Kerala is the land of spices and produces the best quality of spices in the world. The traditional food of Kerala offers both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The Kerala dishes are prepared using fish, red meat, poultry and combination of vegetables. The food is prepared using different spices and condiments like curry leaves, mustard seeds, turmeric, tamarind, black pepper, cinnamon, and asafoetida. Freshly grated coconut and milk of coconut is also used in many curry dishes of Kerala. The names of Kerala dishes are a bit tongue-twisting for people like us from the north but food of Kerala is special and taste good.
The traditional food of Kerala has spices but it is not chilly. The red chilly is used mostly for color and it is not hot. Also, coconut milk is used in almost every other dish and due to this, the Kerala dishes are mild in nature.
When I visited Kerala it was a bit struggle to understand the Kerala dishes. When I travel to a place, I like to try local food and I prefer to eat traditional food of Kerala when there. After spending a few weeks in Kerala during my trips and discussing with people from Kerala, I come up with this list of Kerala Dishes to must try.
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Snacks of Kerala
Pazham Pori or Ethakka appam (Ripe Banana Fritters)
These are Banana Fritters and a favorite snack of Keralites. It is made by deep frying a ripe banana with flour batter. There can be a debate, if it is healthy or not but one thing is sure that it tastes good. It is available on stalls and tea shops in every part of Kerala as it is very popular among locals.
Unniyappam (Mildly sweet balls)
These are small round snack made from rice, jaggery, banana, roasted coconut pieces, and cardamom powder. Unniyappam is cooked by steam roasting in a pan and comes in small rounds.
Banana Chips/Jackfruit Chips/Tapioca Chips
These crispy chips are made from the unripened fruit by cutting into thin slices and then deep fried. Out of these 3 types of chips, banana chips are the most popular and you can see big woks filled with oil frying fresh chips.
Sarakara Veratti (Sweet Banana Snack)
The small pieces of banana are deep fried and then coated with jaggery. This is consumed individually as well as a must in Onam Sadya feast.
Ulli Vada (Onion Pakoda)
It is Kerala’s version of onion fritters with curry leaves and local masala, these tastes different from the north Indian onion Pakoda.
Uzhunnu Vada (Dal Vada)
This vada is made with split black lentil (Urad dal) without skin. Curry leaves, onions, masala is added into lentil paste. This batter is deep fried in flat round shape and served with coconut chutney.
Breads of Kerala
The rice is the staple food of Kerala and it is served with all most every curry. But in Kerala, there are many other options to eat with curries other than rice. Here are some of Kerala’s version of bread to substitute chapati and bread.
This round steam cake is made by mixing rice flour and grated coconut, this mixture is then steam cooked in a round tube-shaped vessel. Puttu is one of the most popular breakfast in Kerala. It is eaten with curries and also consumed by mixing mesh banana & sugar. It is one of the healthiest substitutes for the bread.
It is a kind of pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. The appam is usually made in the heavy bottom wok by covering and steam cooking. Other then curries it is consumed in breakfast by adding an egg to it and then steam cooked. Another healthier breakfast dish from Kerala.
It’s also known as string hopper. Idiyappam are freshly steamed vermicelli made from rice dough. It’s also popular for breakfast and goes well with curries. For breakfast, it is eaten by adding coconut milk and sugar.
Malabar Paratha/Kerala Parotha
These parathas are very different from the Parathas of North of India. Malabar paratha is made with refined flour dough and a lot of oil is added into it. It is very flaky and crisp. Best eaten with curries but for breakfast, I saw people eating it with tea without any gravy.
This Dosa is different from the one popularly available across India. Thattu dosa is thick and small in size. It is very good to eat with curry dishes, sambhar or just with any spicy chutney.
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Vegetarian Dishes of Kerala
Seafood and meat dishes are very popular across Kerala but that doesn’t mean that vegetarian food is not available in Kerala. The Keralite’s love their vegetable and mostly use the seasonal local vegetables to make curries. They also use some of the lentils and pulses in their daily diet. Here are some popular vegetarian dishes from Kerala.
Kadala Curry (Black Gram Curry)
This curry dish is made with Black gram by adding local spices. There are spices in it but it is not hot with chilies. Kadala curry is a popular dish for breakfast in Kerala and mostly eaten with Puttu or Appam.
Naadan Ela Sadya (Feast/Kerala Thali)
It is the small version of elaborate Onam Sadya and is available in some restaurants in Kerala. Sadya’s literal meaning is a feast.
It is served on banana leaf and in simple language can be defined as Thali of Kerala. In Sadya some snacks, vegetables, lentils, and sweet dishes are served. This is unlimited and one can eat whatever they like. It is a 100% vegetarian affair and non-veg is not served for Sadya.
Puli Inji is an interesting sweet and sour ginger pickle served as an appetizer in Sadya. Main ingredients of puli Inji are ginger, tamarind, and jaggery. It is very good for digestion.
Erissery (Pumpkin and Lentil Stew)
This Pumpkin and Lentil Stew made with or without coconut milk. In some places, you will get Erissery with onion, carrot, and spinach also. It is flavored with celery, garlic, curry powder, cumin, and turmeric. It goes best with rice.
Vegetable Ishtu (Potato Curry)
This Potato and onion curry with coconut milk is known as Ishtu and eaten with Idiyappam or Appam. These days some other vegetables are also added in this Ishtu but in traditional food of Kerala, it is made with potato only.
Moru Curry (Tempered Yogurt)
This is the most simple dish in Kerala cuisine, in simple language, I can say it is tempered yogurt. It is made by tempering buttermilk with whole spices and onions. It is served warm with rice and also an important dish in Sadya.
Avial (Mixed Vegetable)
This is a mixed vegetable curry, which is flavored with coconut and yogurt sauce. It is made with drumsticks, yam, carrots, green beans, ash gourd, and yellow pumpkin then seasoned with grated coconut and yogurt. This is a very quintessential dish for Sadya. It also served in everyday meals of Kerala.
Ulli Theeyal (Onion and Tamarind dish)
This side dish made with small onions and tamarind. Ulli in Malayalam means small onions and Theeyal means burnt dish, referring to roasted coconut used as the main ingredient. It is usually dark brown in color, flavored with tamarind. It goes well with rice.
Dosa Ghee Roast with Kerala Style Sambar
It is crisp dosa and cooked with clarified butter. Dosa ghee roast is served with Kerala style sambar and coconut chutney. Kerala style sambar is different from sambar from Tamilnadu and Udipi. It is made with Dal, grated coconut, roasted spices and seasoned with tamarind to make it sour.
Non-Vegetarian Dishes of Kerala
Non-vegetarian food is an important part of the traditional food of Kerala. In Kerala, a meal is not complete without non-vegetarian Kerala dishes. Some of the curry items have similar preparation as of vegetarian dishes but mostly the preparations are different.
Nadan Kozhi Varthatu (Fried Chicken)
It is spicy chicken fry dish which is without gravy but chicken is stir fried on slow heat with onion, curry leaves, and other masalas. It is one of the most popular Chicken dishes of Kerala. This is mostly eaten with Appam and paratha.
Chicken Stew (Chicken Curry)
This is the nonvegetarian version of vegetable Ishtu. The main ingredient in this is chicken and coconut. It is seasoned with local spices and curry leaves. It is eaten with Appam and rice.
Naadan Prawn Curry (Kerala style Prawn Curry)
This is a curry dish as the name suggests. The sea prawns are the main ingredient of this curry. Roasted coconut flakes, spices, and tamarind are used to flavor the gravy. It is usually eaten with Rice or Appam.
Kerala Style Fish Molee (Fish Curry)
The kingfish fillets are cooked in coconut milk, spices, tomatoes, and curry leaves. This is a mild dish and boiled rice goes very well with this curry fish.
Nadan Beef Fry (Beef stir-fried)
In many parts of India Beef is banned or not easily available but in Kerala, it is easily available. In Kerala, people of all religions eat beef and it is the most popular meat.
This dish is made with small pieces of beef stir-fried with roasted coconut flakes and onions. This masala coats the chunks of beef and goes well with Parotha. It is a bit spicy dish as red chilies are used in it.
Kozhikodan or Thalaserry Biryani (Rice Biryani)
The Kerala biryani is different in taste as compared to Hyderabadi biryani. The rice is cooked and added on top of the meat cooked with the masalas and onion. It is served with Pachadi made of curd and onion. Thailaserry biryani is made with Beef or prawns or chicken. It is mildly spicy.
The egg curry in Kerala is made with lots of chopped onions and coconut milk. It is slightly sweeter in taste due to onions and coconut milk. It is eaten with Idiappam or Appam.
Meen Fish Curry with Kappa (Fish curry and Tapioca)
The Kingfish is cooked with coconut milk and spices. This fish curry is eaten with boiled Tapioca (Kappa) chunks and Tapioca substitute for the bread or Appam or Rice. Tapioca is used a lot in Kerala as the main food.
The egg roast is different from egg curry. It is a dry dish and boiled eggs are stir-fried with lots of onions. It goes well with Paratha and it is not spicy.
Prawn Theeyal (Sour Prawn Curry)
It is similar to vegetarian Theeyal but Prawn is the main ingredient. A gravy is made with small onion and tamarind, the prawns are cooked in this sour gravy. It goes well with rice.
Karimeen Pollichathu (Dry Fish)
This fish dish is cooked in a unique style. A masala made with onion, curry leaves, and local spices. This wet masala is coated on fish fillets and then these fish pieces are wrapped in a banana leaf. This banana leaf pocket with fish is then slow cooked on a griddle. This is one of the yummiest fish dishes and not spicy.
Erachi Varutharacha Curry (Lamb Curry)
As much as Keralite like the beef they also like mutton (Lamb). This mutton curry dish is cooked with tomatoes and spicy coconut paste. It goes well with Appam and Parotha. It is mildly spicy.
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Kerala Special Sweets
The desserts of Kerala are different from the sweets available in other parts of India. There are many sweets but Payasam is one of my personal favorites.
Palada Payasam (Milk Dessert)
There are different types of Payasams but my favorite is the one made of rice flakes (Ada). These steam cooked rice flakes are cooked with milk and then nuts are added in it to enhance the taste.
Other then this Payasam is also made of yellow lentil and milk. This is not commonly available in restaurants but an important part of Onam Sadya.
The third and most commonly available Payasam is made by boiling vermicelli in milk and adding nuts in it.
Ada Pradhaman (Coconut Milk Dessert)
This is a different kind of Payasam and is most sought after dessert in Kerala. Ada Pradhaman is made by boiling steamed rice flakes in coconut milk and it is sweetened with jaggery. It is a perfect vegan dessert.
Beverages and Drinks in Kerala
The Munnar in Kerala is one of the biggest tea producer regions in India and north Kerala is one of the top five coffee producers in India. So these two are must-try drinks in Kerala.
Kattan Chaya (Black Tea)
It is the black tea and sweetens with dates syrup instead of sugar. The cardamom, clove, dry ginger powder, and lemon juice are added in this tea to enhance the taste.
Masala Chai (Tea with Milk)
This is regular tea made by boiling milk and sugar in it. Sometimes ginger powder and cardamom is also added into it to enhance the flavor. This tea in Kerala is usually stronger in taste in comparison to the tea available in other parts of India.
Kattan Kapi (Kerala Espresso)
It is Kerala’s version of espresso coffee. Kattan Kapi is strong in taste as compared to the commonly available black coffee in India. It is made with Coffee powder, water, and sweetener. In some places, people add jaggery in place of sugar.
Rasam (Sour Lentil Soup)
This sour drink is made of lentil water, garlic, tomatoes, curry leaves, rasam masala and lots of tamarinds. This is a hot drink and usually accompanied by a papadam. It is good for stomach and usually drank before the main course.
Moru Vellam or Sambaram (Masala Buttermilk)
This buttermilk drink is a thirst quenching traditional drink of Kerala. Ginger, shallots, green chilies, curry leaves are chopped in very small pieces and added in buttermilk. It is simple and healthy.
It is one of the most well-known drink from Kerala. Toddy is the coconut palm sap and it is extracted in the morning. It is very less or almost non-alcoholic in the morning.
The fresh version of it is known as Neera, which is rich in minerals and vitamins. With the time sap ferments and by afternoon the alcohol content increase. The alcohol content in Toddy varies between 7 to 20 % depending upon the quality and time of the day. It is an alcoholic drink but slightly sweeter in taste.
There are Toddy shops all around Kerala. It is a natural drink and that’s why no side effect on the body.
These Toddy shops also serve traditional food of Kerala, though they have limited number of dishes. The Kerala dishes served in these toddy shops are fresh and taste very good.
What to eat if you have an upset stomach in Kerala
This rice-based dish one of the best for an upset stomach. Just eat some steaming hot Idlis without anything or by adding banana with it.
This is one of the most simple dishes made by mixing boiled rice with yogurt and tempered with spluttered mustard seeds & curry leaves.
Kerala Banana and Kattan Chaya are good for digestion. The small bananas in Kerala are very sweet and flavourful in taste.
Interesting things when ordering food in Kerala
* In most restaurants in Kerala when you order a non-vegetarian dish, they will also give a couple of complimentary dishes with it. For example, if you order a fish or beef dish with rice or Appam then you will get Dal (Lentils gravy), toran (It can be made of cabbage or Beans) and some Achar.
* Also you get combo food like a Fish curry with rice or Kadla curry with Puttu or Appam.
* Sadya style food is unlimited and served on banana leaf.
Kerala Water with herbs
In almost all restaurants and hotels in Kerala, they serve a warm pink color drinking water. This water is known as Pathimukham in the local language. This Ayurveda water is made by boiling herbs in the water. This water has medicinal properties and good for blood purification, stomach ailments and many other ailments.
Earlier people used to make water by boiling dry ginger in it. This water is known as Chukku Vallam. This water is very good for digestion.
If I missed an interesting must-try Kerala dish or beverage then please add to this list.
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