Kerala cuisine refers to the diverse selection of food from the state of Kerala, India. Located in the south of Indian peninsula, the food specific to this region is predominantly governed by its geography and demography factors. Owing to its tropical climate, coconut is a major produce, and thus typical Kerala food makes use of coconut in its grated, paste, powdered, milk and oil forms. Being a coastal region, fish and other seafood also form a very important part of the daily diet. There are many vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes popular to this region, mainly because of the diverse demography with respect to religion and caste along with the influence of foreign traders (from Europe and Middle East) of the yesteryears.
Historical and Cultural Influences on Kerala Food
Prior to Indian independence in 1947, Kerala was divided into the states of Malabar, Kochi and Travancore. There was a difference in the local cuisine of the three states, and the same has an impact of different Kerala recipes. Malabar and Kochi cuisine consists of a large number of vegetarian dishes using fruits and vegetables like plantains, bitter guard, colocasia, etc. Many Travancore dishes are native to the large number of Christians residing in this region. Dishes like 'Malabar parotta' (a layered flatbread) and a rice based dish similar to the famous 'biryani' from Malabar are popular in Kerala and also other parts of India. Kerala food also has an influence of the large Muslim population residing here.
Ingredients Commonly Used in Kerala Food
Following ingredients are popularly used in Kerala recipes-
Coconut- Coconuts grow in abundance in the coastal region of Kerala. Hence it is used most of the Kerala recipes. Coconut oil, grated coconut and coconut milk are used in many dishes and curries for cooking, flavoring and thickening.
Rice- Rice is the main starch ingredient in Kerala food. It is grown widely in this region.
Spices- Spices popularly used in Kerala recipes include cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, green and red peppers, garlic, cloves, turmeric, coriander, etc. Fresh herbs like curry leaves are also used.
Tamarind- Tamarind is used extensively for sour sauces of Kerala fame, and also in dishes like the popular 'sambhar'.
Popular Kerala Recipes
Here are some of the popular Kerala recipes-
Rice- White plain steamed rice is a part of every Kerala meal.
Avil- A side dish made with vegetables like pumpkin, potato, drumstick, chilli, etc.
Thoren- Fried or steamed vegetables like cabbage, coconut and green chillies, and sometimes papaya
Sambhar- A curry made with drumstick, onion, tomato, potato and a number of spices combined with tamarind juice.
Rasam- A broth flavored with tamarind, lemon, tomato and lentils.
Payasam- A dessert made of sugared rice and milk.
Appam- A thick and spongy pancake made from rice flour.
Puttu- Rice flour dough mixed with shredded coconut and steamed in a bamboo stick.
Dosa- A thin crispy pancake made from fermented rice flour and black lentils.
Idli- Fluffy round pancakes made of rice flour.
Parotta- A layered flatbread
Stew- Stew can be made of chicken, lamb, beef or fish.
Herbal tea- Herbal teas of different varieties are some of the popular beverages consumed in Kerala.
Serving Kerala Food
Kerala meals are traditionally served on a banana leaf and eaten with the right hand.
Kerala Festive Meal
‘Sadhya’ is the traditional Kerala banquet, consisting of a generous spread of vegetarian dishes along with boiled rice and the sweet dish 'payasam'. It is served on special occasions and festivals.
Health Benefits of Kerala Food
A wide variety of spices and herbs used in Kerala recipes, and extensive use of rice or rice flour, make them very agreeable for digestion. The range of fruits and vegetables that form a part of Kerala recipes make them rich and balanced in terms of various essential vitamins and minerals required by the body.