Friday, December 30, 2011

Let's talk about Kerala food.


In Kerala there is some food that is popular throughout all of South India, and there is some food that is unique to Kerala.

For breakfast throughout South India, you can have:

  • Dosa. This might be the most popular thing. It is like a big crepe made of rice and lentil flour. One common type of dosa is "Masala Dosa". This is a dosa filled with a spicy vegetable-potato mix. Sometimes it's a flat triangle shape, and sometimes it looks like a giant burrito.
  • Dosa variation #1: Rava Dosa. This is made with wheat flour. It's not quite so flat.
  • Dosa variation #2: Paper Dosa. This is made with rice and lentil flour again, but it is very flat and therefore huge in diameter. If you were a small child, and very hungry, you might conceivably eat a dosa that is bigger than you.
  • Dosa variation #3: Butter Dosa. Also known as "ghee roast" (which sounds awful), this is just a plain dosa with butter. Surprisingly, it doesn't taste super greasy.
  • Idli. This is a steamed cake made of rice and lentil flour. The consistency is like a birthday cake but chewier. You usually get two or three of them.
  • Vada. This is a fried savory doughnut made of rice and lentil flour. You usually get one or two, with something else. Idli and vada is a good choice.
  • Uttapam. This is a big pancakey thing made of (surprise) rice and lentil flour. It's often mixed with vegetables or onions. Kind of reminds me of Japanese okonomiyaki, which is a great food.

All of the above are served with sambar (a spicy soup) and coconut chutney. You use your bready thing of choice to soak up the sambar and chutney.

For breakfast in Kerala, you can also have:

  • Appam. This is kind of a catch-all term for foods made with plain rice flour. If you order just "appam", though, you'll usually get a sort of pancakey thing that is thin and light, maybe with a fluffy chewy center. Often served with coconut milk and vegetable stew.
  • Idiappam. This is rice noodles made into a cake, and served like appam. Often served with "Tengapa", or coconut milk.

That is a lot of breakfast choices, isn't it? South Indian breakfast is the best. You can eat these things for other meals too.

For lunch, you can have a thali, also just called a "meal". You sit down, they bring you a big banana leaf, scoop a mountain of rice on it, and serve about 9 different things with it. Some of the ones I've had are:

  • sambar. You will probably get a lot of sambar; it's kind of the main thing you put on your rice.
  • dal (lentils)
  • rasam. This is a very thin spicy tangy soupy thing. It's often served after sambar. First you have rice and sambar, then rice and rasam. It is just like that only.
  • curd (yogurt), or a thin curd-based sauce
  • beans
  • vegetables
  • a mix of chopped coconut and stuff
  • Indian pickled something
  • papadum (a crispy cracker)
  • payasam, a sweet rice pudding like kheer

Other things you can eat for lunch or dinner:

  • Kothukozhi (the zh is pronounced like an r), a chicken dish in a thick dark sauce.
  • Fish masala or fish curry. I'd heard the fish was supposed to be awesome here, but it's not been particularly special. Perhaps I am spoiled after Bengal.
  • Porotta, which is kind of like Paratha, but less oily and more layered and therefore strictly better.
  • Biriyani, rice and things.
Most restaurants are about the same. This is a good thing; they're all great.

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