[an error occurred while processing this directive]"The only Kerala dish without curry leaves is boiled rice," jokes chef John Samuel, tossing spices into a bubbling pot of coconut and cashew curry. Bright and aromatic, southern Indian cooking is a revelation to palates dulled by ghee-laden northern Indian dishes. And nowhere does this explosion of flavors converge better than in the southwestern state of Kerala.
Its lush coastline has been a magnet for seafarers for centuries, and its cuisine still reveals Portuguese, Jewish and Arab influences. These join a native storehouse of ingredients rich with Ayurvedic properties: turmeric is said to be good for the complexion, and cinnamon for digestion; curry leaves, some claim, help fight cancer.
The groaning buffet at Samuel's restaurant, Marari Beach, tel: (91) 478 286 3801, near Alleppey, is an excellent place to sample this kaleidoscopic cooking. Besides fresh seafood, you'll enjoy typical dishes like banana flower with grated coconut and lemon rice with beetroot chutney.
A sister restaurant in Fort Cochin, The History, tel: (91) 484 221 5461, specializes in Arab, Syrian-Christian, Anglo-Indian and Jewish recipes. Blandness is the one thing not on the menu.