Culinary Explorations of a Traveller: Kerala to Delhi

Savouring South Indian Delicacies

A few years ago, I was travelling solo in the South Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and was quite mesmerised by the food there. I decided to capture this melange of flavours simply because I wanted those who haven’t visited this region to know about it. 

Whenever we talk about South Indian food, the delicacies coming to our minds are idli, dosa, sambhar and so on, perhaps because they are available all over India. But the myriads of food available around Kerala and Tamil Nadu are spectacular to explore. They are much more than the conventional idli and dosa.

I would begin with the staple drink of my trip – coconut water. It’s a natural laxative and is easily available in every corner of the South Indian states. I believe this is the most beautiful picture I have ever clicked of a coconut. It was captured while I was taking a break at the Alleppey backwaters.

My next stop was at Thiruvalla, near Changanacherry where I was staying for the night. I had one of the most exotic dinners of my tour there. It had one of the specialities of Kerala – beef curry. Unlike in other Indian states, beef is very easily available in Kerala. The dinner also included duck curry, steamed rice cakes called puttu and my favourite, karimeen – a fish named Kari (meen refers to fish in Malayalam) wrapped in banana leaves, with spices and loads of effort.

The next day, I had a very long train journey from Changanacherry to Calicut. My friend’s mother in Changanacherry equipped me with homemade lunch for the journey and it was yet another delicious experience. She made me idiyappam and egg curry. Idiyappam is basically noodles made of rice in a ball-like shape, as seen in the photograph. It looks small but is really filling.

From the coast, I went to explore the hills. Wayanad is a hilly district in Kerala and quite close to the Tamil Nadu border. It’s famous for its coffee plantations. Not surprisingly, the coffee there tastes quite different from the branded coffee we are used to. I definitely didn’t want to miss it, so tried handmade coffee and cake in a cafe near Sulthanbathery bus station in Wayanad.

My next stop was at Coimbatore, a city in Tamil Nadu. I usually avoid vegetarian food, but the hostel where I was staying had only that to offer. To be honest, I refilled my plate thrice. The meal had tomato rice, idiyappam ( but not in a ball-like shape, rather just in the noodle form), coconut chutney and sambhar. Everything got mixed up on my plate, but I think that really enhanced their flavour. Not to forget, I really loved the taste of curry leaves in all the dishes.

Kodaikanal, a hill station in Tamil Nadu is quite popular for its handmade chocolates. Among the countless varieties, I loved almond chocolates the most. I bought some for my family back home as well.

My next stop was at Munnar in Kerala. My lunch at the city’s Maharani Hotel was quite a sumptuous one. It had puttu, egg curry and kadala curry, Malayalam name for chickpea curry.I took an hour to finish the whole meal. By this time, I had become quite sure that I was in love with puttu.

My last stop at Kochi was completely based on seafood. I got so obsessed with the fresh fishes caught right in front of me from the Arabian Sea, that I decided to survive only on fish. While visiting Kochi fort, I photographed this aikura fry right on the backdrop of the Chinese fishing nets – a colonial legacy unique to Kochi. Aikura when translated from Malayalam refers to Kingfish or Surmai, a kind of fish heavily popular on the Arabian Sea coast. It is abundantly consumed on the Malabar and Konkan coastlines. I bought a raw fish and fried it at a nearby restaurant that lent me their cutlery for a while in lieu of a meagre amount of cash for the gas. I did so to avoid the terribly high restaurant prices by the seaside, as I was a student and on a shoestring budget. As evident from the photograph, it’s a fishing net platform. Sitting and eating there was not an option but neither was it breaking any rule. I longed to sit with my legs dangling from the platform freely as I ate the fish overseeing the Arabian sea and feeling the sea breeze – so I did it! Not going to lie, it has been one of the most liberating things I’ve been able to do in my life.

Like the southern part of the country, North India possesses similar diversity and richness when it comes to food. I got a glimpse of it while…

Following the Old Delhi Chaat Trail

Delhi’s food scene is as grand and diverse as its history. Perhaps it’s a good representative of the variety in culinary practices of North India. However, it’s nearly impossible to fit the whole of Delhi’s iconic food joints in one go; the best way to learn about them is by being area-specific. The narrow by-lanes of Old Delhi narrate stories rich in culinary histories.

Acclaimed for its magical flavours, Purani Dilli shares its secrets with those who seek.  No trip to Delhi is complete without a visit to Chandni Chowk – one of the oldest markets in New Delhi and the largest wholesale market in India. This place, though congested, has its own charm, not only for the shoppers but also for foodies like us. Chandni Chowk was a market once visited by merchants from around the world – China, Turkey and even Holland. You think of a type of fabric, or a book, or some household item, or a spice or cooking ingredient and you will get it all here!

This place has the capacity to stir your senses. The aroma of the food when you walk around is so inviting, that you can’t miss eating some food that has retained its soulful taste for centuries. I had decided to go on a Chaattrail in Old Delhi on a cold November evening and the experience was everything warm!

Dahi bhalle-papdi chaat, is my favourite, as it has the exact amount of sweet, sour, crisp and tangy flavours, and they all explode in the mouth.

Daal Pakodis ready to be devoured as a fried snack or golgappa filling depending on customer preference.

Fruit chaat, mainly fresh fruits mixed with some spices, is a rather rare speciality of this locality.

Daulat ki chaat is a legendary and must-have snack for everyone with a sweet tooth. Milk is the main ingredient which is mixed with cream and cooled over an ice slab overnight. This sweetened milk mix is then whisked until it’s light and frothy, before blending it with khoya and chenna (evaporated milk solids) and garnishing it with some saffron. This delicacy is available only during the winter months.

Potato bits on the frying pan before they became aloo pakodi chaat (as seen in the next photograph).

Aloo pakodi chaat garnished with soulful spices.

Last but not the least, my comfort snack, the most popular and versatile aloo tikki being fried to become the inevitable chaat devoured by thousands of people around India almost every day.

Avidha Raha is a traveller at heart but likes to call herself a researcher, writer and photographer so that people can grasp some of her tangible aspects. She likes to think of herself as a free bird fitting no boxes. Avidha graduated from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University in 2019. Her works have been published in National Geographic, Times of India, Tripoto, The 1947 Partition Archive, Alonyash Magazine and Delhi Food Walks. She is deeply interested in culinary histories, and also enjoys eating and exploring different cuisines from around the world. Currently, she is interested in exploring South Asian cuisines.

All images by Avidha Raha

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