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Trying local and traditional dishes on travel can be a memorable and enriching experience. Here are 10 Kerala food delicacies that I enjoyed on a recent trip.
If there is one thing that I love about travel, it is definitely the food! Travelling to a new place opens your eyes, mind and tastes buds to flavors that you may never have imagined; discover dishes that you may never have tried before. Besides, food can tell you a lot about the culture of a place.
Kerala, the land of beautiful backwaters, picturesque rolling hills with thick green blankets of tea, banana, spice plantations, and not to mention the miles of coconut groves (and much more!) offers many wonderful dishes that use coconut in abundance in their recipes. This enhances the taste of every dish, making them so unique.
When I went to Kerala very recently, I would constantly be on the lookout for local Kerala food. I ensured that I tasted every single Kerala food dish that came my way – be it a breakfast staple, a signature fish delicacy, a side dish, snack, dessert, the freshly-made pickles or pappadams- I relished them all!
Here is a culinary ride down Kerala cuisine- 10 Kerala food delicacies that I tried while I was there- the ones that you must not leave Kerala, without trying.
Anyone who loves fish and wants to savor the taste of an authentic Kerala seafood dish, will love Fish Moilee. This was the first signature dish of Kerala that I had on my trip.
It was supposed to be like a stew, so I thought it would be bland and wondered if I should go for a spicier fish curry. I am so glad that I stuck with my order of Fish Moilee, which was delicate and delicious without being spicy. It had small pieces of fleshy fish – marinated in spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, curry leaves, turmeric, pepper, green chillies, fried and then simmered in coconut milk.
It was served in an earthen vessel. The curry got polished off in no time! I had lacy, wafer-thin appams with this curry which also went well with the steamed rice.
Fish Moilee will leave you licking your fingers in delight! Such a pity that I personally could not find this curry in other parts of Kerala, after leaving Kochi.
This is another much sought after fish delicacy of Kerala. The name of this dish means- fish on a banana leaf. Karimeen is a pearl-spot fish found in the backwaters of Kerala, marinated in a spicy masala, wrapped in a banana leaf and then cooked until done.
A demolished Karimeen Polichattu
Even though I found the fish a bit bony and difficult to pick, the taste of the masala was everything- it was excellent!
This healthy protein option for vegetarians is a breakfast staple eaten all over the state of Kerala. I insisted that we travel about 8-10 kms to get to a renowned restaurant in Kochi which specializes in making many different varieties of Puttus. Well, you don’t have to travel that far for at least one variety of Puttus. You will find Puttu and kadala curry in absolutely any restaurant, anywhere in Kerala.
Puttu, a cylindrical steamed rice cake, is cooked in a mound with grated coconut. It is usually served with kadala curry – which is a dish made with black chickpeas, shallots, spices, and coconut milk.
I tried the rice/ Ari Puttu as well as the marble puttu (which had layers of rice, ragi and wheat). I love idlis, and the puttus were just like idlis, except that they were dry, flaky and shaped in a different way. They came with the kadala curry and an accompaniment of melt-in-the-mouth chickpea pappadams which were so crisp and irresistible, that I couldn’t stop at one or two – they just vanished!
I truly enjoyed eating in the ambience of this restaurant, listening to some foot-tapping Malayalam songs. Later on in the trip, I enjoyed an even spicier version of kadala curry along with hot pooris at a breakfast buffet in Munnar.
This is another traditional and tasty dish which can be had for breakfast or as a side dish. It is made with a rich coconut milk gravy and spiced with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and shallots. These enhance the natural taste of the vegetables (like carrots, beans) that go into the stew.
Vegetable stew, idiyappam and coconut chutney
The stew goes wonderfully well with the crepe-like appams, or even idiappams (my personal favourite) – which are steamed, soft noodles shaped into loose patty shapes.
For some reason, the name of this dish got me excited. The simple yet delectable Pidi is a Kerala style dumpling delicacy made with rice and coconut. The stew is made with potatoes and coconut milk. The mild spicy flavor of green chilies, curry leaves, ginger, onions and black peppercorn wafts from the stew. The coconut milk gives the stew that authentic touch of Kerala food.
Pidi and potato stew
The combination of hot, stewed potatoes and pidi is so good, that it is sure to make you go back for a second helping.
Mappas sounded something like pancakes to me! I was not very sure if I wanted to try an ‘egg-pancake’. So, when I saw an egg curry at the breakfast buffet, I thought of it as ‘just another egg curry’. I almost skipped it, but the name of the dish made me go back to it; Mappas were not pancakes as I had imagined them to be. They were boiled eggs, in a curry.
Egg mappa and idiappam
The eggs are simmered in coconut milk, curry leaves and a lovely tangy masala. With idiappams to go with it, what a scrumptious breakfast treat that was!
It is spicy, it is yummy, and it is made in many different ways. Even though I sampled only a small portion of both the fish curry and masala at the dinner buffet, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Kerala fish curry with parotta
I had it with the light and crispy Kerala parotta (which is a layered flatbread)
Pachadi is a mildly spiced coconut and yogurt based curry made with seasonal vegetables or fruits. It is something not to be missed. This exotic Kerala food dish is otherwise served as a side dish during the traditional Kerala sadya (a vegetarian feast).
Avail, thoran, pineapple pachadi and pappadam
The cookery class (at our hotel in Thekkady) was a great experience, where we learned (and tasted) how to make Pineapple Pachadi (and a Kerala-style chicken). The sampled taste of sweet pineapple, the creamy, yummy, coconut and mustard paste, the spiciness of the red chillies, the taste of curry leaves and the coconut oil left me craving for more!
Luckily, pineapple pachadi was part of the dinner buffet the next evening. I savored it with piping hot moong dal khichadi and Kerala kadhi/ yoghurt curry .
These thick juicy banana fritters are Kerala’s traditional tea time snack. You will find them everywhere you go in Kerala- what they do is simply coat ripe bananas with plain flour and deep-fry them in oil.
They taste lovely with a honey dip.
You will not be able to resist this top favorite dessert of Kerala. This rich and thick dessert made with vermicelli, milk, ghee, sugar, and garnished with crushed cardamoms, cashew nuts, almonds and plenty of raisins; is served nice and hot.
Payasam, kozhikatta (white)
However full you might feel after a hearty meal, payasam will find its way into your tummy and make a sweet end to your meal (and day)!
During my trip, I had nothing but Kerala food. I found everything at the buffets exciting to try – be it a spoonful of the avial, thoran, a tiny portion of glazed honey bananas, or sharing a ghee roast and podi dosa.
The mouth-watering beetroot, carrot, pineapple, onion and other chutneys (plus pickles) were outstanding, and I just couldn’t get enough of them. I enjoyed discovering the matta rice, Kerala kozhukatta– which has coconut and jaggery (the chef drizzled it with honey for me!), the kappa and many other things.
Beetroot and pineapple pickles
Sampling the chutneys and glazed bananas
Having the traditional Kerala meal (fish fry, ananas kadhi, rice, sambar, vegetables, steamed banana, etc) on the cozy houseboat, sipping tender coconut water, munching the small varieties of bananas; while being surrounded with nothing but the tranquillity of nature – lush green paddy fields, coconut and banana trees, the gentle, cool breeze (along with the kind hospitality of the people) felt different and amazing.
Meal on a houseboat
Coconut, the staple ingredient of most of Kerala food is my new-found flavour, and I am so glad to have found it.
When you travel to a new place, try traditional food, experience new flavors, that go with it. It means you get back home with new recipe ideas (and food memories) to try in your own kitchen. Moreover, by opening yourself up to new tastes, you also give yourself a taste of the culture. Food tasting can be so much fun – you just don’t want it to end! It can be a big part of your travel experience. In fact, it can be the the best part of your holiday.
Images credit: Anjali Acharya
Header image source: By Seena.ge [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
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