Updated: Nov 25, 2019
South Indian food is an integral part of Indian history, culture, and traditions. South India primarily includes five states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana.
South India, also known as Peninsular India or "Deccan” that came from the Prakrit word “Dakkhin” again derived from the Sanskrit word “Dakshina” meaning South. Geographically it forms the southern part of the Deccan Plateau, these 5 states form a triangular area with a plateau in the center it is bounded by two mountain ranges the Western and Eastern Ghats. Surrounded by the Bay of Bengal in the East, the Arabian Sea in the West and the Indian Ocean in the South, it also prides with many rivers.
The geographical diversity of the region contributes to the culturally distinct states, people, culture, language and of course food! While the cuisines in the states have some commonalities there are differences in the ingredients and characteristic cooking styles that make it very distinct. Most often, “Indian Cuisine” gets written off as one school of the culinary arts. Just because of a few common characteristics there is a tendency to club it. General understanding limited to categorizing dishes from a Tandoor as North Indian and anything served of a Banana Leaf as South Indian.
As with most countries, the cuisine in South India also differs every 50 KM. There are large regional differences in the cuisine. Each state cuisine influenced by history, people, geography and culture. South Indian cuisines have a lot to offer! In the picture are 5 different starch dishes from these 5 states.
Undrallu from Telengana (Steamed Rice Ball)
Kuzi Panniyaram from Tamilnadu (Fried Rice-Lentil dumplings)
Ragi Muddai from Karnataka (Finger Millet ball)
Idiyappam from Karela (Fresh Rice noodles)
Punugulu from Andhra Pradesh (Deep Fried Rice-Lentil Fritter)
While there may be similar dishes across the region, each of the southern state maintains their differences. What is most interesting is understanding how, why the dish or cuisine came to be. Let’s travel across these 5 southern Indian states to understand a bit more.
Telangana shares the border with Central India and primarily has two types of cuisines, the Telugu cuisine, and Hyderabadi cuisine. Telugu cuisine is the part of South Indian cuisine characterized by their highly spicy food but largely rice-based like the Undrallu (in the picture) a broken rice/rice flour ball offered as a prasadam to Lord Ganesha. Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana, has its own characteristic cuisine, which is considerably different from other Telugu cuisines. The Nizams patronize the Hyderabadi cuisine, which is similar to Nawabi and Lucknowi cuisine with the difference of being much spicier.
Andhra Pradesh coastline is exposed to the long coastline of Bay of Bengal and also influenced by the Krishna and Godavari delta regions, therefore, people include a lot of seafood in their cuisine. This region is one of the largest producers of rice and chilies therefore spicy rice-based foods with lentils are the staple diet of the people. An example of rice and lentil is the Punugulu (in the picture) that is a deep-fried street snack eaten with spicy chutney. The north-east part of Andhra Pradesh bordering Odisha prefers their food a bit sweeter than the rest of the state. While the southern region of Andhra Pradesh is famous for being spicy because of the liberal use of chili powder in almost all the dishes. Seema karam (a specific type of Chilli grown in this region) is unique to its dishes. This region sharing their border with Karnataka, grow and use finger millets as their staple along with rice.
Karnataka has a diverse cuisine. North Karnataka the cuisine is fiery spicy with a variety of condiments with a considerable number of vegetarian dishes. Coastal areas of Karnataka use seafood, coconut and coconut oil that form the basis of cuisines in North Canara and Mangalore. There are some very unique dishes that are distinct to these cuisines. The South Karnataka cuisine or the old Mysore cuisine is dominated by ragi (finger millet) and the traditional dish called Ragi mudde (in the picture), a ball made with finger millet is eaten with curries. The Kodagu cuisine is very distinct from the other regional cuisines of Karnataka, much like their culture. It consists of spicy curries either from pork, game or meat with kachampuli (vinegar) that adds the tanginess to the dish. The Udupi cuisine emphasizes the use of local fruits, vegetables, grains and beans and is entirely vegetarian.
In Tamil Nadu the Tamil cuisine offers primarily light breakfast, lighter dinner, a heavy midday meal and evening snacks, often served with tea or coffee. Tamil cuisine is based on including six tastes, namely sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter and astringent into the main meal so as to get complete nutrition and balanced digestion. It offers a wide variety of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Tamil brahmin cuisine is vegetarian, comparatively less spicy, use fenugreek, little or no onion and does not include garlic. Tanjavur region, there was a heavy influence of Marathas. They pride themselves on the first kebab in south Indian called shunti kebab that is bound by banana threads in a ball-shape and deep-fried. Sahibu cuisine is the Muslim cuisine that uses fish powder brought in from Maldives and use pandan leaves. Kongunadu Cuisine comes from the north-western part of the state. It is less spicy, bursts with the flavor of the coconut, sesame seeds, groundnut dry coconut, dry ginger, and roasted turmeric. The texture, taste of meats cooked is different. The meat is cooked without being marinated, coconut shells are used to soften the meat, turmeric is freshly grated, ground after being roasted. Nanjil Nadu cuisine is influenced by Kerala. Largely seafood, they include are fennel (sombu/saunf), pepper, coriander seeds, and red chilli. Chettinad cuisine comes from an enterprising community forged trading links across Asia, traveled, brought back spices and ingredients that differentiate their cuisine from the rest of Tamil Nadu. The Chettiars' travels around Asia saw them incorporate many ingredients that differentiate their cuisine from the rest of Tamil Nadu. Star aniseed and black rice (once known as forbidden rice in China because it was reserved only for the nobility) are some of the ingredients that are unique to this cuisine. Chettinad cuisine is more about the interplay between spices rather than just gravies dunked with chilli powder or spicy masalas and largely meat, seafood-based. Freshly ground pepper and chilli powder are usually used in equal proportion in most dishes. The Kuzhi Paniyaram (in the picture) is a Chettinad street food favorite that is made with a dosa batter!
Kerala is a port town has been influenced by the traveling Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Portuguese, Arabs and Dutch traders. India’s Malabar Coast with the Arabian Sea shoreline Karela enjoys fresh seafood from the Arabian Sea. Kerala was known as the spice capital and along with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, tamarind, and ginger they sent items like tapioca, coffee, and cocoa to other European shores. Despite being famous for its versatile mix of fish and meat many Keralan dishes are vegetarian, which makes most of the region’s locally grown produce. North and South Kerala prepare their dishes in distinct tastes and styles. The Arab influenced Mappila cuisine is famous for biryanis. Meat dishes tend to be spicier, hotter and drier than those made of vegetables and pulses in Kerala. It is one of the few places in India where beef is eaten, due to the state’s Syrian Christian community in south Kerala. The Hindu population of Kerala are known for the sadya. It is an array of 24–28 kinds of dishes that are served in a specific order on a banana leaf. Traditionally, sadya refers to a large feast in Malayalam. Rice is the most common staple in Kerala but also prides itself on the Malabar paratha that is most often found in Singapore and Malaysia. It is home to fermented pancakes called appam and idiyappam (in the picture), that is thin noodle strands of rice dough which are then steamed until light and fluffy.
Intrigued?! Well, let me tell you more… in fact, let me feed it to you.
Join me on 5th December at Flying Monkey.
I will take you on a 3-course dinner tale across these five southern states of India to celebrate the untold diversity of the cuisines in the region.
You can expect a fun-filled dining experience with a choice of paired cocktails for each course specially created by Flying Monkey’s very own Kannan Pillai. There are options of amazing mocktails from the Flying Monkey menu to choose from as well.
There are limited seats available, so click on this link to book today!
Pssst: do let us know if you are celebrating a special occasion.
See you soon!
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