You could say that it was the intoxicating aroma of spices that lured traders long ago to Kerala. The same heady concoctions make the cuisine a delicious enough reason to travel to this part of India today. So, expect a generous use of coconut, chilli and spices, in mouth-tingling local recipes that differ with region and community. We list out some of the best places to go for authentic Kerala food in the state.
Seafood at North Cliff, Varkala
Enjoy a picturesque Kerala sunset from a first-floor perch at any of the restaurants that line North Cliff at Varkala. An elaborate choice of fresh catch in the form of snappers, barracudas and swordfish lies temptingly on ice slabs for you to select. A long dinner in the breezy cliffside cafes of Varkala is an absolute essential, while you take in the scenic ambience of fishing boats silhouetted against the setting sun.
Pai Brothers, Kochi
There are 187 types of the south Indian staple – the dosa – of which 36 are supposedly copyrighted by Pai Brothers. The ‘thattil kutty’ (small) dosa is really popular. This joint is hard to miss because of its bright yellow and red decor, even though it lies in a lane off MG Road.
Quality Bakery, Kochi
Keeping years of culinary history alive, the dingy, humble bakery in Pattalam is the only place where one can taste the famous Dutch bruder bread. The sugar plum brown loaves come out of the oven regularly on Saturdays, but have to be ordered Monday to Fridays.
Dubai Hotel, Kumarakom
You cannot miss the big red signs of Dubai Hotel as you enter Kumarakom town and it is without doubt the best place to grab a local Kerala meal. Vegetarians will not find an exhaustive menu here but can manage.
Tharavadu Family Restaurant, Kumarakom
This local toddy shop optimistically stretched out to become a family restaurant, has few takers for the latter. However, it certainly is an interesting concept where the entrepreneur has tried to elevate the local beverage to a legitimate status for families!
If you arrive here at lunch time, you might need to jostle for space and eventually share the table with other visitors for a hearty fill of a Kerala meal or Malabar specialities like beef ularthiyath, mutton biryani and kadukka varuval. You can choose between three different sections to sit in, mostly bifurcated by how brightly each is lit and the use of AC. This historic establishment sits at an inconspicuous corner on Kannur Road, but has branches as far as Sharjah and Dubai.
Sree Arul Jyothi, Thiruvananthapuram
Arul Jyothi has been dishing out both south Indian snacks and Kerala specials for years. One of the most famous vegetarian joints in town, it is particularly packed in the evenings. Piping hot coffee and masala dosas are perfect for an evening snack here.
Bombay Hotel, Kozhikode
Bombay Hotel has been serving delicious Malabar food since 1949. Even now, the small restaurant on Silk Road near the Kozhikode beach is packed in the afternoons.
Villa Maya, Thiruvananthapuram
Frangipani trees in the courtyard, water-spewing fountains, lotus ponds, dim lighting and the music of classical instruments give a chic air to the Kerala-themed Villa Maya. It serves a fusion cuisine of authentic Kerala dishes, Indian grills and continental food. Try the refreshing pineapple shikanji. It is spread over three floors of a restored 19th-century house.
Hotel Suprabhatham, Thiruvananthapuram
The narrow entrance to Suprabhatham opens into a world of delicious south Indian fare – idlis, uthappams and filter coffee, a relief from the overwhelming foreign cuisines near the beach. If your Indian taste buds need familiar flavours, this is the place for you.
Rock Café, Kovalam
Visit Rock Cafe for the real thing – a view of the fishermen folk bringing the catch home and packing up for the day while you fork in utterly delicious fresh fried and grilled seafood.