South Indian cuisine is rice-based. Rice is combined with lentils to make wonderful dosas, idlis, vadas and uttapams. These items are delicious along with 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 not only more soupy than North Indian dals and curries, but 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 food that is served on a banana leaf (the size of the leaf varies from one community to another) is displayed like an identity card. One look at this banana leaf, and a guest will know the community, the status, the exact wealth of the family, and from where they originate.
The top 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 called '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 teaspoon of chutney. In the middle of the leaf, there may be 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 ones—gourds, drumsticks, brinjals/eggplants—and the ‘English’ ones, which could be carrot, cabbage, and cauliflower. In some cases if it is a non-vergetarian meal, a separate leaf is provided for the fried meats, chicken, fish, crab, and other things. 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 bisibele bath. After having worked through the preliminaries, the long haul starts with the rice, which is 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.
The 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 & Fertility.
Paruppu ( dal/lentil ) is the main spring of the meal. It may be made a soup, chutney, spicy powder, sambhar, snacks, and sweets.
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) is eaten. It freshens the mouth and aids in digestion.
South Indian cuisine has the following culinary schools:
Karnataka, Andhra, Hyderabadi, Tamil, Chettinad, Kerala.
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.
Karnatak Cuisine: A typical Kannad meal includes the following dishes in the order specified and is served on a banana leaf: Kosambari, Pickle, Palya, Gojju, Raita Dessert ( Yes, it is a tradition to start your meal with a dessert( payasam) Thovve Chitranna Rice Ghee. What follows next is a series of soup like dishes such as saaru, majjige huli or Kootu which is eaten with hot rice. Gojju or raita is served next; two or three desserts are served; fried dish such as Aambode or Bonda is served next. The meal ends with a serving of curd rice.
Some typical dishes include Bisibele Bath, Saaru, Vangi Bath, Khara Bath, Kesari Bath, Akki Rotti, Davanagere Benne Dosa, Ragi mudde, and Uppittu.The famous Masala Dosa traces its origin to Udupi cuisine. Plain and Rave Idli or pancake, Mysore Masala Dosa and Maddur Vade are popular in South Karnataka. Coorg district is famous for spicy varieties of pork curries while coastal Karnataka boasts of many tasty sea food specialities. Among sweets, Mysore Pak, Dharwad Pedha, Pheni, Chiroti are well known.
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 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 Brahmins—it is one of the spiciest, oiliest and most aromatic in India. 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 and spices. 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 so on. 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 appam. 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).