I am back from India! We had an amazing time and an even more amazing wedding! We also got to eat some delicious food and I was able to introduce my husband to some of my favorite foods that I grew up with! It was great to be pampered with home cooked food for a month! South Indian food doesn’t quite get the recognition it deserves here in the US. Most restaurants here specialize in North Indian cuisine, which is delicious, but doesn’t represent all of India. India is so culturally diverse that the cuisine can vary from one state to the next. Here is a little slice of Tamil Nadu, the South Indian state in India where my family is from.
Our mornings usually began with a quintessential ritual of every South Indian home: filter coffee. South Indian coffee is brewed in a metal device consisting of two cylindrical containers. Coffee and boiling water are added to the top container which contains tiny holes at the bottom. The brew (known as decoction) then drips into the bottom collection container. The resulting brew is extremely strong and is then mixed with milk and sugar and enjoyed in a traditional cup known as a tumbler. A bowl or davarah is also used to pour coffee back and forth between the tumbler and davarah to mix everything, cool the coffee down as well as to generate a cappuccino/latte like foam! I made some filter coffee when we got back to Cleveland and it turned out pretty well!
Our second week in India heralded the popular Tamil festival of Pongal. Pongal celebrates the end of the harvest season and usually occurs in the month of January. The word pongal refers to the boiling over of milk and rice which symbolizes prosperity as well as gratitude for the harvest. There are two varieties of pongal, sweet and savory. The sweet version consists of rice, milk, lentils flavored with jaggery, cardamom and cloves with raisins and cashews. The savory version is simpler with rice, lentils and simple seasonings like pepper and ghee. I personally prefer the savory version! It is often served with coconut chutney and a dish made out of stewed tomatoes and onions known as gotsu.
Before the wedding, we also visited a couple of cities with my parents to see some temples . We went to Thiruchirapalli (or Trichy), Kumbakonam and Thanjavur. Thanjavur is my dad’s birth place! We had two amazing experiences in Thanjavur. One was seeing the Thanjavur big temple which was built in 1010 AD! It was absolutely beautiful and humbling!
The other great experience was eating an amazing South Indian meal in a small restaurant in Thanjavur. South Indian meals are often served on banana leaves and eaten with your hands. A vegetarian banana leaf “saapadu” or meal primarily consists several vegetable sides eaten along with rice. The first course of rice is eaten with Sambhar, a spicy lentil and vegetable gravy. The lentils in this dish provide the protein necessary for a complete meal. This is followed by Rasam which is traditionally prepared with tamarind as a base with tomato, pepper and cumin as flavor additions. The ingredients in rasam aid in digestion of the food. Finally the rice meal is completed with yogurt, which helps in cooling the body in those hot summer months! Meals can often include other sauces to be eaten with rice before the rasam course. Other accompaniments to the meal include appalams (crunchy lentil crackers), spicy Indian pickles and a sweet dish. Amazingly, these types of meals are usually unlimited! Servers walk around the restaurant with containers of food and you can ask for anything on your leaf to be refilled! The best part of THIS meal (other than being simply delicious!) was that it was merely Rs 50 which is $1!!!! Imagine that!
In Trichy, we enjoyed some Chettinad cuisine which is famous for being spicy, and boy was it spicy! One of my favorite dishes is Appam. The main component is a bowl shaped thin crepe that is made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk. Savory appams are served with a spicy coconut stew with vegetables and sweet appams come with plain coconut milk and jaggery or brown sugar. The center of the appam is soft and fluffy while the edges are crispy!
Another typical Chettinad street food dish is Kothu parotta. It’s a dish made of minced parottas which are flaky wheat flatbreads and mixed with vegetables (or meat) and spices. Usually parottas are eaten with a side dish of vegetables or coconut kurma. This dish combines the flaky parotta and the spices of whatever side dish you are making into one convenient eating package! I forgot to take pictures at the restaurant and just HAD to make it again when we got back to Cleveland. We had it with a onion-cucumber raita (yogurt sauce) and tomato pickle! Yummy!
One of my favorite vegetables, growing up was Taro which is called Sheppankazhangu in Tamil (the zh is pronounced as this rolling r sound that doesn’t exist in the English language!). It is also known as Colocassia or Edo. It’s a root vegetable that has a tough and quite ugly exterior (see picture below) and a starchy inside that is tough when uncooked.
When boiled, it becomes soft and then can be cut into little pieces and stir-fried with delicious spices! Being starchy like potato, it tastes especially good when roasted or deep fried! It gets a crunchy exterior and a buttery soft interior!
These are just a few of my favorite food adventures we had in India! We ate a lot of delicious food and most of the time was spent stuffing our faces instead of documenting what we ate! I promise to share some of the recipes from my favorite foods in the coming months on this blog! I hope you’ve enjoyed this mini taste of South India!