A walk down the culinary trails of Tamil Nadu

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The recent sensationalisation of applications like Swiggy and Zomato in our city, has hindered people from delving further into what Tamil Nadu really has to offer, in the culinary space. This has resulted in the near extinction of many styles of cooking that entail numerous varieties of dishes. Over a period of time, each geographical area where Tamils have lived has developed its own distinct variant of the common dishes in addition to the dishes native to itself. The divisions of the Tamil speaking regions are the primary means of dividing the Tamil cuisine. The most popular cuisines are the Chettinadu cuisine, Nanjilnadu cuisine and the Kongunadu cuisine. My personal favorites, from the most sought after dishes, that are indigenous to this state, have to be, (1)the Thirunelveli halwa, a dessert made with ghee and stirred wheat berries, which when eaten slightly warm, will certainly satiate any sweet tooth, (2)the Ooty varkies, a type of biscuit made from wheat flour, rava, rice, semolina, water, ghee, sugar and salt, which interestingly generated popularity around the time of the colonial rule, which makes it a long-surviving recipe, (3)the Karaikudi Chettinadu cuisine, which people often say entails dishes infused with fire, as this cuisine is mainly about its heat and spice, and last but not least, (4)the Ambur and Dindigul Thalapakatti biryanis, the latter, especially so for its technique used to prepare the amazing Jeeraga Samba rice. In spite of having lived here all my life, I am certain I have experienced only an iota of what Tamil Nadu truly has to offer. Although the Chettinadu cuisine may be the best known in these regions, the vegetarian Iyer community is also largely famous for their 23 types of preparations of sambars, as well as the Nayakars who specialize in a sweet sambar prepared with black jaggery, and made with two types of dal, red pumpkin and drumsticks.

 Similarly, the Iyengars, Naidus, Mudaliars and Gaundas all have their own distinguishable cuisines that are seldom found on the menus of restaurants, even in Tamil Nadu. An intriguing way to look at this state and its many forms of the same or similar dishes, is that, it is the equivalent of the fact that they speak the same language from their choice of the dish, but only with a different dialect, in that no two communities prepare any dish the same way. However, the most evolved and the most scaled cuisine in Tamil Nadu has to be of the Naadar’s style, which often entails the use of many blends of spice powders. A popular blend is coriander powder as the base ingredient with a mixture of mainly fried morsels of shrimp, fish and chicken. The Naadar cuisine is most popular in the regions between Madurai and Kanyakumari, with their headquarters at Virudhunagar. This town, amongst the more urban cities and societies, is famous, or rather growing infamous, for its stir-fried lamb blood that is commonly served for breakfast or lunch. It’s generally prepared with the lamb stomach and intestines, along with spices like ginger, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, red chili powder, green chilies, coriander powder, cumin, shallots and grated coconut. Another dying traditional cuisine is a section of the Tamil Brahmin’s style of cooking, which mostly involved the use of healthy ingredients such as various herbs, spices, sprouts and vegetables. Traditionally eaten with jaggery and gingely oil, these dishes were considered to have been highly nutritious and rich in proteins. Some examples of the most popular dishes of this cuisine are namely, the Black gram porridge, the Angaya podi and the Adament creeper chutney. The traditional dishes of the Tamil people provide us with more than just food to satisfy our hunger, the slowly dying culinary heritage of Tamil Nadu offers a combination of a delicious amalgamation of spices, herbs and other flavorful ingredients that have been scientifically proven to help sustain a healthy society of people, and is certainly one that must be valued and cherished.

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