South Indian cuisine is rice based. Rice is combined with lentils to make wonderful dosas,
idlis, vadas and uttapams. These items are glorious and
delicious besides being nourishing and digestible (due to the fermenting process). They
are combined with sambhar (dal), rasam (tamarind dal),
dry and curried vegetable and pachadi (yogurt). Their rice preparations are also
masterpieces like biryani from Hyderabad, lemon rice and rice seasoned with coconut
peanuts, tamarind, chilies, curry leaves, urad dal and fenugreek seeds.
South Indian chutneys are made of tamarind, coconut, peanuts, dal,
fenugreek seeds, and cilantro. Meals are followed by coffee. South Indian dals and curries
are more soupy than North Indian dals and curries. South Indian cuisine is also hotter.
Coconut milk straight from the nut is a common beverage and sight in South India.
Coffee is very popular in South India and Madras coffee is popular in South Indian
restaurants throughout the world.
The South Indian food is a brilliant blend of flavors, colors, seasoning, nutritional
balance, fragrance, taste, and visual appeal.
The South Indian Tradition of Serving a traditional Meal
A typical traditional meal in South India is
served on a "vazhaillai", a freshly cut plantain leaf.
The sappad or food that is served on a
banana leaf (even the size of the leaf varies from one community to another) is displayed
like an identity card. One look and a guest will know the community, the status, the exact
wealth of the family, and from where they originate.
half of the leaf is reserved for accessories, the lower half for the rice, and in some
communities, the rice will be served only after the guest has been seated. The lower right
portion of the leaf may have a scoop of warm sweet, milky rice payasam, which
should be lapped up quickly. While the top left includes a pinch of salt, a dash of pickle
and a thimbleful of salad, or a smidgen of chutney. In the middle of the leaf there may be
an odd number of fried items like small circles of chips, either banana, yam or potato,
hard round discs of spiced, ground dal known as thin papads, or frilly
wafers, or vada.
The top right hand corner
is reserved for the heavy artillery, the curries, hot, sweet, or sour, and the dry items.
If it is a vegetarian meal, the vegetables are carefully chosen, between the country
onesgourds, drumsticks, brinjals/eggplantsand the English ones,
which could be carrot, cabbage, and cauliflower. If it is a non-vegetarian meal, in some
cases, a separate leaf is provided for the fried meats, chicken, fish, crab, and so on.
But again, the variations are presented carefully, one dry one next to a gravies one.
There may be a side
attraction such as a puran poli, or sweetened dal stuffed into a pancake,
puris, sweet rice or any one of the famed rice preparations such as pulisadam, or bisibela
After having worked through
the preliminaries, the long haul starts with the rice, which is generously doused with
ghee. Sambhar, the highly spiced dal-based dish containing whatever
appropriate vegetable there is in season, follows and this is succeeded by rasam.
After a final round of rice
and curds, or buttermilk or both, a traditional meal concludes with a small banana, a few
betel leaves and nuts.
Foundations of South Indian Cuisine
Rice is the staple food and is divided into the following categories.
Rice are of 3 basic category:
- Long White Grain Rice - most commonly used
- Short Grain Rice - used to make sweet dishes
- Round Grain Rice - not very popular for worship representing Health, Wealth &
Paruppu ( dal/lentil ) is the main spring of the common man's diet. Every meal
includes Paruppu. It may be made a soup, chutney, spicy powder, sambhar, snacks, and
South Indian Meal Courses
|Sweet in Ayurveda is considered to be an appetite builder. Taking
its cues from Ayurveda the South Indian meal would generally begin with e-ne-ip-pu or
sweet. It may consist of the popular Mysore Pak ( Gram Flour Fudge).
Then comes three courses of rice -
1. Rice with sambhar. There are many forms of rice - such as the plain rice-
ghee- boiled lentil (sadam - neai- paruppu), coconut rice (thengai sadaam), lemon rice
(ellimbichai sadaam), tamarind rice (puliyodarai).
2. Rice with Rasam - Rasam is a tangy, spicy, watery and soupy tamarind concoction
with is served with rice
3. Yogurt with rice (thayir sadaam). This is served last to cool the mouth and the
digestive system. It may be served with non spicy assorted vegetable dishes, namely
the aviyal (mixed vegetable stew), kari (dry masala vegetables) & kootu (coconut &
vegetable sauté which are not too wet and not too dry).
Finally the palpayasam (milk sweet) a dessert is served.
After the meal, paan or betel leaf & betelnut (vetrielai & paku),
which freshens the mouth and aids in digestion.
South Indian cuisine has the following culinary schools -
Karnataka, Andhra, Hyderabadi, Tamil, Chettinad,
Andhra - Andhra cuisine is largely vegetarian but the coastal areas
have a large repertoire of seafood. Fish and prawns are curried in sesame and coconut
oils, and flavored with freshly ground pepper. Andhra food is served with rice. Rice,
sambar and other lentil preparations, and steamed vegetables delicately flavored with
coconut, spices and fresh herbs. Snack or tiffin time is made of many preparations like
onion pakodas; vadas or savory lentil doughnuts dunked in steaming hot sambar; and steamed
rice muffin like dumplings called idlis. Savories are murku, roundels of rice flour paste
deep fried; and appadams. Desserts include payasam, a pudding made with rice and milk and
the popular Sheer Khurma - a Hyderabadi delicacy with dry fruits and dates.
Hyderabad cuisine is a direct result from the kitchens of
the Nizams or Muslim rulers. The Hyderabadi cuisine is the amalgamation of Muslim
techniques and meats with the vibrant spices and ingredients of the predominantly local
Hindu people. Hydrabadi cuisine is the ultimate in fine dining. Its tastes
range from sour and the sweet, the hot and the salty and studded with dry fruits and nuts.
One of India's finest foods, the biryani or rice with meats and brinjal (or
eggplant) or baghare baiganis are the jewels of Hyderabadi cooking.
Tamil Nadu - Chettinad cuisine hails from the deep
southern region of Tamil Nadu. Chettinad cuisine is far cry from the bland cuisine of
traditional Tamilian Brahminsit is one of the spiciest, oiliest and most aromatic in
Although the Chettiars are well known for their delicious vegetarian
preparations, their repertoire of food items is famous and includes all manner of fish and
fowl and meats, as well as delicate noodle-like dishes and carefully preserved sun-dried
legumes and berries that the Chettiar ladies make into curries. Oil and spices are
liberally used in cooking and most dishes have generous amounts of peppercorn, cinnamon,
bay leaves, cardamom, nutmeg, green and red chilies, etc.
Some of the popular dishes in Chettinad menu are varuval -- a dry
dish fried with onions and spices (chicken, fish or vegetables sautéed), pepper chicken, poriyal
-- a curry, and kuzambu which has the ingredients stewed in a gravy of coconut milk
In the same range, one can include the numerous pickles, powders,
specially roasted and ground spices, dry snacks, papads, appalam and vada.
Numerous shops now sell pre-packed snacks like murukkus, small spirals of fried
rice dough, chips and other edible hand grenades like thattai, masala vada and
The Tamil variation of Mughlai food can be savored in the biryani and
paya. The latter is a kind of spiced trotter broth and is eaten with either parathas or
Tamil Nadu is famous for its filter coffee as most Tamils have a subtle
contempt for instant coffee. The making of filter coffee is almost a ritual, for the
coffee beans have to be roasted and ground. Then the powder is put into a filter set and
boiling hot water is added to prepare the decoction and allowed to set for about 15
minutes. The decoction is then added to milk with sugar to taste. The final drink is
poured individually from one container to another in rapid succession to make the ideal
frothy cup of filter coffee.
Kerala is noted for its variety of pancakes and steamed
rice cakes made from pounded rice. For the Muslims, the lightly flavored Biryani-made of
mutton, chicken, egg or fish-takes pride of place. In seafood, mussels are a favorite. For
the Christians, who can be seen in large concentration in areas like Kottayam and Pala,
ishtew (a derivation of the European stew), with appam is a must for every marriage
reception. Kerala also has it's own fermented beverages -the famous kallu (toddy) and
patta charayam (arrack). Arrack is extremely intoxicating and is usually consumed with
spicy pickles and boiled eggs (patta and mutta).
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1990 to 2001 - Kavita Mehta. All Rights Reserved.
Kavita has been giving classes on Indian Cuisine in Minneapolis for the
past 10 years. She now shares her work on her website for all to enjoy.