The unusual cuisine of Kerala brings to the fore the culinary expertise of the people of Kerala. Producing some of the tastiest foods on earth, the people of Kerala are gourmets with a difference.
The cuisine is very hot and spicy and offers several gastronomic opportunities. The food is generally fresh, aromatic and flavoured. Keralites are mostly fish-and-rice eating people.
The land and the food are rich with coconut, though one can't imagine Kerala food without chilies, curry leaf, mustard seed, tamarind and asafoetida.
Just a pinchful of tamarind can substitute tomatoes, but there is no real substitute for curry leaf. Since time immemorial, coconut has been an integral part of the cuisine of Kerala.
These people put to good use whatever the land offers and the result is a marvellous cuisine that is simple yet palate tickling. They relish equally a dish as simple as 'kanji' (rice gruel) or as extravagant as the 'sadya' (feast).
Rice, or rather unpolished rice, is the main food of the Keralite. Aside from the boiled product eaten as a staple, there is also a wide range of snacks and breakfast fare made of the cereal. Pounded into flour, it gives shape to the bamboo formed puttu, the round spongy vattayappam, the lacy edged palappam, the pancake-like kallappam, the sweet uniappam, the idiappam that looks like fine noodles, and the stuffed ball called kozhikotta. And then, there is the pathiri, chapatti-like bread that can be made into a plain thin one called vatipathiri, a box type pettipathiri and a sweet cake - Chattipathiri. Pathiris are also stuffed with beef, chicken or mutton and fried, or steamed when filled with fish.
From time immemorial, the coconut tree has been an integral part of life for the people of Kerala and nowhere is this more visible than in their food. These people put to good use whatever the land offers and the result is a marvelous cuisine that is simple yet palate tickling.
Except for the Nambudiris who are strict vegetarians, Hindus of other castes eat both meat and fish as a matter of course. However, they do not serve non-vegetarian food on important days, though for the other communities no festive occasion is complete without it. It is the influence of the foreigners that, unlike most of the other parts of the country, beef is quite popular in the state.
The high ranges of the state boast of vast plantations of cardamom, pepper, nutmeg, tea and coffee while in its lower elevations there are clove, ginger and turmeric. The midlands have paddy fields, tapioca, all sorts of hardy vegetables such as yam, narrow, gourd, drumstick, etc. and a huge collection of tropical fruits-banana, jackfruit, mango, pineapple and cashew. In the lowlands, cultivation is mainly that of coconut trees and paddy.
Like most South Indian cuisine, be it seafood or rice and other cereal dishes, the emphasis is on 'healthy food', less use of oil, sugar, and artificial additives, and more use of natural herbs, spices flavorings, and coconut. Spices that flavor the local cuisine give it a sharp pungency that is heightened with the use of tamarind.
In the Kerala kitchens, be it of any of the various communities living there, simple methods and the locally available foodstuff are used to dish out mouthwatering delicacies. Even the ordinary tapioca root, for example, becomes a main course when boiled and sautéed with coconut and spices, a snack when sliced fine, salted and fried, and a sweet dish when steamed with coconut and jaggery.
Kerala is noted for its variety of pancakes and steamed rice cakes made from pounded rice. Though the same ingredients are used all over the state, each of the communities has its own specialties.
For the Muslims, the lightly flavored biryani - made of mutton, chicken, egg or fish-takes pride of place. In seafood, mussels are a favorite. A concoction of mussel and rice flour, cooked in the shell is called arikadaka. The Arab influence on the local cuisine is very visible in the rich meat curries and desserts. A community of Muslims who live in an area called Kuttichara, have a special dish - a whole roasted goat stuffed with chickens inside which are eggs.
For the Christians, who can be seen in large concentration in areas like Kottayam and Pala, ishtew (a derivation of the European stew), with appam is a must for every marriage reception. There would also be beef cutlets with sallas (a salad made of finely cut onions, green chilies and vinegar), chicken roast, olathan erachi (fried mutton, beef or pork), meen moilee (a yellow fish curry), meen mulligattathu (a fiery red fish curry), and peera pattichathu (a dry fish dish of grated coconut). Another interesting feature is the abundant use of coconut oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves, and coconut milk.
Kerala also has it's own fermented beverages -the famous kallu or (toddy) and patta charayam (arrack). Arrack is extremely intoxicating and is usually consumed with spicy pickles and boiled eggs (patta and mutta).