Kerala

"Once there was a time when the whole world was enamored of the fragrance of Kerala."

The south west state of Kerala lies on the Malabar Coast of India, a beautiful tropical region made up almost entirely of inland waterways, coconut groves and spice plantations.

Kerala has traded its spices – cardamom, ginger, turmeric and black pepper – with Arab, Chinese and European merchants for thousands of years. As Sugatha Kumari, a Keralite poet and ecologist, said: "Once there was a time when the whole world was enamoured of the fragrance of Kerala".

Because of the diversity of people coming into and setting in Kerala over the centuries, the region has an open attitude to visitors and a powerful mix of religions. Kerala was the first place in the world to freely to elect a communist government (and vote it out several years later). It has India's lowest birthrate and its highest literacy rate, and probably the highest concentration of poets.

Rasa means taste (but not only of food), and we want you to experience a taste of Kerala's village traditions, along with some dishes from other southern Indian states. At Rasa, we will remind you of Kerala's traditions: the elephant parade and boat festival, and of Onam, Kerala's greatest festival, celebrated in September with music, dance, and, of course, food.

Culinary Tradition

In Kerala, your dishes are served on a huge fresh banana leaf, a disposable platter. Contact with your food is direct and tactile as you eat with your right hand, mixing wet into dry ingredients – a messy business for the uninitiated.

No meal is complete without a selection of pickles and chutneys to add piquancy (in Kerala, these are placed top left on the leaf), rice to fill you, a very liquid dal (spiced cooked lentils) to moisten dry dishes, some yoghurt to cool the more fiery curries, and a selection of crisp savories.

Not surprisingly, these dishes are often made from bananas, as Kerala has over 250 types, from bright green through every shade of yellow to clay pink.

To complete a feast, there may be bananas cooked in raw sugar syrup, scented with cardamom from Kerala's cardamom hills in the east, or a sweet pudding with raisins and cashew nuts, since Kerala is the cashew capital of India.