While the tradition of afternoon tea may have started in eighteenth century England, its Indian version is something very different.
Instead of mildly-flavored cucumber sandwiches and sweet pastries, a typical tea meal in India consists of spicy, savory treats.
Each household has its own particular menu, which reflects the tastes of the individuals and the particular cultures they come from. In Kerala, tea (chaaya in Malayalam) is always accompanied with snacks that can engage the taste buds and fill stomachs easily.
One of the most popular of these are parippu vada, which are spicy fritters made with split peas and other forms of pulses (lentils, dried beans) that are widely sold by street vendors and made fresh in Malayalee households. These treats balance the sweetness of the milky, spicy teas (made from black tea leaves) traditionally served throughout India.
Some eager hosts may even offer tapioca and fish curry, which is a filling combination that satisfies most people's appetites for the rest of the day.
Sweet tea treats can also be found in Indian tea time meals, even those conducted in Kerala. Vattayappam (pictured) are steamed rice cakes which typically contain rice flour, coconut, sweetener (sugar or jaggery), raisins, and yeast.
They are unique to the South Indian state, and the best versions of these recipes are made mostly in people's households. There is an authentic taste and quality that cannot be replicated in restaurants.
While British afternoon tea is mostly served in tea salons and restaurants, Indian tea is popular in people's homes throughout the country. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to a Malayalee home when visiting Kerala, you will be served chaaya and a variety of snacks before dinner.
Make sure to enjoy them all but remember: you have to make space for the bigger meal to follow!