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Gastronomies of Kerala Cuisine

Photograph by: Tanya Munshi

Kerela, better known as ‘God’s own country’, is rated as one of the Top 10 destinations in India by National Geographic Traveller. And we’ve already told you that for us it’s a paradise of mouth-watering food.

There are many factors that have gone into shaping the lip-smacking cuisine of Kerela – geography and demographics are two such factors that play a vital role.

Here is a low down on how these two factors influenced the cuisine of Kerala.

Religion and food:
While the Christian, Muslim and some of the Hindu populace consume non-vegetarian, the highest caste the Nambudiris are known to be staunch vegetarians. Every religion here offers its own style of cuisine to the state. While the appams and stew are a famous combination, chicken roast, fish moilee, fish fry are also famous amongst the Christians. The Malabari Biryani and the Pathri is a delicious contribution from the Muslims and the pure vegetarian Hindu cuisine has a range of veggies on the platter such as – rasam, sambar, olan, kalan, pachadi, thoran, avial etc.
Though there are Hindus who consume fish and chicken, beef and pork preferred by Christians, while mutton and fish are preferred by the Muslims. Not to forget, tapioca is also very popular dish in Kerala which deliciously blends with hot and spicy red fish curry.

Photograph by: Tanya Munshi

Syrian Christian Cuisine – Kerala Syrian Christians owe their origin to St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, who is believed to have set up seven churches on his visit to Kerala to spread Christianity.
Why this needs a special mention is because of the delicious cuisine that this religion has to offer. Their famous dish is the stew which is a tasty blend of chicken and potatoes cooked in a creamy white sauce in coconut milk base. This gravy is further seasoned with cinnamon, black pepper, green chilies, lime juice, shallots and cloves. In fact, this stew can also be prepared with chicken, lamb, mutton or duck. But obvious, beef and lamb is a predominant meat item, apart from fish and chicken. Also, wine is a popular drink amongst the Syrian Christians.

The Mappilas or the Muslims Cuisine – in Kerala came into existence and influenced by the Arab traders since the 7th Century AD. There was an obvious impact on the cuisine as well. Apart from Pathri, a thin rice flour pancake, the Alsa a wheat and a meat dish popular amongst the Muslims, came into existence. This type of cuisine is quite popular amongst the Keyis, who are the nobles amongst the Mappilas of the Malabar community.

Sadya – A traditional meal amongst the Hindus Sadya, in Malayalam means ‘the big feast’, is a predominant meal amongst the Hindus. A trend started from the time of the maharajas, sadya is a traditional vegetarian meal that is usually served on a banana leaf. In fact, there is a particular style in which a Sadya is served. As per the tradition, the narrow part of the leaf always faces the left side. All the servings are made from the bottom left half of the leaf. It first begins with –

  • A banana
  • Jaggery coated banana chips
  • Papads – this concludes the bottom left portion of the leaf.

Now the next section of serving begins from the top left part of the leaf –

  • Lime curry
  • Mango pickle
  • Injupuli (thick tamarind and mango curry)
  • Lime pickle
  • Thoran (dry mixed veggies with coconut)
  • Vegetable stew
  • Olan (gourd)
  • Aviyal (a mixed vegetable in coconut gravy)
  • Pachadi (raw mango with curd)
  • Khicdi

The person usually starts to eat, when all these items (usually in small quantities) are served. Once this is done the next round begins. It consists of –

  • Rice
  • Sambar
  • Kalan (yam and curd pepper curry) – both these are poured onto the rice, which takes the centre part of the banana leaf.

Once this meal is over, the sweet dish is served. This consists of – Pradaman (made of rice flour, coconut milk and jaggery) orPal payasam (sweetened condensed milk with rice)Finally, a glass of rasam (pepper water) and curd is served to help the person digest his/ her meal.

Interestingly, this process of serving helps a person to know what next to serve to a guest. Normally, in traditional sadya, onions and garlic are not used. Sadyas are known to be prepared a night before and are complete before 10 am in the morning.

But it is important to remember, that there maybe a difference in the style of the food served in a sadya. For instance, in Southern Kerala, the food has a lot of garlic in it, where as in Northern Kerala, garlic is generally avoided in sadya and most vegetarian dishes. Overall, traditional food items in a sadya will be almost the same.

The Lifestyle Portal

Tanya is a graduate in Sociology from Sophia College, Mumbai, a post-graduate in Communications and Media from SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai and holds a Master's Degree in Journalis & Mass Communications from Chandigarh University. A former writing mentor and a seasoned lifestyle writer, Tanya writes columns on The Lifestyle Portal of life and living.

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