A Guide to Keralan Food

A Keralan Feast

A Keralan Feast

Keralan food is delicious and one of the highlights of visiting the region. The spicy but subtle flavours are very different from the heavy, oily curries served in Indian restaurants abroad. We found Keralan food to be the most delicious in all of India, featuring fresh and tasty ingredients.

Rice is the staple of Keralan meals, served with a range of vegetable and fish dishes. Coconut and spices are always present including the locally grown black pepper, cloves, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon.

Vegetarians in Kerala

Keralan food is great for vegetarians with a wide range of vegetable and lentil dishes always available. Indians understand the vegetarianism concept better than anywhere else in the world so you only need to say ‘veg’ to know that your meal will be safe. Most restaurants are signposted ‘veg’ or ‘non-veg’ in English so it’s easy to find a place to eat. If you aren’t vegetarian then fish is widely eaten, and meat is available.

Where to Eat

The best place to sample authentic Keralan food is homestays where you’ll be treated to huge portions of amazing home-cooked food, often included in the room price. You’ll also find tasty and cheap food in local ‘working-men’ diners and canteens. These places have basic décor, but are usually very hygienic, and serve unlimited portions of authentic meals often for less than 50p ($0.80). Even smarter restaurants rarely cost more than a few pounds ($3) for a meal, but I think the food is actually tastier in the more basic places.

Eating with Your Hands

In Kerala, as in the rest of India, it is normal to eat with your hands. This can take some practice, but it’s part of the fun of learning about a new cuisine and culture, and Indians will appreciate your efforts. Make sure you eat with your right hand only, as the left hand is used to clean yourself after using the toilet. Use the fingers to mix the curries into the rice and create a ball. Your thumb is used to push the ball into your mouth. You can also use bread to scoop up the food, which is easier when starting out, although trying to tear the bread with just your right hand can be tricky.

Restaurants will always have a sink available in the main dining area where you can wash your hands before and after the meal.

Breakfast Dishes

Kerala has some delicious traditional breakfast dishes that are far more interesting than toast and cereal. You’ll have to get used to eating curry in the morning, but it’s definitely worth it. Some of these dishes can be served as snacks or dinner as well. Here are some tasty dishes to try:

Appam – Also known as hoppers these thick pancakes are made from rice flour and served with a masala sauce.

Neyyappam – Sweet rice pancakes filled with coconut and jaggery (unrefined sugar)  and cooked in a banana leaf. This rustic snack is best found in a Keralan home, so ask your homestay about them.

Puttu – Rice powder and grated coconut are combined and steamed in a cylindrical bamboo or metal holder.

Idli – Circular steamed rice cakes that are popular throughout South India. They are usually served with chutney and sambar (a spicy vegetable broth), and sometimes accompanied by vada.

Vada – A common snack throughout South India, this is a savoury doughnut or disk-shaped snack made from lentils and deep-fried. You’ll often find them on street food stands or in train stations.

Masala DosaDosas aren’t native to Kerala, but are common in South India and are delicious for breakfast or dinner. These large crunchy crepes are made from rice and lentils and filled with a spicy potato mixture. They are usually served with sambar and coconut chutney.

Chai – Breakfast is usually accompanied by India’s delicious, spicy, milky tea .

Keralan Meals

Lunch is the main meal of the day and usually features a mound of rice with lots of different spiced dishes (vegetable, lentil or fish). In a local diner the main (sometimes only) meal on offer with be the thali.  Rice and 4-8 different dishes will be served on a banana leaf or metal tray alongside pickles, curd and pappadoms. The cheap price includes unlimited food, and a server will keep coming around to top up your plate.

Moillee is the famous Keralan fish curry made with coconut, green chilli, ginger and curry leaves.

Dinner is similar but usually lighter and one of the breakfast snacks may be eaten.


Sadya is a vegetarian banquet (basically a large thali) served on spacial occasions and during the Onam Festival in August. Rice and up to 24 different dishes are served on a banana leaf. Dishes include Aviyal, a thick mix of vegetables, curd and coconut.

Cooking Lessons

If you really enjoy Keralan food then you can learn how to cook it yourself. Homestays often offer cooking lessons and can be a lot of fun.

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3 Responses to “A Guide to Keralan Food”

  1. […] more here:  A Guide to Keralan Food | Kerala India Travel Share and […]

  2. Nabeel says:


    just a quick note – it seems to whole world is now alling it keralan. THe people are called keralites (or malayalis) the food is also keralite. No one back home says keralan – not even the other indians.

  3. veg biryani says:

    Indian Ingredients…

    […]A Guide to Keralan Food | Kerala India Travel[…]…