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The cuisine of Kerala, a state in the south of India, is linked to its history, geography, demography and culture. Kerala cuisine offers a multitude of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes prepared using fish, poultry and red meat with rice a typical accompaniment. Chillies, curry leaves, coconut, mustard seeds, turmeric, tamarind, and asafoetida are all frequently used.
In addition to historical diversity, cultural influences, particularly the large percentages of Muslims and Christians, have also contributed unique dishes and styles to Kerala cuisine, especially non-vegetarian dishes. The meat eating habits of the people were historically limited by religious taboos. Brahmins eschew non vegetarian items. However, most modern-day Hindus do not observe any dietary taboos, except a few of those belonging to upper castes who do not consume beef or pork. Most Muslims do not eat pork and other items forbidden by Islamic law. Alcohol is available in Kerala in many hotels and over a thousand bars and liquor stores, but state authorities plan to close the vast majority of these outlets in a ten-year plan, beginning in 2014, to combat problem drinking.
One of the traditional Kerala dishes is vegetarian and is called the Kerala Sadya, which is an elaborate banquet prepared for festivals and ceremonies. A full-course Sadya, which consists of rice with about twenty different accompaniments and desserts is the ceremonial meal of Kerala eaten usually on celebratory occasions including marriages, Onam and Vishu. It is served on a plantain leaf.
Because of its rich trading heritage, over time various cuisines have blended with indigenous Kerala dishes with foreign dishes adapted to local tastes. Coconuts grow in abundance in Kerala, so grated coconut and coconut milk are commonly used for thickening and flavouring. Kerala's long coastline and numerous rivers have led to a strong fishing industry in the region, making seafood a common part of meals. Rice is grown in abundance along with tapioca. It is the main starch ingredient used in Kerala's food.
Having been a major production area of spices for thousands of years, the region makes frequent use of black pepper, cardamom, clove, ginger, and cinnamon. Kerala also has a variety of breakfast dishes like idli, dosa, appam, idiyappam, puttu, and pathiri.
Many of Kerala's Hindus, except certain communities and ovolacto vegetarians, eat fish and chicken. Some communities, on the other hand, are famed for their vegetarian cuisine consisting of milk and dairy-based dishes, especially various varieties of sambar and rasam. In most Kerala households, a typical meal consists of rice, fish, and vegetables. Beef, contrary to the outlook of the remaining Indian society, also plays a prominent role in Kerala cuisine. The meat is featured in Hindu, Christian and Islamic communities of Kerala.
Erachichor is a traditional meat-rice dish in Kerala cuisine. Erachichor is cooked in a mud pot, and steamed with a banana leaf covering.
Syrian Christians, or Mar Thoma Christians, of Kerala have their own cuisine. Particularly well-developed are the snacks and savouries of Syrian Christians such as "achappam' and "kuzhalappam". A favourite dish of Kerala Christians is "mappas", or chicken stew. For this dish, chicken, potatoes and onions are simmered gently in a creamy white sauce flavoured with black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, green chillies, lime juice, shallots and coconut milk. Lamb and duck can replace chicken in the stew recipe.
Other dishes include piralen (chicken stir-fries), meat thoran (dry curry with shredded coconut), sardine and duck curries, and meen molee (spicy stewed fish). This is eaten with another dish known as appam. Appam, kallappam, or vellayappam are rice flour pancakes which have soft, thick white spongy centres and crisp, lace-like edges. "Meen Mulakittathu" or "Meen vevichathu" (fish in fiery red chilly sauce) is another favourite item.
"Pidi", a type of rice dumplings in thick gravy, is a famous Syrian Christian delicacy. "Pidi" is paired best with chicken curry.
In addition to chicken and fish, Syrian Christians along with a section of Hindus and all Muslims in Kerala eat red meat. "Irachi ularthiathu is a beef dish cooked with spices.
Muslim or Mappila cuisine is a fascinating blend of traditional Kerala, Persian and Arab food culture. This amazing confluence of culinary cultures is best seen in the preparation of most dishes.
Biriyani (mutton, chicken, Beef, lamb or prawn) made as 'dum' tops the list of delicacies. "Thalassery Biriyani" and "Kozhikodan Biriyani" are some of the biriyanies exclusive to Kerala. Kallummakkaya (mussels) curry, erachi puttu (erachi means meat), parottas (soft flatbread), pathiris (a type of rice pancake) and ghee rice are some of the other specialties. The characteristic use of spices is the hallmark of Mappila cuisine. Spices like pepper, cardamom and clove are used profusely.
The snacks include unnakkaya (deep-fried, boiled ripe banana paste covering a mixture of cashew, raisins and sugar), pazham nirachathu (ripe banana filled with coconut grating, molasses or sugar), muttamala made of eggs, chattipathiri, a dessert made of flour, like baked, layered chappatis with rich filling, arikadukka and so on