Four distinct groups live in the state of Kerala, and each has a distinctive food list. The rice appam, a pancake also called vella-appam, is common to all Keralites, eaten with a meat stew by Syrians, and with an aviyal of vegetables by Nampoothiris and Nairs.
For the Muslims, the lightly flavored Biryani-made of mutton, chicken, egg or fish-takes pride of place. In seafood, mussels are a favorite. For the Christians, who can be seen in large concentration in areas like Kottayam and Pala, ishtew (a derivation of the European stew), with appam is a must for every marriage reception. Kerala also has its own fermented beverages -the famous kallu (toddy) and patta charayam (arrack). Arrack is extremely intoxicating and is usually consumed with spicy pickles and boiled eggs (patta and mutta).
The Syrians eat beef, and eracchi-olathiyattu (fried meat) is a made during special occasions like weddings. This is a dry dish of beef chunks and coconut pieces fried in its own fat.
In Kerala, most curries, including meat, always have a lot of coconut milk. For Christmas there may be a wild duck, cooked as mappas, or roasted with stuffing. Wild boar cooked with a strong masala, or pickled oil, is also a Syrian speciality.
Buttermilk mixed with turmeric and spices called as kacchiamoru is used foe pouring on dry dishes.
The Muslims of Kerala are called Moplahs, a corruption of mahapilla or mapillai, meaning bridegroom or a person in high esteem. They are descendents of Arab traders who married local Kerala women, later expanding their ranks by conversion. Though the Kerala usage of rice, coconut and jaggery is evident, there is the Arab influence to be seen in the biryanis and the ground wheat-and-meat porridge aleesa, elsewhere called harisa.
The roti (bread) in Kerala is the distinctive podi-patthiri, a flat thin rice chapatti made from a boiled mash of rice baked on a thava and dipped in coconut milk. The ari-pattahri is a thicker version made from parboiled rice and flattened out on a cloth or banana leaf to prevent it from sticking.
A wedding dinner in Kerala would necessarily mean a biryani of mutton, chicken, fish or prawn which is finally finished by arranging the separately cooked flesh and the cooked rice in layers and baking with live coals above and below. Several flavored soups are made from both rice and wheat with added coconut or coconut milk and spices. A whole-wheat porridge with minced mutton cooked in coconut milk is called kiskiya.
A distinctive and unusual sweet is mutta-mala (egg garlands), chain like strings of egg yolk cooked in sugar syrup but later removed from it, and frequently served with a snow like pudding called pinnanthappam made from the separated egg whites which have been whisked up with the remaining sugar syrup, steamed and cut into diamond shapes.
The Thiyas are a community that formerly tapped toddy but have now entered many other professions. Appam and stew are the breakfast fare, the stew being varied" fish in coconut sauce with tiny pieces of mango, muttun in coconut milk, or simply a sugared thick coconut milk. A bread speciality is nai-patthal, in the shape of a starfish. The curd pacchadi may be of pumpkin, and the sweet dessert may be a pranthaman, which is moong dhal boiled in coconut milk and flavored with palm jaggery, cardamom and ginger powder and laced with fried cashewnuts, raisins and coconut chips.
The Nairs are the Nakar, the original warrior class of Kerala, whose cooking skills have carried them as professionals to non-vegetarian families all over the south. Their breakfast again is either the vella-appam or the bamboo steamed puttu, eaten with sweetened milk and tiny bananas. Certain vegetable varieties though eaten by ll Keralites, have special Nair associations. The sambhar of tuvar dhal with added vegetables is a regular item. Aviyal is a mix of vegetables like green bananas, drumsticks, various beans and green cashew nuts (this is distinctive to the Nairs) cooked in coconut milk and then tossed with some coconut oil in spiced sour curd. Kalan is the same dish that uses green bananas alone and loan is a dish of white pumpkin and dried beans cooked in coconut milk and coconut oil.
A wedding feast of the Nairs will include several types of pacchadis, pickles, chips and payasams based on milk, coconut milk, rice, dhal and bananas. No meat is served at a wedding, though normally meat is eaten.
The domestic cooking of meat and chicken by the Nairs is spiced and uses a great deal of coconut and coconut milk which tempers the dish to mildness. Small pieces of ashgourd or raw mango cooked with coconut, curds and chilli paste, is Pulisseri, and puli-inji is fried sliced ginger.
The Nampoothiris are the Brahmins of Kerala who may have first arrived there about 3rd century BC. They are strict vegetarians who favor the idli, dosai and puttu for breakfast with a coconut or curd accompaniment, and eat their rice with kootu, kalan and olan.
They avoid the use of garlic in cooking. The thoran is usually made from the pods of green payaru (lobia) cut into small bits, stir-fried in oil and finally finished by cooking in a little water.
Green bananas, spinach, cabbage and peas can all be made into thoran and eaten with rice.
All Kerala groups eat yellow banana chips fried in coconut oil and lightly salted. The best ones are reputed to be made in Kozhokode, which also boasts of a special sweet halwa made of bananas.
The payasam of Kerala uses rice and milk, but the prathamas have milk with fruit or dhal, or with paper-thin shreds of rice roll, cooked separately and added to the sweetened milk to give palada-prathaman. Chatha pulisseri is a shraddha speciality, asour buttermilk preparation with pepper, salt and coconut paste, thickened by boiling down.