In the Sivaganga section of Tamil Nadu lies a region called Chettinad. The region house mansions and temples and also refer to a community with the mastery of preparing delicious food. This is the food traced back to the community called Nattukotai Chettiars or Nagarathars. The cuisine involves rich usage of freshly ground spices to make scrumptiously blended and well-balanced meals. The aroma of tamarind, fennel, cumin, bay leaf and turmeric will greet you ever so often in these dishes. Another key element of Chettinad food is their effective usage of sun-dried vegetables which not only gives the food a distinctive taste but also helps retain its nutritional value. Curries and gravies are scooped up with bites of rice-based accompaniments in the form of appams, idlis and dosas. And don’t worry about things getting too spicy because then you can gulp down the trusted buttermilk to leave you refreshed.
Today, this regional cuisine of Chettinad has become quite popular and if you’re wondering just what to order for yourself on the menu, then we’re here to guide you on some of the unmissable delicacies:
Of course, how can a discussion on Chettinad food commence without bringing up idiyappam? The regional favourite has today become not just a nationwide favourite but is also much loved in neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka. This dish is gluten-free and vegan as well making it an easy pick for those in favour of such food and also because it makes for a wholesome and healthy breakfast option. The reason why its so popular is because fresh vegetables and spring hoppers are sautéed in a mixture that oozes spiciness. Its prepared with variants involving egg and coconut milk too.
Ennai denotes oil and kathirikai stands for aubergine. But don’t let the presence of brinjal dissuade you. This preparation has a tangy twist to it and comes sitting in a gravy that makes your mouth water. The spices involved are first roasted to make a paste which is thereafter stuffed into these veggies. The grated coconut and the dried red chillies bring it quite a robust flavour. On account of its rich gravy this dish is best had with steamed rice.
If you’re looking to cut some oil and calories from your diet but not cut on taste then this is a good pick for you. And no, I’m not just saying that, I personally eat this very often for lunch. Its super easy to prepare and results in a bowl full of fresh and light feeling vegetables. The use of lentils, mustard seeds and curry leaves in the preparation of this dish helps it to highlight the natural taste of the fresh vegetable while also bringing it a slight crunchiness with the cooking. Turn to this one when you are in the mood for some comfort food.
Milagu Kozhi Varuval
Ah my fellow meat lovers, if you have been thinking that’s great about the vegetables but where’s the meat, then your wait is over! Presenting to you a pepper chicken dish. This dish involves an elaborate adoption of chilli powder along with pepper to give this quite the hot taste. Also, another added benefit of this dish beyond its yumminess is how it also helps those suffering from a cold. Both pepper and chicken make for good remedies for those suffering from a case of sniffles. Topped off with coriander, this chicken is the starter that you must order.
Paal payasam is the traditional kheer from South India prepared with rice and milk. In its simple method of preparation, it is made with just the addition of ghee and sugar to the above two key ingredients. However, if you are taking the effort of having desert you may as well indulge in it the right away! And that is with dry fruits adorned on the top of this warmly inviting rice pudding. Payasam is also served at temples as form of prashad. Its variants include moong dal payasam and lentil payasam.
How about digging into some fish? And this isn’t just any fish. This is an elaborately cooked fish. Meen stands for fish and kuzambhu translates to mean curry. Presenting you with a fish curry made from onions, tomatoes and tamarind. Added to this are an array of spices tossed in sesame oil. Traditionally, it is served in an earthen pot, adding to its charm. Another aspect of enjoying this fish curry is if you can have it some biryani, that makes for a knockout meal!
Nariyal and Soya Paneer Vada
How about those undeniable cravings for some snacks? You know when you do not want a full-fledged meal but just some delicious bites to keep you going. Now my boss always turns to samosa which is understandably the most popular snack in a large part of India. But within the Chettinad cuisine it’s the vadas that come in a number of forms. The coconut and soya tofu based vada has a pretty identifiable Chettinad touch to it. The deep fried goodie is served along with some fresh tasting curd rice and zesty tomato pickle chutney.
This dish hailing from this much-loved regional cuisine has made its way to the hearts and appetites of so many of us across a number of cities! This chicken in its spicy goodness comes both as a form of dry chicken and also with a gravy for curry lovers. Once again you will be dipping into the trademark tomato-based gravy but what’s different about it is that although most tomato-based curries tend to have a sweet aftertaste, this one has a full-blown piquancy to it. The use of red chillies along with fresh locally grown herbs and spices can be credited for this taste.
Beyond the gravies, this is another unique experience that you can have in this part of South India. This rice dumpling comes stuffed with coconut gratings, chakkavaratti and jaggery. Usually prepared with a sweet taste, it can closely be compared to the Maharashtrian modak. The kozhukattai too is prepared for festivals as a form of offering to Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi. Its difference from the modak is in the stuffing. At times, it can also be prepared in a savoury form.
Now if the thought of some good deserts has you excited, lets sweeten that up further. Presenting a key Chettinad style desert called kandarappam. It is made with raw rice, urad dal, moong dal and jaggery. The presence of coconut and cardamom are responsible for the fragrance it leaves, letting you breathe a whiff of it in eager anticipation! The gooey dish comes with crispy edges and exteriors that lead you to a soft centre full of sweetness.
Be it cooking up some Chettinad dishes or trying the cuisine at an authentic restaurant, this one simply adds to the joy of being a foodie in India because there is just so much to explore and enjoy. Here’s hoping you get to do so soon. Happy hogging!
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