Destination - Tamil Nadu, South India

Heart of Chettinad

The Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu is the homeland of the Chettiars, a successful mercantile group that, over centuries, have made great fortunes in trade in India and abroad. Many have returned to their small ancestral villages to build enormous mansions - often with 30 to 40 bedrooms. These are used for family celebrations and as prominent statements of their Chettinad origins. The mansions are often built with teak wood imported from Burma where the Chettiars had a trading presence and are filled with family heirlooms from generations of successful merchants and travelers. One of these grand old Chettiar mansions will be our temporary home as we explore the rich cuisine of this region.

Spices indian food

Chettinad Food

Food in Chettinadu is one of the most distinctive in Tamil Nadu. Much of it is non-vegetarian and uses a distinctive set of spices including star anise seed, peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaves, nutmeg and unusual local ingredients such as "black stone flower," a dried herb, and marathi moku, a kind of sun dried caper.

elephant temple South India

Making a Clay Pot

For centuries Indian dishes were cooked in clay pots. These clay pots are still widely used today for cooking in villages and by traditional chefs who claim that the taste of the dish is influenced by the pot it is cooked in. This video shows you how a clay pot is made in Tamil Nadu. We'll visit some of these craftsmen on our journey.

drinking fresh coconut water from a coconut

The Coconut

In South India, the coconut is at the heart of almost any meal. Grated coconut, coconut water and thick and thin coconut milk are used to flavor many of the dishes and the oil is used for cooking as well as a cosmetic and hair treatment. Coconut vendors by the side of almost any road are ready with machetes to crack open a fresh green coconut on a hot day.

vegetable market in india

Local Market

There is almost nowhere in the world with such an abundance of distinctive sights and smells as an Indian vegetable market. A bewildering array of known and unknown fruits, vegetables, grains and spices is laid out in spectacular profusion. We will spend one morning in the market shopping for the evening meal with a local chef who will answer all of our questions.

Bitter Gourd Pumpkin Seller In India market eggplant india market
Pitchai Kurukkal of Pillaiyarpatti in Tamil Nadu


One morning we will drive through the Tamil countryside to the small village of Pillayarpatti, home to one of the most important temples to the elephant-headed god Ganesha. Pillayarpatti is also home to a world-renowned school for the training of priests, overseen by Pitchai Gurukkal (pictured to the right holding the 2004 Hindu of the Year award) an important bearer of the ancient traditions of Saivite Hinduism. We will participate in the sacred homa fire ceremony and be brought into the inner temple to witness an elaborate blessing and offering to the image of Ganesha carved into the rock of the hillside.

Back to the top Traditional hindu fire ceremony called a homa or havan in Pillaiyarpatti, Tamil Nadu