To say TamilNadu is just about idli dosai sambar, non-veg food is all about Chettinad food and veg food is TamBram food, is to believe “Chennai express” is about Chennai. There is a treasure trove of food to Tamil Nadu, much more rich and varied than restaurants, advertisers and others would have you believe (although idli-dosai, TamBram and Chettinad dishes are special in their own right). Idli-Dosai are definitely the most popular tiffen that are had for breakfast, dinner or as a snack any time of the day. Idli-Dosai are my life savers. Our bottom shelf in the fridge is reserved totally for Idli-Dosai batter. They keep well, are easy to make, are quick and can be varied endlessly. No wonder they’ve captured the imagination of people the world over.
If you thought otherwise, Non-vegetarian food is as popular as vegetarian food. A simple potato varuval is made using a curry podi by Brahmins, powdered whole spices by Chettiars, using onion and ginger garlic by Naickers.. Every food is made by every community but differently and each one is as delicious as the other. This is not to say that Chettiars don’t use onion-garlic or others don’t use whole spices. Now everybody does it every way. There are slight nuances that differ between even each household. I love it that the thengai araithu kuzhambu (ground coconut stew) that my Periamma does is different from the one my mother does which is again different from the one my maamiyaar (mother in law) does. The Kari kuzhambu that we make in Chennai could be very different from the one made in Trichy, Aathur or Andipatti. In fact, the cooking in the smaller towns and villages is usually untouched by restaurant flourishes and is quite remarkable.
Rice is the Tamil’s staple food. A vegetarian meal would include sambar (lentil-tamarind-veggie dish), kuzhambu, rasam and curd which are mixed with rice and had along with vegetable poriyals, varuvals, thokku, pachadi, vadai and appalam. Non-vegetarian meal would include a kuzhambu of chicken or mutton or seafood and a varuval or thokku also.
Kasi Halwa: We start with the traditional Kasi Halwa (ash gourd halwa) a popular wedding/special occasion sweet and in my opinion the best damn halwa in the world. It is unbelievable that such a tasteless vegetable (have you tried drinking ash gourd juice. I have.) can be transformed into something so magical. It’s important to squeeze out as much water as possible from the grated Ash gourd before you fry it in ghee. Once completely dry, cook in milk till soft and then add sugar and cook till it is the desired halwa consistency.
Milagu Rasam: Almost like a clear soup, this milagu rasam (again, missed the individual photo) is a light but hot broth that complements the heavier kuzhambu and sambar beautifully.