From the lip-smacking payasam to the aromatic curries, the list for the famous food of Kerala is endless. Find the most popular ones!
Famous traditional foods of Kerala
Kerala, a state in South India, boasts a rich and diverse food culture that is renowned for its unique flavors and traditional preparation methods. The foundation of Kerala’s cuisine lies in its abundant use of rice, coconut, and an array of spices. Meals are typically served on banana leaves, adding an eco-friendly touch to the dining experience.
One of the most iconic dish of this state is sadya, a vegetarian feast featuring a variety of curries, pickles, rice, and desserts, all served on a single banana leaf. Coconut is a staple ingredient in Kerala cuisine, appearing in various forms, from coconut oil for cooking to grated coconut in curries and chutneys.
Seafood is also a significant component, given Kerala’s extensive coastline, and dishes like fish curry and karimeen pollichathu (spiced pearl spot fish) are beloved favorites. Its food culture is a delightful blend of aromatic spices, regional specialties, and a deep connection to tradition, making it a must-experience aspect of the state’s vibrant heritage.
Sadhya is the first answer that you get if you ask any Malayali about their top cuisine.
It is the most traditional dish in the state, which can be enjoyed as a buffet. Sadhya, which is served in a plain banana leaf, contains almost 24 items with some desserts.
In this pure vegetarian food, several types of dishes namely avail (mix of vegetables), kaalan (mixture of yam and yoghurt), thoran (dried vegetable sprinkled with coconut), kichadi (Cucumber roasted in coconut), Pachadi (sweet made from pineapple or grapes), puliinchi (ginger and tamarind flavor), achar (pickle), pappad are served along with rice and sambar (the main curry with ladies finger and drumstick).
Not to forget, Rasam and curd are also served with a little rice for better digestion.
Interestingly, Payasam is the main dessert served in Sadhya. There are several types of payasam made of different items like rice, wheat, dal, and banana, etc.
Sadhya is used as a lunchtime dish, especially for special occasions like Onam, wedding, birthday, etc.
In essence, this kerala special food is highly recommended!
2 Thalassery Biriyani
Even though Biriyani is a familiar dish in most of the Indian states, Kerala Biriyani has a unique taste due to the difference in ingredients used and preparation style.
In Kerala, different types of biriyanis are prepared in different areas and among them, the most famous is Thalassery Biriyani. What makes this biriyani special is that it uses green chilly and garam masala and completely avoid red chilly powder, coriander powder, and other spices.
Unique fragrant, small-grained, thin rice variety named karma is used in this dish. The meat of chicken, mutton or beef is cooked with the masala on a low heat and layered with rice. The lid of the container is sealed with dough and hot coal or charcoal is then placed above the lid.
Biriyani is mainly served in the special functions of the Muslim community like wedding and Eid etc.
As Thalassery seaport was the centre for the export of spices, Europeans and Arabs had come here for business. The blend of Arab and Malabar culture influenced the cuisine of Kerala also.
You can also experience the influence of Arab food culture in Thalasseri biriyani. Nowadays, it began to be used widely in other communities too.
3 Kappa (Tapioca)
While Kappa (tapioca) was considered as the supplementary food of poor man, who couldn’t afford rice, now it is transformed into an exotic dish.
Even star hotels give room for Kappa in its menu card. This starch-rich food is very tasty as well as healthy. Kappa is nowadays the favorite option of tourists, especially during their houseboat trips.
Kappa ulathiyathu (Boiled and mashed tapioca) is a unique local food item and it is a nice combination with fish curry or chicken curry.
At the same time is very easy to prepare as well. Many other varieties of kappa dishes are also available in Kerala.
This food can be consumed as a breakfast, side dish for lunch or as an anytime snack.
4 Puttu and Kadala curry
While searching for the famous Keralian dish, you will also come across a wide variety of breakfast dishes like Iddli, Dosa, Vellayappam, paalappam, idiyappam, etc.
Among them the most famous and unique item is Puttu, which is nothing but steamed rice cake. This traditional breakfast item is normally served with kadala (black chickpeas) curry or moong dal curry.
It is also a nice combination with ripe banana and pappad. No vegetarians can also try fish curry with puttu.
The rice flour and coconut are mixed and steam it in a metal puttu maker that has a cylindrical or dome shape. Even though rice flour is used widely to make puttu, we can also try wheat flour, ragi, oats or couscous.
You have to mix rice and coconut and make it moisturize with a proper quantity of water to make the puttu soft.
If the rice flour gets the shape of your first, when you take a fistful of rice flour and close your fist, you have added the correct quantity of water.
5 Kerala’s Special Sweets
Unniappam is the most traditional and unique snack item of the state and it is a compulsory item for festivals and functions. This brown colored, small ball-shaped, spongy and crispy sweet dish is made with rice flour, banana, and jaggery using coconut oil.
Even though there may slightly different in ingredients and preparation, the taste is unique and cannot be substituted with anyone.
6 Varutharacha chicken curry
Varutharacha chicken curry is a delightful and unique dish from Kerala that tourists can savor during their visit to this southern Indian state. What sets this curry apart is the special blend of roasted coconut and spices used to create a rich, aromatic base.
The chicken is slow-cooked in this flavorful mixture, resulting in a tender and savory dish that embodies the essence of Kerala’s culinary traditions.
With its combination of locally sourced ingredients and traditional preparation methods, Varutharacha chicken curry is a must-try delicacy for anyone seeking an authentic taste of Kerala.
Appam is a unique and delectable dish that tourists can explore in the enchanting state of Kerala, India. These lacy, bowl-shaped rice pancakes have a soft center and crispy edges, making them a delightful treat for both the eyes and taste buds.
Appam is traditionally made with a fermented rice and coconut milk batter, resulting in a slightly tangy and subtly sweet flavor. It is often served with a variety of accompaniments, such as coconut milk-based stews, spicy curries, or the quintessential Kerala favorite, egg roast.
Trying appam is a must for anyone looking to savor the diverse and rich culinary traditions of Kerala.
8. Pazhampori Sweet dish
Pazhampori is a delightful sweet snack that tourists can explore as a unique dish in Kerala, India. ‘Pazham’ means banana and ‘pori’ means fried.
This traditional delicacy is made from ripe bananas that are sliced, dipped in a sweet, spiced batter, and deep-fried to golden perfection. The result is a crispy and sweet treat with a hint of cardamom and a touch of jaggery, offering a delightful blend of flavors and textures that epitomize Kerala’s culinary diversity.
Whether enjoyed as a street food snack or served in local restaurants, Pazhampori is a must-try culinary experience that showcases the rich flavors of Kerala’s heritage.
9. Ada Pradhaman cuisine
Ada cuisine in Kerala offers tourists a delectable and unique culinary experience.
Ada, another famous food of Kerala consists of steamed rice parcels encased in banana leaves. These parcels are typically filled with a delicious mixture of grated coconut, jaggery, and sometimes a hint of cardamom. The result is a sweet and aromatic treat that captures the essence of Kerala’s rich culinary heritage.
Tourists can savor Ada as a dessert or snack, and it provides a delightful glimpse into the state’s diverse and flavorful food culture.
10. Karimeen Pollichathu
Karimeen Pollichathu is a must-try dish for tourists visiting Kerala, India, for several compelling reasons.
First, it offers a tantalizing taste of Kerala’s rich culinary heritage, featuring a unique blend of spices and flavors that capture the essence of the region’s coastal cuisine.
Second, it showcases the use of fresh and locally sourced ingredients, with the star of the dish being the pearl spot fish, also known as “karimeen,” which is abundant in Kerala’s backwaters.
Lastly, the preparation method, where the fish is marinated in a flavorful mix of spices, wrapped in banana leaves, and then slow-cooked to perfection, is a cultural experience in itself, making it a delightful and memorable culinary adventure for tourists.
11 Chatti Pathiri
While Chatti Pathiri is traditionally a savory dish, Kerala offers a delightful variation for those with a sweet tooth. Sweet Chatti Pathiri is a wonderful dessert option for travelers exploring the flavors of this beautiful South Indian state.
Instead of savory fillings, this sweet version features layers of thin pancakes filled with a mixture of jaggery, grated coconut, nuts, and aromatic spices like cardamom.
The result is a delectable, layered pastry that provides a perfect balance of sweetness and Kerala’s rich culinary heritage, making it a must-try treat for visitors.
12. Coconut Chutney
One of the unique and must-try elements of Kerala cuisine is the coconut chutney.
This simple yet incredibly flavorful condiment perfectly encapsulates the essence of Kerala’s culinary tradition. Made with freshly grated coconut, green chilies, ginger, and tempered with mustard seeds, curry leaves, and urad dal in coconut oil, Kerala coconut chutney offers a delightful blend of creaminess and spiciness.
It’s the perfect accompaniment to popular South Indian dishes, providing a refreshing and cooling contrast to their inherent spiciness. The use of coconut in this chutney adds a touch of tropical richness that elevates the entire dining experience, making it an essential component of any authentic Kerala meal.
13 Mutta Curry Kerala style
Mutta Curry, or Egg Curry, is a unique and delightful dish to savor in Kerala cuisine. What sets it apart is its ability to transform a humble ingredient like eggs into a flavorful and satisfying delicacy.
The eggs are hard-boiled and then simmered in a rich and aromatic coconut-based gravy, infused with a blend of spices and curry leaves. The creamy coconut sauce perfectly complements the mildness of the eggs, creating a harmonious balance of flavors.
Whether you’re a vegetarian looking to explore non-vegetarian options or an egg enthusiast, Mutta Curry is a must-try in Kerala, showcasing the state’s knack for turning simple ingredients into culinary treasures.
Popular Kerala Dishes By Types
Famous vegetarian food
Among its most famous vegetarian delicacies is the “Sadya.” Sadya is an elaborate vegetarian feast served on banana leaves, featuring a harmonious blend of flavors and textures.
It includes dishes like sambar (a tangy lentil-based curry), avial (a mixed vegetable curry in coconut paste), and various thorans (stir-fried vegetables with coconut). The Sadya is a testament to Kerala’s love for vegetarian cuisine, and it’s often served on special occasions and festivals.
Best Non-vetetarian foods
On the non-vegetarian front, Kerala is renowned for its delectable seafood dishes, and one of the most celebrated among them is the “Kerala Fish Curry.” This dish combines the freshness of locally caught fish with a spicy and tangy coconut-based gravy.
The fish absorbs the flavors beautifully, creating a mouthwatering experience. Apart from fish, Kerala is also famous for its chicken and mutton preparations, with the “Kerala Chicken Curry” and “Malabar Mutton Curry” being popular choices.
These dishes often feature a rich blend of spices that tantalize the taste buds.
Sweet Dishes of Kerala
No exploration of Kerala cuisine is complete without mentioning its sweet delicacies, and “Payasam” takes center stage in this category.
Payasam, also known as Kheer, is a creamy dessert made from ingredients like rice, vermicelli, or lentils, cooked in milk and sweetened with jaggery or sugar. It’s infused with the fragrant aroma of cardamom and often garnished with toasted nuts and plump raisins.
Another noteworthy sweet treat is “Unniyappam,” small, deep-fried dumplings made with rice flour and jaggery. These sweet delights are an integral part of Kerala’s culinary culture and are cherished in festivals and celebrations.
Frequently asked questions about Kerala’s food
Q. What makes Kerala cuisine unique?
Kerala cuisine is unique due to its emphasis on using fresh and locally available ingredients. The use of coconut in various forms, such as coconut milk, coconut oil, and grated coconut, is a hallmark of Kerala dishes. Additionally, the cuisine is known for its generous use of aromatic spices and herbs, which give the food its distinct flavor.
Q. Is Kerala cuisine mainly vegetarian or non-vegetarian?
Kerala cuisine includes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, with a wide range of options for both. While the state is known for its various delicious vegetarian dishes and various types of curries, it is equally famous for its non-vegetarian offerings, particularly seafood dishes and preparations with chicken, beef, and mutton.
Q. What is the significance of coconut in Kerala cuisine?
Coconut is an integral part of Kerala cuisine and plays a crucial role in enhancing the flavor and texture of dishes. Coconut is used in various forms, such as coconut milk, grated coconut, and coconut oil, to add a creamy and tropical essence to the food. It also helps balance the spiciness of many Kerala dishes, making them more palatable.
Q. Are Kerala dishes very spicy?
Kerala dishes can vary in spiciness depending on individual preferences and regional variations. While some dishes can be quite spicy, many others are milder and well-balanced with the use of coconut milk or grated coconut. The level of spiciness can often be adjusted to suit one’s taste by adding or reducing the quantity of chili peppers and other spices in the recipes.
Kerala’s culinary diversity is a testament to its rich cultural tapestry. With a stunning coastal location, this South Indian state offers an abundant array of seafood delights that cater to the preferences of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians alike.
Whether you’re savoring the spicy and creamy dishes, Kerala’s famous delicasies truly embody the essence of this region and make a trip here a memorable experience for any non-vegetarian food enthusiast.