Getting to Know the Cuisine of Kerala

A lot of people tell me they hate curry so therefore they do not like Indian food. It seems that a lot of people don’t realize curry is a spice and there are in fact lots of choices when it comes to how one will taste. Not all are created equal and just because you don’t like one doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy another. The cuisine in Kerala is diverse and it’s time to try it all.

After spending a few weeks in Kerala with people who were not as familiar with Indian cuisine I realized how confusing the food could be. The words are obviously different and if you don’t know Indian vocabulary you might not understand what you are ordering.

Since I love food and I particularly love Indian food I figured I would break down some popular dishes and explain what some of the words means.

The “breads”

An important aspect to any culture, Kerala has signature “breads”. Maybe not in the way you normally think of bread on your table. Here is a run down of some common companions to your food.

Dosa (a lentil and rice crêpe)

Idli (steamed lentil rice cakes)

Vadas ( looks like a donut but not sweet, made from lentils, onion and cumin

Appam ( type of pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk)

Banana Leaves

One thing that is significant to Kerala and South India is eating off of banana leaves. It is a very unique dining experience. Small portions of various types of food are placed on your banana leaf. Typically you get some banana chips and rice to eat with the curry. You also eat with your hands!



Hands down  my favorite thing to eat. What is Paneer? It is curded cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon It can come in a variety of sauces  such as Saag (spinach), Tikka Masala( red sauce) or added to Biryani. Paneer is similar to cottage cheese but it is usually unsalted and no heavy cream is added.


It is a lot like a rice pilaf. It is rice cooked with meat(optional) vegetables, cashews, raisins and a variety of spices such as cardamom, turmeric, bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves. It is hands down one of my favorite Indian dishes to eat.

Jack fruit

It is the official fruit of Kerala. It can be eaten just as a simple fruit or turned into a slaw like substance that I often ate instead of rice. It is a hearty base so it holds curries or stews well. I was having issues from eating all the rice and early on realized what a great substitute the jack fruit could be. I miss it a lot actually.

Kerala Curry

Two dishes I saw every where I went were Rasam and Sambar. Previously I had never heard of either. I feel like I eat a great deal of Indian but then I realize I keep either cooking or ordering the same things. The things I am used to are more northern Indian cuisine. It was exciting for my palate to try all these new things in Kerala.

Rasam (tomato, tamarind, and lentil soup)

Sambar (spicy lentil and vegetable stew)

A few other notable terms:

All of these are commonly found main indigence’s. Hopefully this helps when looking at a menu.

Bhindi ( okra)

Ghobi (cauliflower)

Dal (lentil)

Chana (chick peas)

Aloo  (potato)

Veg/Non Veg

I’m sure you realize I only talked about vegetarian dishes. That is because I rarely eat meat and in a place like India you don’t need to. The variety of vegetarian dishes is great. Most of the time when I was eating out the number of veg dishes greatly out numbered the ones with meat.

If you are doing a banana leaf meal it is easy to instruct the waiters that you are veg only. It in no way limits your choices.

If you do eat meat Kerala has no shortage. Most menus have chicken, lamb and fish. Beef is available as well but not served as often.

Is it spicy?

I love spicy food. Kerala has spicy food! But not all of the dishes are spicy. Some are not at all. The best way to find out is just to ask. I have no fear and will try anything. The hotter the better in my opinion.

If you find yourself in Kerala try as many different dishes as possible. I thought I loved Indian cuisine before I went but I loved it even more after this trip. Of course I barely scratched the surface of this wonderful region’s cuisine but this is my best account of what I ate while I was there!

Do you have a favorite Indian dish? Share it with me!

What did I miss?