The smell of crisp vadas, the sound of spluttering mustard seeds, the taste of piping-hot sambar made with fresh tamarind, and the touch of feather-light, soft idlis – there’s no doubt that South Indian food is a treat to the senses. Dosa and chutney are just a brief trailer to a colourful, rich and absolutely fascinating culinary journey that is South India. With its 5 states, 2 union territories, rocky plateau, river valleys and coastal plains, the south of India is extremely different from its Northern counterpart. Needless to say, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have their own cuisines that are rooted in their history and culture.
But before we get stuck into details like ingredients and cooking techniques, let’s talk about some aspects that are common to those that live in the South. Firstly, most people eat with their right hand and leave the left one clean for drinking water. Also, licking curry off your finger does taste really good! Rice is their grain of choice and lentils and daals are equally important. Sambhar, which is made with lentil, tamarind and buttermilk is also common to all South Indian states, though each region may have its own variation.
Pickles and Pappadams are always served on the side and yogurt makes a frequent appearance as well. Coconut is one of the most important ingredients and is used in various forms: dry, desiccated or as is. Some of the cooking is also done in coconut oil. The South of India is known as ‘the land of spices’ and for all the right reasons. Cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, chilli, mustard, curry leaves – the list goes on.
Food of Kerala needs no introduction. It’s simple, zesty, flavourful and offers an intelligent combination of potent aromatic spices. Unlike its neighboring states, the food of Kerala is predominantly non-vegetarian. You’ve got chicken, mutton, pork, beef and a thrilling range of seafood – mussels, crab, tiger prawns, king prawns, tiny prawns, oysters, sardines, mackerel, tuna and gorgeous red lobsters. Some of the popularly used spices in Kerala’s cuisine are pepper, cumin, chillies, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and turmeric. Coconut, tamarind, unripe mango, lime juice, vinegar and curd are also used extensively.
From Udupi’s crisp masala dosai to Coorg’s spicy pork curry, the food of Karnataka is as diverse as it gets. Mangaloreans use loads of dried coconut and chillies which are known as Gaati Mensu in their food. Bisi bele bhath, Halu payasa (kheer), dosai, patrode, halbai, uppittu (upma) are some popular vegetarian dishes. Coorg is famous for its spicy pork curries, and the coast of Karnataka boasts of mildly spiced seafood.
The spiciest of all South Indian cuisines, the food from Andhra can leave you panting, gasping for air. A large part of Hyderbadi cuisine is similar to that of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, but the Hyderbadi cuisine has a personality of its own. Nawaabi kebabs, saffron-smelling biryani, creamy haleem and crumbly keema – they’ll put you in a state of trance.
Contrary to popular belief, the food of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana isn’t the same and in fact has always been distinct. The people of Telangana eat a lot of millets, seasonal greens, lentils, cumin, ginger are commonly used in their food. Some of the most popular dishes are pulihora, tamarind rice, egg pulusu (egg curry) and nalli massam.