tamil nadu cuisine

South India's Mouth Watering Treasure

Tamil Nadu Cuisine

Tamil Nadu, the land of the Tamils, was dominated by the Dravidian culture for 2500 years. The cuisine is distinctly different from that of the north, and is based primarily on rice rather than wheat and an abundant use of coconut. With a largely vegetarian population like much of India, Tamil Nadu has a particularly elaborate vegetarian cuisine. The classic foods of Tamil Nadu center around rice and lentils. Famous throughout India, and, increasingly, in the rest of the world, idli and dosa are both made from a fermented batter of ground rice and lentils. For idli, the batter is steamed into small puffy disks while dosa batter is spread thinly on a griddle and cooked into a crispy pancake. Both dishes are traditionally eaten with coconut chutney and sambar, a thick soup of lentils, tamarind and vegetables.

traditional South Indian meal on a banana leaf

A Tamil meal is traditionally served on a banana leaf, with each dish placed in a particular spot on the leaf and designed to be eaten in a certain order, with specific combinations of the dishes mixed together with the fingers. Before eating, a small portion of each food is set in the upper corner as an offering to God. Meals are taken seated on the floor and, traditionally, the host continuously replenishes any food that is finished until the diner folds his or her leaf in half. We will have many opportunities to explore this unique style of eating.

cooking South Indian food
Indian lady grinding spices with stone mortar

Traditional Tamil cuisine is cooked right out of the household garden with almost every ingredient grown or produced in the village. When a particular vegetable is ready for harvest, the cooks in the household employ a great variety of ways to serve it. Local vegetables include familiar ones like eggplant, tomato, and okra and more unusual varieties, like drumstick, the pods of a large tree, and bitter gourd, a member of the cucumber family with healthful properties. Unripe fruits such as the banana and mango are often cooked as vegetables in Tamil cuisine. There are a variety of highly localized herbs and vegetables that have no English names such as the manatakali, a small berry from the nightshade family. In keeping with the predominant status of rice, there are dozens of different named varieties in the markets, such as ponni, nellore, sona and masoor.

Spice sellers in Pahar Ganj, New Delhi
tamil lady cooking a traditional meal in tamil nadu, home cooking

Home Cooking

The best Tamil food is prepared in the home by women who have learned the secrets of every dish and spice mixture from generations of mothers and mothers-in-law. Amma in Tamil means mother and even the most highly trained chefs can't quite duplicate the complex mixture of knowledge and love that an Indian Amma puts into her meals. We will have the opportunity to learn first hand from some of these masters of Indian cooking.

Back to the top home cook meal india