One of the biggest peeves I’ve heard from my fellow North Indian friends at college is how drab and boring South Indian food is. Every day I either hear or overhear the same line over and over. “Arrey, everyday yeh Sambar aur Idly; Dosa-Sambhar! Koi variety hi nahi hai idhar!” (Forgive me if that’s wrong hindi. But you get the gist).
Being a South Indian myself, I find these accusations nothing less than baseless. I have reveled in the awesomeness that is South Indian cuisine. I have also devoured many a North Indian delicacy too, and on comparing; if your accusation is that there is ‘no variety’ down here, either your taste-buds have 60 layers of dirt accumulated on it that you can’t taste anything anymore or you’re a snob who just can’t accept anything better than your own (stuff).
Rice is our staple here. Actually, it is throughout the South, just like Wheat is in the North. That’s just how it turned out, by nature. And it’s not like we have a ban on Wheat here either!
Anyway, let me start by just showing you some variety in our cuisine, by going through 3 popular regions in South India.
Hyderabad/Andhra:One word. Biriyani. If you’re Indian and didn’t know this, you should probably recheck your nationality again! Hyderabadi Biriyani is one of the delights of our land and you can almost never stop with just one helping! And then the Hyderabadi kebabs and desserts are there to be savoured The Andhra region is one riddled with ridiculously spicy food, from the Pessarettu to the mind-blogging types of pickles and chutneys, all of which can send your heart-rate waay up!
Chennai/TN: Contrary to popular belief, we have a lot more than just Dosa, Sambhar and Curd rice. Although omnipresent, there is a whole lot more here. The reason those 3 are famous could be attributed to many Tam Brahms here. They (prefer?) to live on these items, which although extremely healthy, do little to tickle the tongue. (No offence, but I can’t help but say the truth!)
Veg food thrives here (again, thanks to the Brahms, but this is a good thing!), most of them containing tamarind, coconut and perungayam (I think it’s called asafoetida in English).
For those who say Sambhar is bland, check out the famous ‘Kara Kolumbu’ that’s made here. There are so many types pickles (oorgai) that vary from mildly spicy to atom-bomb-in-mouth spicy!
But those who really complain about the lack of good quality non-veg food, please go and check out Chettinadu cuisine. ‘Chicken Chettinadu’ -> The mere mention of the extremely aromatic dish switches on the showers in my mouth! Along with that, the best Pepper Chicken, all sorts of frys and gravys with fish/prawns/mutton can be had here. All of them extravagantly spiced up and oozing appeal.
If you’ve heard of a foodgasm, this is it! Chettinadu is also famous for many sweets, like the various paniyarams (kuzhi, paal, velai), kolukattai, adhirasam etc.
And vadai. How could I forget! Masal vadai, Sambhar vadai, Rasa vadai, Keera vadai… the list goes on!
Then there are the roadside delicacies. If the north has chaat, we have awesome chicken pakodas and bhajjis. And try out the Thirunelveli Halwa. You shall know true happiness then!
<Why is this section longest? I live here. ‘Nuff said?)
Thiruvananthapuram/Kerala: Yes, the name of the city is long. Just like the magnificent coconut treesthat dot the entire state.
Needless to say, most dishes here have coconut in them and that adds an extra dimension to keralite cuisine. Being the spice capital of the country, you can expect even more treats here, with dishes having cardamoms, cloves, pepper, chillis etc, all douced down with the omnipresent coconut. Fish is a must-have here; those perfectly cooked, succulent pieces of fish soaked in the bright red curry are a treat just to watch! Kappa and meen curry is how it’s traditionally eaten here and it is ‘simbly’ delightful. Too much NV for you? Sadhyas are the South Indian equivalent of the western banquets; served on a broad banana leaf, it has rice, followed by more than 10 side dishes like avial, kootu, sambhar, puli-inji and all sorts of other stuff.
(Sorry for not being able to name a lot, I eat them all, I rarely ask what it is! )
— — —
The point of this post was not to diss the North Indians. I’m sure your chappatis and naans; the panneers, butter chickens and tandooris; the chaats etc. are all a treat to the senses too.
What I’d like to establish is that we have no dearth of variety. Perhaps you havn’ ventured out of the college mess and into the culinary wilderness of South India to truly appreciate the food.
And I recommend you must.
Now I shall go to have my dinner. At home. Puttu-Kadalai it is 🙂