Puneet Varma

Thalassery Cuisine

Region or state  Kerala
Course  Main course
Region  Kerala
Food energy (per serving)  250 kcal (1047 kJ)
Place of origin  Indian subcontinent
Serving temperature  hot
Thalassery Cuisine httpsiytimgcomvi7BiZFWL0tcchqdefaultjpg
Alternative names  Thalassery biriyani or biriani
Created by  Malabar variant, Mughal inception
Other information  Accompaniments: Raita, Grated coconut-mint chutney, Pickle
Main ingredients  Kaima or Jeerakasala Rice, Chicken, Spices
Similar  Injipuli, Pathiri, Maachha Bihana, Sindhi biryani, Bela Pana

Thalassery is known for its biryani (in local dialect, biri-yaa-ni) Unlike other biriyani cuisines Thalassery biryani uses Kaima/Jeerakasala rice instead of the usual basmati rice. The influence of Arabian/Mughal culture is evident, especially in the dishes of the Muslim community, although many have become popular among all communities.


Thalassery Faloodha

Thalassery Falooda is a regional variant of the Persian dessert. This is a cocktail of fruit salad, dry fruits such as black current, pista, cashew, almond(badam), rose milk and vanila icecream.

Green Mussel dishes

The Asian Green Mussel (Perna viridis) cuisines are favored in Thalassery dishes. The mussel is called Kallu-mma-kaya (fruit on the stone). They grow on rocks in contact with sea. Other dishes include Kallummakaya porichathu (fried mussel), Arikkadukka (mussel fried in rice batter), mussel pickels. Elambakka mussels are also popular. The green mussel's popularity led farmers to employ aquaculture in local rivers to increase supplies. Thalassery natives are known for their generous honouring and serving dishes for guests.

Thalassery Snacks

Another Thalassery dish is Kozhi-kkalu, made of sliced and fried tapioca. Pappadam-Pazham kuzhakkal, Aval um Poriyum kuzhakkal are other popular dishes.

Muttamala, Taripoli, Pazham nirachatu (fried banana filled with grated coconut sugar or jaggery), Unnakaya, Kaayi pola, Chatti pathiri and Ari pathiri are other local dishes. Porridges such as Mutaari kachiyatu (ragi porridge), are popular.

Thalassery Biryani

Thalassery biryani (IPA: [t̪laʃeɾi biɾijɑːɳi]) is a rice-based dish blended with spices and chicken. As it is the only biryani recipe in Kerala cuisine, it can also be called Kerala biryani.

The main difference between Thalassery biryani and other biryanis is that it uses only Khaima/Jeerakasala rice—a short-grain, thin rice which is also called biryani rice in Kerala. The dish does not use basmati rice. Biryani is an exotic dish of Mughal origin, but this variant is an indigenous recipe of Malabar. It is a symbol of the cultural amalgamation of Mughal and Malabari cuisines. The Mughals brought the cuisine of biryani from Samarkand, and later variations of biryani developed in different parts of India. Thalassery biryani may have come to the region because of the influence of the Muslim rulers of Mysore and Arkot.

Thalassery biryani is a cultural embodiment and is reminiscent of foreign influences in Malabar; it is a reminder of the Mughal-Arab cultural influence in North Kerala due to the trade that lasted for many centuries before the 1900s and the emigration to the Middle East of locals from the 1970s onwards. Thalassery sea port was an export trade centre for spices where a convergence of European, Arab and Malabar cultures occurred.


The name "Thalassery biryani" (Malayalam: തലശ്ശേരി ബിരിയാണി, Hindi: त लश्शेरि बिरयानी, Tamil: தலச்சேரி பிரியாணி, Arabic: برياني تلشیری‎‎, Bengali: থালস্সের্য বিরিয়ানি) originates from Thalassery, a town in the coastal Malabar region in North Kerala, India. The word "biryani" is derived from the Persian word biryān (n) (بریان) which means "fried" or "roasted". Biryani was believed to have been invented in the kitchens of the Mughal Emperors; Thalassery biryani is one of many ways of preparing biryani dishes. In the local dialect-Malayalam, there is a small variation in pronunciation. It is called biri-yaa-ni instead of bir-yani

Historical and cultural influences

Thalassery biryani is an ample insignia of the Islamic cultural influence in the region. The dish is a traditional Mappila or Malabar cuisine. Ancient written records—except for a few treatise by historians—citing the origin of Mappila's (Malabar Muslims) are rare. The mythology about the conversion of the last Chera Emperor (Cheraman Perumal)—Rama Varma Kulasekhara Perumal—to Islam from Mahodayapuram (Kodungallur) by Malik Deenar and subsequent conversion of Perumal's sister and nephew residing in Dharmadam(a village located north of Thalassery) is generally believed to be the origin of Islam in North Malabar. Perumal is believed to have left Kerala from an erstwhile feudal province in the region named Poyanad (Poya Nadu-'The province from where he left') which lies in between Thalassery and Kannur taluks (Governed by local chieftains named Randuthara Achanmar before 1947). Perumal's nephew Mahabali, is believed to be the first Ali Raja of the Arakkal kingdom (The Sultanate of Lakshadweep and Cannanore)—the sole Muslim kingdom of Kerala. The Arakkal Kingdom controlled Dharmadam until the formation of Kerala state on 1 November 1956. The legend showcases that these incidents had a significant influence in introducing Islamic culture in Thalassery. In the ancient period Thalassery—An erstwhile port town in North Malabar— was geographically in the convergence point of three regional provinces Chirakkal, Kottayam and Kadathanad. It was also the end point of the 'Perya pass' coming from the eastern hilly areas of Coorg and Wayanad making it an important trade center of spices in Malabar. The Arab traders, the Arkot rulers and the invasion of Sultanate of Mysore were the other important factors which introduced and developed various Islamic culture in the region.

During the Muslim holy month of Ramzan, Malabar dishes are made in abundant varieties. The Muslim community of Malabar differs culturally; the lifestyle of the trader communities near the coastal towns differs from that of the farming communities in the inland and hilly areas; Malabar cuisine varies throughout the region. In the modern era as communication improved exponentially, the differences of culture between coastal and hilly area became inconspicuous resulting in the amalgamation of food culture with in the Muslim community in Malabar .

The Mughlai cuisine had a significant influence upon Malabar recipes. Mughali recipes including Biryani, Kebab and Naan spread throughout India. The ingredients included rice, maida, wheat and there was extensive use of ghee (clarified butter) and oils for preparation. Sweet delicacies were made from jaggery (unrefined sugar). Most of these dishes are non-vegetarian; chicken, mutton, lamb and beef are used but pork is not consumed due to religious regulations. Dish range from mild to extremely spicy, and the dishes have distinct aromas.

The practice in Islamic food culture is that the non-vegetarian dishes are required to be "Halal" compliant, such foods are supposed to be consumed by Muslims as a religious directive. The Malabar Mappila dishes are preferred by some societies to be compliant with the 'Halal' method of food processing.

Malabar cuisines

There are two classes of the non-vegetarian cuisine in Kerala; 'Malabar cuisine' which is from North Kerala and 'Syrian Christian cuisine' from the South. They are clearly distinct from each other; the former has Mughalai-Arab, Portuguese, British, Dutch, Jewish, French and the latter is a mix of Kerala traditional dishes which is rich in coconut and the Syrian, Dutch, Portuguese and British recipes. Thalassery biryani is a Malabar cuisine recipe. Most of the Malabar dish cuisines are through frying using ghee and most of them are non-vegetarian. There are spicy as well as sweet dishes in them. Some of the Malabar cuisines are Ari Pattiri, Chatti Pattiri, Coin porottas, Kallummakaya fry, Arikkadukka and biryanis of chicken, mutton, prawn, fish, egg and sweeteners like Aleesa, kadalpparippu ada, kozhikode halva.

Biryani is usually seen as an occasional serving. The Malabar dishes for breakfast are Pattiri, Orotti etc. and the sweeteners are mostly used as snacks in evening. The dish 'biryani' came to the region due to the Islamic influence and the recipe gradually evolved into Thalassery biryani which has a distinct cooking method and taste.

Differences from other biryani

Thalassery biryani uses a unique, fragrant, small-grained, thin rice variety named Kaima or Jeerakasala. This rice even though small in size, is different from the common small rice used in many Indian rice dishes. Kaima/Jeerakasala is not round unlike these common smaller variants and the fragrance of Kaima/Jeerakasala is another distinct feature. Other kinds of rice that could be used are Jeera rice, Jeerakasemba or small Bangladeshi biryani rice. The rice is white, short (small) grained, thin (not plum), but it is the aroma of these rice varieties which make then distinctive. The recipe and cuisine of Thalassery biryani has clear conspicuous differences with other biryani variants. The Kaima/Jeerakasala rice does not need pre-soaking, water is only used to clean the rice. After adequate boiling there should not be any water remaining in the cooking dish as it should have been evaporated completely. This is a major difference from other rice preparation, in which water has to be drained off after cooking.

The blending of ghee rice with masala is done by the dum process (A method of cooking by sealing a lid tightly and placing hot charcoal on it). The biryani masala and ghee rice are arranged in layers inside the dish. Meat is cooked with masala on slow fire; it is layered with rice and the lid of the container is sealed with Maida dough or a loin cloth. Hot coal or charcoal is placed then above the lid. Thalassery biryani is a Pakki-Biryani. There are two types of biryani; "Pakki" and "Kacchi", In Pakki style, the ghee rice is added to the fully cooked chicken-masala mix and then cooked by the "dum" process; where as in Kacchi style the ghee rice is added to the half cooked chicken and then cooked till it is fully cooked or the dum process is used.

Specially dressed chicken is poured into the masala dish. The chicken is slowly cooked in the masala, and gets blended well with the juices of masala and spices. The Thalassery biryani recipe has additional distinct features; unlike other biryanis it is not oily because of the dum process used for preparation. A unique blend of spices is added and the Kaima rice also adds a unique flavour. No oil is used to make the chicken, which is added raw into the masala mix.


For the recipe, see Thalassery Biryani at Wikibook Cookbooks

  • Khaima(Jeerakasala) rice
  • Chicken
  • Onion
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Green chilli
  • Lime juice
  • Shallot
  • Coriander leaves
  • Mint leaves
  • Tomato
  • Ghee
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oil (vanaspati)
  • Coconut oil
  • Edible Rose water
  • Curd or yoghurt
  • Table salt
  • Spices: Garam masala powder, Persian Cumin (Caraway), Mace, Turmeric powder, Red chili powder, Black pepper powder, Crushed curry leaves (Optional) Cinnamon, Cloves, Cardamom, Malabar leaf (Indian bay leaf), Indian white Poppy seed(Kaskas) and for garnishing and texture Saffron soaked in milk, Pinch of artificial food colour, yellow or orange; and fried (coconut oil) mix of Onion, Cashew nuts and Kismis (sultana raisins), Star anise (Optional).
  • Preparation
  • Accompaniments

    Common side dishes served with Thalassery biryani are Coconut-Mint chammandi (Biryani Chutney), South Asian pickle and Raita. After the meal, hot lime-black tea (known among the Muslim community as 'Sulaimani') is served; this adds a special taste after the main course and is an aid to digestion. Lime tea is a common afters in the Malabar region, especially with a rice based main-course.

    Fried Indian anchovy or smelt can be served as a starter if required and this is garnished with chopped onion, curry leaves and lime juice squeezed over it. Fried chicken in smaller pieces is also seen in some fiestas as accompaniments or as starters.

    Daahashamani water, a medicated herbal water, is preferred to be used when drinking water with biryani. Daahashamani is an ayurvedic medicine and natural thirst reliever and digestive aid prepared by mixing dry ginger, cardamom, cloves, coriander seeds, mimosa catechu, sapanwood, vetiver, puncturevine and sandal wood, it is usually available in local markets.


    The dish is popular and is often served in Malabar in weddings and other celebrations and parties. Biryani is an unavoidable dish for the Muslim community. Even though Sadya is the traditional cuisine for Hindu weddings in the region, Hindus and Christians often serve biryani, mainly because it is easier to prepare than other main course dishes and it is a complete food that avoids the extra effort of making curry. Unlike south Kerala, non vegetarian dishes are served during Onam and Vishu in Malabar and biryani is often served on these occasions.


    The dish is rich in nutrients as it is a rice-spice dish. It is high in proteins and carbohydrates, and is also a source of minerals and vitamins. Nutritional value (According to U.S Dept. of Agriculture) of the spices is mentioned in the notes. The dish contains unsaturated and saturated fats; the saturated fat can be reduced by adjusting the quantities of hydrogenated vegetable oil (vanaspati) and ghee.

    In fiction

    The Malayalam movie, "Ustad Hotel" is based on the preparation of Malabar biryani. The film is about a restaurant that specialises in Malabar cuisines that were made without adulteration and according to traditional recipes. The film narrates that customers choose this restaurant for the authenticity of the dishes.

    The fictional restaurant depicted in the film is a prominent destination for food lovers as the cuisine is based on genuine Malabar recipes. The restaurant serves their flagship dish-Thalassery biryani to all customers who reach there for the first time. The story depicts these customers as admiring the dish from the first time itself and whenever they come back to the city they choose this restaurant and order this biryani The story depicts the importance of fiesta in Malabar culture. The choice of making the recipe of Malabar biryani as a theme for a blockbuster film shows how elegantly the dish is perceived in Malabar region and throughout Kerala.


    Thalassery Cuisine Wikipedia

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