On the Malabar coast of India, few meals will compare to the experience you’ll have at a ‘Toddy Shop.’
In Kerala, India, you’re in a perfect location to eat some of the world’s richest (and most spicy) foods.
You have mountains, you have beaches, you have the highest quality dry spice growing regions on the entire planet (read more blow) – and if it seems that food life can’t get any better, its our personal opinion that the special beverage you’ll drink at toddy shops may even be worth the trip here on its own.
Scroll down now, and let me show you exactly what a ‘Toddy Shop’ meal entails.
In this article you’ll learn the dishes, and get all the details you need, for an incredible day of eating at a Toddy Shop in Kerala.
Kerala’s Toddy Shop Cuisine
Alaphuzza is the name of this coastal town in India, and its one place you need to visit for the most authentic Kerala Toddy Shop Cuisine.
In the heart of gorgeous local backwaters of India, this is a meal in Kerala you don’t want to miss.
Get a full video experience right here, with Mark Wiens (on YouTube) and enjoy seeing what I easily consider one of the best meals of our entire trip to Kerala.
Next, continue reading this article for all the names, details, and dishes you’ll want to try when you come to have a meal at one of Kerala’s best toddy shops.
‘Coconut Toddy’ is Palm Wine
Toddy comes from palm trees, and in many places people simply call it ‘palm wine.’
This is something people are collecting from many different species of palms all around the world, and although it carries the name ‘wine,’ the amount of alcohol varies widely.
Of all the world’s palm wines, nothing compares to that which Keralites are taking from their local coconut trees – this is the only drink you’ll want to go with the spicy Toddy Shop food in Kerala.
Full Details on Toddy below, First, Lets see the meal!
Coconut toddy is an amazing beverage, and I’m sure it could be an entire article on its own.
Today though, we are mainly wanting to experience all the food, and the Toddy Shop tradition as a whole. Toddy shops are a beautiful micro-cuisine of tradition and taste in Kerala, and the drink of palm wine toddy is just one of its many parts.
Alaphuzza, in Kerala State (India)
A little introduction may be helpful here, as there is a lot of new vocabulary for this day.
Alaphuzza is the town name, and its in the Indian state of Kerala. The language they speak here is Malayalam, and the food names will usually be in Malayalam as well.
“Ah-Lah-Pooh-Ra” is how you can pronounce the name of this town, but ‘Alleppey’ is a common spelling in English. “Taadi Shaap” may be another way to spell ‘Toddy Shop,’ but these are also one and the same.
And Now, You’re Here!
You’re in the backwaters of the Malabar coast region – an inland network of rivers, canals, and wetlands in Kerala. You’re not far from the Arabian Sea, but there’s much more than just seafood to be found here.
The Western Ghats are mountains, a land of heavy and plentiful rains. They’re also a perfect climate for Kerala’s farmers to grow some of our world’s highest qualities of dry spice (more below).
Last but not least, ‘Kallu’ (sounds like ‘Kah-Ler’) is the coconut drink from which toddy shops get their name. It has nothing to do with coconut fruit, and yet it is surely one of the most amazing natural liquids on earth.
Finally, it is this fresh Kallu that serves as your perfect pairing for one of Kerala’s spiciest meals – so let’s eat!
What to Order
There are many foods on the menu today, even several versions of the coconut toddy itself.
You will love the diversity here, so let’s get to the food – here’s what you want at Rajapuram Toddy Shop.
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Kallu Shappu Meen Curry
Meen Curry is the most traditional dish to eat with toddy, and I love how the chefs in Kerala just bump up every flavor just that one notch more. When pairing this fiery dish with sweet toddy, fish is definitely the choice local recipe.
Kerala’s toddy shop chefs usually prefer Trevally or Mullet fish (but Kingfish and shark are also common). You’re going to appreciate that thicker ocean fish meat for this slow-cooking Kerala curry recipe.
Simmering in a dark red rich coconut-milk curry broth, the fish will usually cook on low heat for several hours. Its full of dry spices, the key of which is Kashmiri chili powder, and also fresh ingredients as well. There’s bound to be loads of dry fenugreek, a necessary fistful of fresh curry leaves, garlic, and chilies, and finally, a unique ingredient called ‘Fish Tamarind,’ adding a backing of sour flavor.
There’s Only One Level Acceptable
I love to watch how much of the dry spices chefs in Kerala are heaping directly into their pans – 5 or 6 tablespoons of each ingredient is normal.
The resulting flavor of course reflects this huge love for spice, and this is the only flavor level strong enough for locals in Kerala to accept when pairing food like this with sweet toddy.
I can imagine people as far back as a thousand years, enjoying recipes just like these, wait until you see it for yourself – this dining environment just can not get any better!
The shop we’re visiting today is Rajapuram Kayal Shaap. In this small dining area, beside beautiful Alaphuzza backwaters, you’re in a center of Kerala relaxation.
If not for the excitement of the meal to come, you might almost believe the serenity here is set up for a meditation retreat instead.
Fish Curry and Cassava – a Classic Kerala Combo
Chefs at Rajapuram will begin with steaming cassava, and they’ll cover it with the fish and curry sauce before serving. Yucca (or manioc), in India its ‘cassava,’ is a very important starch to the entire region of Kerala, and the choice staple for the fish curry here today.
Many of the most traditional foods you’ll have in Kerala come with roots and tubers instead of rice. I love it, and I’m sure you will as well, the texture these roots give to the meal is so unique!
Serving the Coconut ‘Kallu’ Toddy
A lunch of Kerala’s best local food is on its way, you can hear the sizzle of frying pans from the open kitchen beside you.
Before the food arrives though, you have to sample the coconut toddy. This restaurant offers not one, but three flavors – Original Coconut, Grape Flavor, and Chili with Ginger!
So Different than Coconut Water
Obviously, you’ll want the original flavor first, so look for a container of toddy with a clean and milky white color, probably a thin foam on top as well.
Pouring out the first round from a hefty clay jar, the flavor is SO fresh, yet so incredibly UNlike the coconut water flavor you might be expecting.
The first glass goes down so easily, its actually much thicker than I was expecting, and the refreshing feeling is just on another level of natural goodness.
Note: The serving and drinking vessels are important as hygiene is a key to quality toddy. You’ll keep your own glass for the entire meal (especially as you’re likely to be here awhile).
The Powers of the Coconut Tree
Fresh coconut toddy already has a serious amount of carbonation, even when tapping it right from the tree.
Something I immediately love about drinking toddy right here is knowing that you’re having it literally hours after they collect it… or even less!
The flavor, and even the feeling of it in the mouth, reminds me more of kombucha than coconut water. If you aren’t familiar with kombucha, then maybe a home-brew bottle of low alcohol beer with a second fermentation with dry fruit.
That familiar refreshing feeling of a natural beverage or juice is there, along with a pleasant fizziness, and then just a tiny bit tart which accompanies a fruity and mouth-warming sweetness.
To anyone who already considers themselves a lover of coconut milk and/or coconut water, get ready for amazement with this tree all over again – it truly is one of our world’s most amazing plants…
…and just wait for round 2, as the amazement only continues!
Ginger with Chili Flavor Coconut Toddy
Let me first remind you that this is only a beverage… and yet the flavor profile of such genius levels here just may make this drink worth an entire visit to Alaphuzza on its own.
Leave it to India to enjoy the natural flavor first, and then take that ingenious next step forward, maximizing flavor by adding chili peppers into everything, yes including fresh coconut toddy!
Rajapuram toddy shop serves all their versions fresh, but some of them may already be fermenting (even just 4-6 hours old), and so the coconut toddy may be reaching an alcohol content of 3-4% ABV.
Only the Food Genius of India…
Depending on the local source, some toddy may be hours old, some up to half a day (and therefore higher in alcohol) – I recommend you try them all.
If only a sip of every one at least, you need to experience the amazing variety of flavors. Today they are serving us grape (naturally pink in color), and ginger on its own, but the winner just has to be Ginger and Chili Flavor Toddy.
If you’re like us, this truly is a new level of food happiness, and a flavor that only the food genius of India could create.
The chili-ginger combo toddy hits every sense a tongue can feel. I think we were all sitting there grinning, and simply stunned after our own first sips. In a moment of happy silence, I still remember it now, what I wouldn’t do for another round of toddy and meal in Alaphuzza…
Duck (Tharav) Curry
If there’s one more dish synonymous with coconut toddy, its duck, and this has to be your next order for lunch today.
The chef blesses us with three entire plates of duck, so wonderfully keeping with his huge Kerala-style ratios of spice, and your mouth, and even your fingers, may never be happier for lunch.
Each bite full to overload, just the way Kerala recipes like to be. This small mountain of tasty duck meat is full of both dry spice and crispy fresh ingredients, this duck is yet another reason to Travel for Food in India.
Pro Tip: knowing how to eat with your hands will help here, its the traditional way, but also just fun.
You will be licking every smear of this duck from each finger, and only pausing your eating motion to take small sips of any nearby glasses of toddy nectar.
This is where the flavor levels truly get out of control, it is a visit to Kerala, laying out in single plate form, please don’t forget to let us know about your own experience when you visit a toddy shop like this for yourself.
Ayurvedic Ingredients for Health
As with many of the meals you’ll find in India, there components to each meal which focus on health as well as flavor. In this case, fresh coconut chutney comes with every plate of cassava, a dish full of Ayurvedic health tradition.
Ayurvedic diets and eating practices are found throughout India, and the food of Kerala may be healthier than most (yes, even at a toddy shop, see an example of a recipe right here (link)).
Avial (or ‘Aviyal) is another healthy addition to your meal at Rajapuram Toddy Shop (a sort of spicy salad). Each small serving contains cilantro, cumin seeds, and chili peppers, and is extra thick from fresh coconut meat shavings. There’s coconut milk in the recipe as well, which makes it nice and creamy to go with great finger-fuls of that steaming cassava.
The Malabar Coast – Spice Paradise
For a little history now, we can explore just a bit more of coconuts and toddy.
Check out another video here, of a visiting a traditional village high in the Western Ghats (Mark Wiens visiting Ponmudi, India) – this will easily help you imagine all the ways that a coconut tree just flourishes in such a natural scenario.
One of the reasons this area is so bountiful is because of a unique geography – the Malabar Coast, a long strip of fertile land existing between the Western Ghats (mountains), and the Arabian sea to the East, is the wettest region in all of India.
With so much rain, its a perfect home for diversity among plants, fruits (and animals), and therefore of course people! Humans living here for thousands of years, and all of that time developing home recipes which rely on coconuts (and approximately a million other fresh ingredients), its no coincidence that Kerala loves coconuts.
What is ‘Toddy?’
Moving on now specifically to the toddy, let’s learn a bit more about this amazing beverage.
You may be as surprised as I was to learn while researching for this article, in fact many countries around the world make mild to moderately alcoholic beverages from coconut fruit (but this coconut toddy nectar is definitely one of the most delicious of them all).
You can read a great description of coconut toddy and palm wines here (link), an entire local industry in Southwestern India. Although totally natural, its so fresh that it can be hard to regulate, and therefore hygienic conditions are of crucial importance to those who have experience in making this their livelihood.
Note: Coconut toddy is low in alcohol, but it definitely still does have strength (while averaging 3-4% ABV, and after 6% it turns to vinegar, you never need to worry that it will be any stronger than say, an average glass of beer).
Collecting Coconut Nectar
An amazing bonus to any day here in Alaphuzza, is watching small-farm owners collecting the fresh toddy from their own trees.
Its a lot of work, for all the details you can quickly watch the video of our day (it shows exactly how people in Kerala harvest coconut nectar for sale in Toddy Shops).
Learning about this process first-hand, you can see its tough, its time-consuming, but wow if the end result isn’t one of the most tasty beverages on earth.
This drink is completely natural, you can even drink it straight from the collecting vessel. Watch out for ants that may be still inside, this drink really is best when fresh! Toddy carries huge amounts of healthy bacteria, and significantly boosts digestive health for those who drink (moderate amounts) on a regular basis.
Watching it there with my own eyes, I can’t believe that I never knew about this before – Its truly an amazing process how people in Kerala collect the fresh toddy!
Other Uses for Palm Toddy
A type of appam uses coconut toddy in the recipe (for its yeast component), creating a similar effect to sourdough for Western-style bakers and their bread.
Order this appam as a side dish at Rajapuram toddy shop, asthe sour flavors are simply wonderful. If not today, then while you are here in Alaphuzza, maybe try it on one of the amazing house-boat tours (Video here), which by the way is definitely one of the best things to do in Kerala, India.
Keralites themselves just love to eat spicy food, and if you ask for a local recommendation, I’m sure that a toddy shop will top the list.
Here, you can see a great website detailing all the best shops in the entire area – kudos to KeralaToddyShop for this awesome website – and now read on to learn more about some specific dishes you need to try.
The Spice Secret begins with Rain, and Soil
Its no coincidence that all of the best food in Kerala includes some part of the amazing coconut tree, whether its fruit, its leaves, coconut milk, or all 3!
When this situation exists in a country which is also so crazy about food – it is a beautiful scenario indeed.
Spice and Flavor in Kerala
You’re going to find incredible meals of fish and local seafood here in Kerala, but let me tell you it only gets better when you see the surrounding environment and total experience that locals love to share.
This is the meal you want when you visit the state of Kerala, so make sure to plan a stop in Alaphuzza, visit a toddy shop, and please tell us about your experience as well (we love to hear from you!), use the comments section down below.
Safe travels, and happy eating!
Name: Rajapuram Kayal Shaap (Toddy Parlour)
Location: (Google Maps)
Hours: No hours online, we came here for lunch
Prices: 4000 INR (US$52) for 8 people, our entire meal with 6 jars of fresh toddy