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Cuisine from Gods Own Country

March 3, 2011

As diverse as it is in its religion, culture and ethnicity, India maintains its diversity in its cuisine also. Travel from north to south, or east to west, you can see the cuisine varying to a great extent across the country. Every state has its own speciality dishes and people hailing from the respective states take pride in talking about the regional specialities. Me, being from the Kerala, a.k.a God’s Own Country, pride myself in our cuisine and many a time, I am quite surprised to know that people outside Kerala have so many misconceptions about our cuisine. Talk to anyone hailing from North India and he/she thinks we eat only idli and dosa or cook only in cocunut oil. That is so not true. So I had to write this post to clear out some of the common misconceptions.

Kerala cuisine has a multitude of vegeterian and non-vegeterian dishes. Because of its vast coastal line and backwaters, both sea and fresh water fishes are easily available and fish forms a part of the staple diet of Keralites. Coconut groves are in abundance and hence coconut and coconut milk forms an integral part of the Kerala cuisine. Don’t be surprised if you see four-five coconut trees well within the premises of each house in Kerala. Kerala is mainly a rice – eating state and a variety of dishes are made of variations of rice flour or whole rice grains.

As the saying goes ‘Have Breakfast like a King’, let me start with the main dishes that adorn our breakfast table. Ofcourse, we have Idlis – Steamed rice cakes which can be made either plain or adding some shredded vegetables to it, dosas – pan fried rice crepes which are made in a varieties – plain, with several vegetables (that makes it uttapam), set dosa, masala dosa (with a filling made of potatoes, onions, chillis, etc.) and a variety of dosas with different types of fillings (kheema dosa, corn dosa, mint dosa, etc.), upmas – made of rava or vermicelli (with different vegetables of your choice, channa dal, etc). These are the main dishes which you can find in any of the South Indian restaurants across the country.

Now let me talk about some of the dishes which are unique to Kerala. Topping the list would be Puttu, which is a steamed rice cake (in the shape of a cylinder) made from rice powder and cocunut. This can be made in a cylinder shaped vessel or coconut husk (chiratta – puttu) and you can even fill the rice cake with meat, masala, etc. Puttu is normally had with one or more of the following – kadala (channa) curry, pappad, banana or even some meat based gravy.

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Appam – Slightly sweet rice crepe made in a perfect circle have enchanted many a palate. Appam in normally had with vegetable stew or mutton/lamb stew (Stew is a cocunut based gravy). We don’t contaminate appam with add-ons like masalas or fillings, hence appam remains plain, white and true to its form.

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Idiyyapam – Again, a steamed dish made of rice flour and shredded coconut, but it forms a beautiful flower like pattern.

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Oratti – It is Kerala’s answer to North Indian Roti or Puchka. It is a rustic flat bread made out of rice flour and shredded coconut.

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Pathiri – Again a flat bread made of rice flour, but Pathiri is very thin compared to Oratti and much more softer. A popular dish among the Muslims of Kerala and they take much pride in mastering the fine art of making good pathiris. Usually pathiri is eaten with sweetended coconut milk (thenga-paal) or chicken/mutton curry, but the less-adventurous ones, even have it with egg curry or vegetable stew.

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As we move ahead from breakfast, it is time to talk about lunch and it can’t be complete without mentioning about the traditional Kerala Sadhya. Something which forms the backbone of Kerala cuisine is the Traditional Kerala Feast or Sadhya – It is something which every Keralite takes special pride in and is it nothing sort of a visual treat and gastronomic experience. No matter which part of the kerala you belong, making a grand sadhya is matter of pride for every Keralite. Sadhya is served in plantain leaf (with the cornered end of the plantain leaf pointed towards the left if the leaf is kept facing the person) and around 30 different dishes (more or less depending on which region of Kerala) are served in that one plantain leaf. The dishes include papad, sweets (jaggery and plaintain fry), fruits (banana), different curries like avial, pachadi, olan, koottu-curry etc, rice, dal, curd, pickles and payasams (sweet dishes of liquid consistency made with rice/wheat flakes, dal or vermicelli). There is a designated place for every dish in the leaf and the order in which they are plated is also important. There is also an order in which the dishes have to be eaten. First we start with eating jaggery and plantain fries (if this doesn’t entice you, you can skip this step also), next in line is rice with dal (with a few drops of ghee poured on top of it), then sambhar (mixed vegetables and dal curry) is served on top of rice, after that rasam (again a very spicy gravy, but the spices in it is supposed to aid digestion). After that a plethora of payasams (kheer) are served. Most probably you will have three types of payasams being served (made rice/wheat/dal, with milk mixed with jaggery or sugar as the base). The number of payasams can even go upto five – six depending on how special is the occasion in which the feast is being served. You can have payasam either in the same plaintain leaf in which you had rice (it takes time to master the fine art of having payasam (something with a liquid consistency) in a flat leaf) or in a glass. The feast usually ends with having a little rice with curd or buttermilk and a banana. Mastering all the dishes to be served in the feast may take a few years, but this is a feast which every woman in Kerala take pride in preparing. I know even those families who have migrated from Gujarat to Kerala taking pride in preparing this feast.


Because of the vast coastal line it hosts, seafood forms a prominent part of many of the popular dishes of Kerala. Some of the very popular fish dishes are karimeen pollichathu (Pearl-spot fish prepared by wrapping it in banana leaf), prawns ullarthiyathu (stir-fry), fish fry, kanava thoran (cuttle fish, stir fried) and fish prepared with kudampuli (Kerala Tamarind/Garcinia Cambogina) are some of the popular ones. Kappa (tapioca) & spicy fish curry is a great combo that every true Malayali is proud of.

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This post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the Malabari Chicken Biriyani. The state of Kerala was created in 1956 from the former state of Travancore-Cochin, the Malabar district of Madras State, and the Kasaragod taluk of Dakshina Kannada. People who hailed from the Malabar district is known for their Biriyani (rice prepared with several spices, shallots and chicken). The sheer aroma of a Malabari Chicken Biriyani is enough to make anyone yearn for it. Traditionally it is a dum-biriyani, prepared by sealing the large vessel used for making the dish with rice flour mix and putting charcoal on top of the lid. Now a days, people prepare it in the oven also.

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I haven’t done complete justice to the cuisine within these limited words. The feast prepared by Muslims for breaking the fast during Ramzan/Id, delicacies prepared in Christan homes during Christmas, some of the popular snack items in Kerala like ela-adda (baked cakes with rice flour, jaggery and cocunut milk), paripuvada (fritters made using dal and flour) and my absolute favourite pazham-pori (banana fritters) require another blogpost all together.

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This post brought back so many lovely memories from my childhood where I happily gorged on everything my mom and aunts made for me. Hope this post will entice you to make a trip to Kerala to be in the backwaters and to taste the Kerala special delicacies !


From → cuisine, reminisence

  1. Not fair! Now you come back quickly so I can come to your place and have sadhya!

  2. delicious post πŸ™‚

  3. wow… looks so yummy.. πŸ™‚

  4. yummy post. waiting for more…

  5. wonderful post. ALl too yummy. How have you been?

  6. Hey, I don't know you (except as Hitha's sis, i.e), and came across your blog quite accidentally.I'm quite a foodie too. Staying alone in Delhi, not a day passes by without me dreamin of all those home-made Appams, stews & Biriyanis *slurp!* So naturally I loved your post! Here's three cheers for the Mallu cuisine! πŸ™‚

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