We have a general feeling that Tamil food is all about Dosa and Idli. But few of us know that Tamil cuisine has got multiple regional influences… So, we were invited for a tasting session at ITC Sonar, where they have invited Chef Praveen Anand, the executive chef of South Indian cuisine for a food festival on Tamil Regional Cuisine. And in this blog post, I’d like to talk about those different influences. The 5 regions that we’ll be talking about are,
- Tanjavur Maratha
- Tamil Sahibu cuisine or the Tamil Muslim cuisine
- Chettinad and
Now, let me be honest. Though I have stayed in Bangalore for about 2 years, I have hardly ever done research on South Indian cuisine, leave apart from Tamil cuisine. So, this time when I got the opportunity, I actually jumped to it. Chef Praveen Anand is a powerhouse of resources and has a few decades of research on South Indian cuisine. And being the general idiot that I am, I thought of recording his video.
I am supposed to talk about Tamilnadu and its food habits, but many might be surprised that why the hell I am talking about the Maratha influence here. But in this Tanjavur region, there was a heavy influence of Marathas. And however weird it may sound, they actually gave birth to a kebab in south Indian cuisine. And that is something that justifies the importance of this region in gastronomic Tamilnadu. It was called shunti Kebab– the kebab bind by banana threads in a ball-shape and deep-fried. Many might recognize that this has got an eerie similarity with the Sutli kebab that we get here. King Sarbaji was a great historian and documentor and he actually documented recipes from his kitchens.
More details about King Sarba ji can be checked here …
Now, King Sarba ji had 4 kitchens- one with Maratha Food, one with brahmin food (vegetarian fare without onion and garlic), one for European food, and one halwai. And in the early 17th century, he used to keep one specialist who could make ice and Sherbet.
You can check about Sutli kebab here …
And this region gave birth to one of the most popular dishes in the whole southern region- Sambar. It’s said that King Samba ji was fond of one very popular Aam ti dal (sour dal) with cocum and down south, his cooks substituted cocum with tamarind. The dal was called Samba-Ahaar and gradually Sambar.
You can very well check the video shot with chef Praveen here …
For most of us bongs, the epitome of South Indian non-veg food was Chicken Chettinad. I am not saying all, because there are few gyani ones as well, but for most of us. and it will be surprising to know that Chettinad is not a spice or cooking method, but rather a region in Tamilnadu. Chettinad cuisine was named after the famous Chettiyars. They were very much there in Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu and by profession, mostly, were rich money lenders. They were called Nattu Kote or someone who travels. And in fact, we can have an influence of Burmese food in this cuisine. Important aspects like the red rice and Star Anise were introduced to Tamil cuisine by this community.
The cuisine is generally rich and spicy and with a heavy dosage of non-vegetarian items. however, the interesting folklore is, in the olden days, in this region, men only used to relish non-veg, where women used to have only veg dishes. And there is nothing called a Chettinad Chicken in traditional Chettinad cuisine. Like no province in China has heard something like Chilly chicken or Manchurian Chicken.
Sahibu cuisine is Tamil Muslim cuisine. Kayartattnam, these people were known to be either the shepherds or men who used to trade on ships. Our late president Dr. Abul Kalam Azad is said to be from this community. This community introduced some strange foreign items into Tamil cuisine- namely the Fish powder and Pandang Leaves. It was believed to be brought from the Maldives and contained dried and powdered Tuna Fish and was used in vegetarian dishes.
You can check the recorded video here …
Konganadu region is the south-west Tamilnadu and is the border area for Kerala. Coimbatore and Salem come here. It has rice as its base product and food is typically served on banana leaves. Here marination is not encouraged before cooking and heavy usage of turmeric is seen. The famous Dindigul Biryani is said to have evolved from here. It’s an interesting fact that Dindigul Biryani uses small meat pieces in biryani and Seeraga Samba rice (which plays an important role in flavor) in their biryani. Another famous dish from this region is, Navarassa curry- mutton curry having a burst of all nine flavors.
You can check about my experience with Dindigul biryani here …
Chennai express- from an otherwise non-veg foodie’s travel diary
Mudaliar cuisine …
Mudaliar cuisine is from the Turu land- land of rich farmers. It is said, that this name is derived from men who had Mudra (money). The cuisine uses the freshest of ingredients and usage of leftover items is not encouraged. They use something like a Tamil five spices. Mustard, cumin, fenugreek, shallots, etc, and sundried, made in the form of balls and kept in jars for a really long period of time. And at times of rain, they are used. One famous dish from this region is Pangti Korumbu. Pangti means a row of guests and Korumbu is mutton. This mutton uses this Tamil version of five spices.
And finally the Biryani madness …
Though we shout around for Kolkata Biryani, the oldest record of biryani that we get is in King Nala’s cookbook. The book surprisingly also talks on the effective use of spices for health as per Ayurveda and the quality of the chef that one should look for. There is mention of Unchuru, where “un means meat” and “churu is rice”. So, there, fowl (or any gamebird) was cooked in meat stock and then Rajali rice (similar to Basmati rice) was prepared along with it. The name was also known as Thari. Please do remember, we have another mention of Teheri in North Indian cuisine, but that one used to be a vegetarian dish. Meat Teheri came much later into existence. But discussion of Teheri and Thari needs probably a separate blog post.
However, there is a difference between Pulao and Biryani and you can check it from here …
For the variations, we can have the following apart from the famed Hyderabadi Biryani …
- Nellore Biryani– very spicy and called Kodi Pulao
- Kerala biryani– It’s the Kerala Muslim biryani or Mafia biryani. Jeera Sambar rice is used, which is similar to our Gobindobhog rice.
- Mysore biryani- It’s the variation of Donne Biryani, where the color is greenish- thanks to the heavy usage of grind coriander and mint leaves
- Tamil Biryani– and finally the Mawa biryani, where khoya and dry fruits are used.
Phew, I understand this post is quite long and boring but was waiting for a long long time to write this. So, Tamil cuisine is so beyond the usual Idli, Dosa, and Vada and even Sambar is a gift from Marathas. this post is a tribute to that rich heritage. But, till then, let us find out more interesting food stories. And also note, I am not a food historian. I do not claim to be one- ever. This is a post which collates information collected from different sources and interviews. So, if you want to/ would like to add something, please comment in the section below for my self-learning.
Bon Appetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
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