Biryani in large pot/plate
Food,  India

12 Traditional Foods of Kerala

The state of Kerala is also known as God’s Own country for its beautiful green landscape & the crisscross of rivulets known as backwaters. It is also popularly known as the Land of Spices, as all the spices that enhance a dish are grown here locally. Used in the traditional foods of Kerala.

The cuisine of Kerala is highly influenced by its location- being a state with a large coastline, rice, coconuts & seafood are the staple ingredients used. 

Spices like mustard seeds, turmeric, tamarind, black pepper, cardamom, clove, ginger, cinnamon, and asafoetida are used to bring out the flavours in the food.

You might be able to taste coconut in most dishes in Kerala, owing to the fact that mixing grated coconut and its milk in food for thickening and flavouring is a common culinary practice here in India.

The variety of rice used is healthier- red semi polished parboiled rice, so one can eat guilt free. 

For those not counting calories, the cakes here are excellent- especially the plum cake at Christmas time is a must have if you are around.

Me being a pure vegetarian, I can vouch that the vegetarian food is just as mouth-watering so make sure you try it.

Sadya

Sadya meal, presented on a banana leaf, all sorts of dishes. One of the traditional foods of Kerala.
Sadya meal

Kerala Sadya is an elaborate vegetarian lunch feast prepared during festivals and celebrations & is served on a banana leaf. It is an assortment of hot steaming red rice served with thoran, aviyal, pachadi, pulissery, olan, sambar, varavu & payasam for dessert. Pappadam & banana complete the meal.

Sadya is a special feast. During major festivals like Onam, Vishu, its spread can go up to 30 dishes at a time!

While the most extensive sadya is served at festival or marriage occasions, there are quite a few restaurants who serve the sadya with an assortment of 10-12 items on banana leaves on a daily basis.

Appam and Stew

Appam and stew, stew in a bowl, appam on a plate and one lose appam on a plate in front
Appam and stew

Appam with stew, one of the most traditional Kerala dishes is light, flavoursome and yummy.  Made from fermented rice flour, coconut milk & coconut water, it is a rice pancake with a soft and thick centre and a crispy, paper thin outside. Whatever you eat it with, appam will increase that dish’s taste value beyond hundred! However, it is usually paired with a southern style stew where vegetables or meat  is cooked in a  rich, creamy coconut curry which will leave you asking for more! It most certainly makes me wish I had a bigger stomach to fill it with all of this deliciousness. 

Appam can be eaten with vegetarian gravies such as stew, and can also be a wonderful sidekick for non-vegetarian fare such as chicken curry, mutton, and Kerala’s favourite, beef.
Best when consumed fresh, appam can lose its taste as it cools down.

Idiyappam with curry

A slight variation to the appam is idiyappam-  made of rice flour, salt and water with a number of thin strands or sevai entwined together to make the lovely texture that this dish bears. 

Idiyappam is prepared with rice flour, water and salt. For this version of appam, numerous strands of vermicelli are entwined together. Commonly known as noolappam, this Kerala dish can be paired with almost any curry and still taste great!

You can eat it with all kinds of curries, but it tastes best with Egg Curry. A spicy curry with boiled eggs forms the perfect foil to the otherwise bland Idiyappam.
Idiyappam can alternatively be teamed up with stew as well.

Dosa

Dosa, dosa on a plate, folded, with 2 small cups with sauce on top of it
Dosa

Food connects us all so if you are looking to eat the best food in Kerala then do try dosa Ghee roast with Sambar which will get you lost in its amazing flavours. Counted amongst the ‘World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods’, dosa and sambar make for a kickass combination!

Prepared with fermented rice and lentils, the ghee roast dosa is first cooked to the t in pure ghee, and then roasted till it gets as crisp as it can. Simple yet scrumptious.

Idli Sambhar

Idli, a lot of idli nicely presented in a shallow bowl, with one in the middle. One of the delicious traditional foods of Kerala.
Idli

Idli Sambhar is one of the best foods in Kerala which is good to go for breakfast and is a rather healthy choice as well. Perhaps the most popular breakfast option, idli-sambar are fondly eaten in not just all households in Kerala, but everywhere else in India too!
The perfect combo of fermented rice cakes and a yummy tangy curry of aromatic spices and vegetables along with lentils. Apart from being a favourite of foodies for its taste, idli sambar is also a nutritious combo.

Despite being north Indians I think it’s safe to say that idli-sambhar is my family’s favourite breakfast! And can you even blame them? Nothing beats a plate of soft warm idlis with steaming sambhar and just a little dollop of chutney. Perfect. 

Puttu kadala

Puttu and Kadala curry is considered to be one of the most popular authentic Kerala dishes. This dish isn’t as common as dosas or idlis in the other parts of India.
A popular breakfast preparation out of the many Kerala dishes, Puttu is a cylindrical shaped steamed rice cake that is cooked in a mould with grated coconut. It can be eaten with ripe bananas, grated coconut, and kadala curry

A widely loved combination, Puttu and Kadala curry is a common vegetarian breakfast savoured in homes and restaurants alike, across Kerala. Puttu is cooked with rice powder mixed with coconut and water, which is then steamed in cylindrical steel or coconut shaped mould. Kadala curry (also known as Chole or Chana) is a slightly spicy curry of black chickpeas cooked in thick, aromatic coconut gravy. The combo is easy to cook and therefore is the best recipe for a quick and healthy breakfast.

Avial

One of the most nourishing vegetarian dishes, Avial is made with mixed vegetables cooked in a paste of ground coconut and flavoured with coconut oil. It is an essential component of the traditional Kerala feast, called sadya. This is a comparatively dry dish which is eaten with rice. An interesting story behind the origin of Avial is that it was originated by Bhima (from Hindu mythology). Who chopped up all vegetables he could find and then cooked them together. When he was forced to cook during his exile.

Kerala parotta

Parotta is bread made from flour. The dough is divided into long strips, which are then rolled together and flattened to form a multi-layered base.

This is a delicious street food originating from the Malabar region of the coast. It has a crumbly and flaky texture which melts in your mouth and leaves behind a unique taste. It is loved by everybody!

Parippu Curry (Dal Curry)

If you are searching for some good easy on the stomach foods in Kerala then you must try out this curry. Though simple, it is actually one of the yummiest & healthiest Kerala food items. The Dal served in Kerala is made of small gram and ghee with a decent amount of spices and chillies.

Biryani

Biryani in large pot/plate
Biryani

A very famous dish among the Malabari Muslims is this variation of Biryani that originated in Kerala. Although the elements of meat and spices are similar to the other varieties, how this biryani stands out from the others is by the choice of its rice. They use a unique type of rice grain known as Khyma, a small- grain thin rice. A good portion of spices are used in the preparation with very little chilli. The biryani is then cooked on the traditional dum post being sealed, and the top of the pot is layered with hot charcoal.

Payasam

Payasam, in a deep bowl. One of the traditional foods of Kerala.
Payasam

A traditional dessert, prepared during the festival of Onam or any other special occasion. Is a simple rice pudding or kheer, made in almost all the households across Kerala. The most real version of this dish is made from rice ada (which is easily available in any local Kerala grocery store), sugar, milk and ghee. After all, any occasion is incomplete without the tasty payasam!

Banana Chips

Banana chips on a plate
Banana chips

Banana chips are a favourite not only amongst Malayalis but also people from around the world. These crunchy yellow chips are made from raw plantains which are thinly sliced. Left to dry in the sun, and then deep fried. A regular in all households, it is one of the most famous tea-time snacks served around Kerala.

This is the fourth post in our food from different countries series, the third was about Bulgarian Foods. Now I just want to go to Kerala to try and taste these all for myself. When in India, I’ll will make a stop at some of the waterfalls in Asia and Forts of the world. Nilima has done a good job in introducing us in traditional foods of Kerala.

Author’s Bio

Nilima, behind her a setting or rising sun above the sea. She has sunglasses on
Nilima

I am Nilima Gautam, also known as The Traveling CA.
A Chartered Accountant and Banker by profession but a traveler by passion.

I’m always cooking up plans for my next trip. Or reading about a new place to eventually plan my next trip. 🙂
Find me on Instagram @thetravelingca and Pinterest for more!

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