We could see banana plantations in almost every corner of Kerala. In some places, there were still only small, young plants (banana nurseries), in others – dense vegetation – interestingly, all of the plants were mostly the same height, as if someone had cut them.
Banana trees also grew on the banks of the Backwaters, though in some places, there were only narrow strips of land, and they rivalled other trees in height.
More than 200 varieties are said to be cultivated in Kerala and bananas are easily available throughout the year. Moreover, not only the fruits are used in Kerala cuisine, but also the leaves and flowers.
Whole bunches hung in the fruit stalls, bananas differed in size and color. Even at the temples, the Hindu gods were depicted with a bunch of bananas in hand.
On the roads, we often met trucks delivering freshly picked bananas to shops. Their bodies were loaded to the brim.
But we also saw a guy delivering bananas in his tuk-tuk (I wonder how many bananas he could fit in that little car) and a guy selling bananas directly on his motorcycle.
Of course, you can eat raw bananas in Kerala. The tastiest are said to be the small ones – Poovan.
As a traditional breakfast, you can have puttu (a mixture of rice flour and grated coconut) with a curry, served with a few slices of fresh banana.
As a sweet dessert, the hotel restaurant also offered us stewed bananas in sugar syrup. The Nendran variety, which is widely grown in Kerala, is mainly used for this.
Those who truly like sweets can also enjoy bananas dipped in caramel syrup…
…but I preferred to taste the banana jam. It was a beautiful amber color. Stewed bananas, fresh pineapple and pancakes with banana and pineapple jam were another excellent breakfast combination.
However, an excellent delicacy that you can taste not only in the hotel restaurant but also on the street, is Nendran fried bananas – Pazham Pori.
Bananas are cut into thin slices, coated in a mixture of all-purpose flour and rice flour (turmeric powder is added for color and cardamom powder for flavor) and then fried in hot coconut oil. They should be beautifully crispy on the surface and pleasantly soft inside. They are mainly served with tea.
However, banana leaves have also been used in Kerala cuisine for centuries. One of the traditional dishes is Meen Pollichatu.
A mixture of vegetables and pieces of fish is wrapped in a banana leaf, forming nice green packets, and these are then steamed while the mixture inside is cooked. The leaves impart a subtle flavor to the dish.
The package is served on a plate, it should be unwrapped like a Christmas present. With each layer, the curiosity about the food hidden inside increases.
Another speciality with banana leaves that I had the chance to taste was Panki – thin savory rice pancakes, wrapped in banana leaves, which are then stewed in hot oil from both sides.
This is what the pancake looks like after opening the green leaf:
Banana leaves – as seen from the previous photos – are used not only for cooking but mainly for serving.
It does not matter whether meat, rice dishes or desserts are served on a green leaf, this way of serving looks beautiful, but it is also practical (the leaves are large enough to serve a whole lunch on one leaf), hygienic (the leaves have a wax coating which prevents the adhesion of dirt and dust and is said to also have antibacterial properties), economical (no need to buy new dishes and at the same time time-saving, saving us from washing dishes) and eco-friendly (the leaves decompose in a very short time).
The banana leaves are washed thoroughly and dried a little and then food can be served directly on the leaf – rice and all chutneys and sauces. It looks (and tastes) great!
Since the leaves are quite large, they can be cut into the necessary shapes and thus used for serving. Even the food arranged like this looks amazing!
I have also seen banana flowers being sold in Kerala. They look like giant purple tears or hearts and can weigh up to half a kilo.
The pink core can be fried and the flowers added to salads, curries and soups. Unfortunately, I don’t know how they taste as I didn’t get to eat them, or at least I wouldn’t know if they had been part of any food that I had the opportunity to taste.
The best for last! If you go to Kerala, you absolutely must try the famous banana chips! However, I didn’t just want to taste this Kerala speciality, but also to experience how it is made. And I did that in Kalpetta, the Wayanad district’s capital.
At first, I was disappointed, we came here in the evening and the cauldron for frying chips was empty already. But when Munir, the boss of this chip shop, saw that we wanted not only a show but also a purchase, he poured a good amount of coconut oil into the cauldron, brought green Nendran bananas, cut the skin with a bamboo knife and peeled a white banana.
Then he started pushing the bananas one by one into the slicer to cut them into thin slices. The slices fell straight into the hot bath.
It was bubbling like in a real Jacuzzi, Munir occasionally stirred the banana slices with a large wooden spoon with holes. He even let me stir for a while!
Then he added more salt and continued to stir, the slices becoming more and more yellow. He scooped them up with the spoon several times and threw them into the air, the yellow banana slices shining in the dark like gold coins.
Locals kept stopping by the store to buy a bag of fresh chips. Munir makes 100-150 kg of them every day! His helpers guided us around the chip shop, enthusiastically letting us taste other types of chips and even more enthusiastically taking selfies with us.
Sarkara Varatti sweet chips are also a speciality of Kerala. They are thicker banana pieces coated with jaggery which is actually raw unrefined cane sugar (as a healthier sweetener alternative). I have to admit that I liked these chips the least and they also got stuck to my teeth.
The show ended and we bought several types of chips. I have to tell you, it was the best souvenir from Kerala! Since I bought them in the penultimate evening, I brought them home still fresh. In the photo you can see all of the varieties I bought: on the top left in the largest bowl, are yellow salty banana chips, next are tapioca chips and next to them are sweet banana chips. On the bottom left are Jackfruit chips – these were very hard, and next to them are the spicy banana chips, which have become my absolute favourite! As if the whole taste of Kerala is concentrated in them!
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri