Walk up the spiraling incline of Maveli Coffee House (between the Tourist Reception Centre and KSRTC bus stand; daily 7:30am-10pm), if only to be able to say afterward that you've dined in one of the world's oddest restaurants, which somewhat resembles a squat, ocher-colored version of Pisa's leaning tower. Located diagonally opposite the railway station, this unique coffeehouse was designed by Laurie Baker, the renowned English architect who pioneered environmentally sustainable architecture and worked on hundreds of projects in southern India before passing away in Trivandrum, his adopted home, in 2007. It's a favorite hangout for the locals and an interesting spot in which to spend some time rubbing shoulders with the groundlings and businesspeople who come here for their idlis, dosas, and chai or coffee.
If you're exploring the Secretariat, head across the road to Arul Jyothi (Mahatma Gandhi Rd.; daily 6:30am-10pm). The capital's civil servants pile in here at lunchtime, when there's much ordering of thalis (the ubiquitous platter featuring Indian breads and various curries and chutneys) and wonderful masala dosas. If you're keen to browse newspapers from back home, stop at the British Library nearby; it has a good collection of magazines and international dailies (just show your passport to enter). Alternatively, Kadaleevanam (Prakrithi Bhojanasala Hotel Mas Annexe, near the SL Theatre, Chettikulangara; tel. 0471/247-2780; daily 8am-9:30pm; no credit cards), where the owners pride themselves on the fact that they have no fridges or freezers (all food, cooked on wood fires, is served within 3 hr. or not offered to customers) and use only organically grown vegetables and whole grains, apparently prepared according to the principles of naturopathy. The set meal will run you a mere Rs 100.
For more salubrious surrounds, the smart Tiffany's at the Muthoot Plaza is rated by locals as the best restaurant in town (Punnen Rd.; tel. 0471/233-7733; daily 12:30-3pm and 7:30-10:30pm), although the smart crowd is slowly warming up to the dining offered at The 5th Element, an all-day venue at the Taj Residency hotel on C.V. Raman Pillai Road, Thycaud (tel. 0471/661-2345).
Snack Food, Kerala-Style -- Although tourists are normally advised to stay off street food, there's one kind of street snack you can sample without a problem in Trivandrum. Banana chips are a Keralite's favorite snack, and you'll see thattu kadas, temporary food carts (particularly at night), with men slicing and frying bananas in coconut oil right on the street, almost all over Kerala. Buy them piping-hot and lightly salted -- they're even more scrumptious than potato chips. Good spots to buy these fresh are near the British Library, or at a small shop in Kaithamukku (about 3km/2 miles west of the central train station), where A. Kannan has been frying some of the best banana chips in Kerala for close to 15 years. Note that banana chips come in myriad flavors depending on the variety of banana used. Those made with ripe bananas are slightly sweet, but we suggest you go for the thinly sliced variety. Be warned, however: They are seriously addictive.