With Kerala's variety of cultures and traditions, it is only natural that the cuisine should be influenced by them and show great variety and creativity. Visitors who taste the specialities of Kerala invariably want more! While the Hindus specialise in vegetarian food, the Christians and Muslims have a variety of exclusive non-vegetarian dishes. Generous use of coconut and of a variety of spices is the hallmark of Kerala cooking and seafood, inevitably, is a big part of Kerala cuisine.
Among the typical breakfast dishes are puttu, made from rice flour and coconut steamed in bamboo, and appam, a kind of pancake made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk batter. Both these are popular with sweet and savoury accompaniments. Idlis and dosas are also made from rice flour, one steamed and the other a fine pancake, and originated in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.
Rice is the staple for lunch, accompanied by a number of gravies and dry vegetables, spicy and containing coconut or coconut milk. Avial, thoren, kaalan, rasam, olen, pachadi are some of these accompaniments. The non-vegetarians will include spicy fried meat or fish, the meen pollichathu which combines small pieces of fish with grated coconut, or the famous 'Kerala red fish curry'. The pathiri and kozhi (chicken) curry, and biriyani are traditional Muslim specialities.
Tapioca, or kappa as it is known in Malayalam, is an important staple and remains very popular. It is cheap, nourishing and, along with fish curry, provides a balanced diet. About a century ago the Maharaja of Travancore looked for a means to avert famines and the death and disease they caused. He researched several plants to find one that could be easily grown and would provide a staple food -- that one was tapioca.
Chips, fried in coconut oil, are a very popular snack and while banana chips are the most common, one can also find chips made of jackfruit, tapioca and yam.
The best loved sweet dish, and one that graces almost every special occasion, is payasam. This is a kind of sweet porridge that can be made from lentils, or vermicelli or rice, with jaggery as the sweetener. Jaggery and coconut milk are, in fact, a part of most sweets. There are a number of sweet snacks, or palaharams, like aval velayichathu which is sweetened beaten rice; or avalose unda, a rice flour and jaggery combination; ada, which has ripe jackfruit steamed in a rice flour covering; and many more too numerous to describe.