants. Kappa or Tapioca is boiled, smashed into a smooth texture, and is infused with spices like turmeric, red/green chilies, and mustard and is served hot with pickles or famously alongside the spicy Kerala fish curry.
For the authentic kappa & fish curry, the toddy shops near the backwaters are the place to be. Together with Kallu, it’s a killer combo – one that will leave you asking for more. You can also enjoy kappa with Beef or chicken curry and Mussel fries.
17. Pazam Porri (Banana Fritters)
A popular tea-time snack all across Kerala, Pazam porri or fried banana are exactly what they sound like – ripe bananas that have been cut length-wise, which are dipped in Maida flour batter and is then deep-fried to a brilliant golden brown state. It’s a highly yummy banana recipe but can be a bit too oily – mind you.
Keralites love to have pazam porri with their evening milk chai. Some modern restaurants also serve it with vanilla ice creams. Either way, it’s an excellent snack for those lazy evenings. There is also a non-sweet version of this dish called “Ethakka Appam” in certain parts of the state.
18. Unni Appam
Yet another banana-based evening snack, Unniappam is the comfort food for millions of Malayalees all over the world. Mostly prepared at home, these are made from rice powder filled with mashed bananas, jaggery, and ghee-roasted coconut pieces. Their unique round shape comes from them getting fried in coconut oil atop special iron molds.
Unniappams goes excellent with tea of every kind. It’s also a popular prasadam (offering) at Sri Krishna Temples all over the state. It is mostly prepared in bulk and can be found in most bakeries across the state. Like Pazam Porri, this too can be had with Vanilla ice cream if you want.
19. Mutta Mala
Popular with the Malabar crowd, the popular evening dessert Mutta Mala literally translates to egg necklace. It’s a 3 ingredient recipe that consists of Eggs, Milk, and sugar. The batter made from mixing them is put through a mold to make them string-like and is then dropped & cooked in a boiling syrup made from a water & egg white, giving it that distinct necklace-like shape.
Mutta Mala is a bit like a cross between a pancake and a jalebi but with a mildly sweet, creamier top-side and chewy bottom. Originated in Arab and central Asia, Mutta mala is a very popular Ramzan and iftar dish. It’s available in almost every bakery in the Kozhikode region.
20. Suleimani Chai
Another Malabari special with strong middle-east connections, the Suleimani Chai is a popular drink unlike any other – it is essentially a black tea variant but with spices like cardamom, grated ginger, pepper, and jaggery mixed with tea powder infused into them. In some households, they also mix lemon juice to make this traditional Malabar drink even better
Obviously, this is a highly refreshing and tasty non-alcoholic drink. It can also help boost your metabolism and is great for your digestion after a hearty meal. In typical Muslim households, Guests are always welcomed with a glass of Suleimani – that’s the tradition.
Well, that’s it, folks. These are the top 20 traditional foods of Kerala that you must make sure to try at least once when you are in Kerala.
While this list in itself may seem pretty expansive, trust us it’s not! Kerala kitchens have a whole lot more to offer our tummies. Be it fish, mutton, or local vegetables, there are plenty of Kerala dishes available to keep you wanting for more.
That being said, these 20 dishes we listed above should be plenty enough to give you a decent gastronomy tour of God’s own country & get you acquainted with the key flavors of the state in a big way.
So what did you think of these Kerala dishes? Which ones are your favorites? Lets us know on the comments below