Best Foods To Try When in Tamil Nadu (2022)
The state of Tamil Nadu is known throughout India for its rich cuisine with delectable dishes. In fact, the culinary style originating from this state is today known worldwide as Tamil cuisine. Not only in India, but Tamil cuisine is today popular all over the world, especially in other parts of South Asia. Tamil people tend to prefer vegetarian cuisine, but this is not to say that non-vegetarian fares don’t find their place here. Tamil Nadu is famous for offering a wide variety of culinary treasures for tourists to savor. Not to mention, the incredible touch of the traditional Tamilian culture that gets served with every dish is what truly makes the food of Tamil Nadu stand out.
Best Foods To Try When in Tamil Nadu
Dosa, Idli, Sambar, Uttapam, and Vada are some of the common foods that pop up whenever you think of South Indian food. However, the cuisine of Tamil Nadu also goes much beyond these popular traditional fares. Let us take a look at some of the best foods of Tamil Nadu.
1. Chettinad Kozhi
Chettinad Kozhi is a dish belonging to the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu. It is a traditional chicken curry dish that is served with paratha (fried flatbread). The dish is prepared after the chicken is marinated in a turmeric, yogurt paste that includes red chili peppers, coconut, cumin, poppy seeds, tomatoes, coriander, black pepper, onions, garlic, lemon juice, fennel, and oil. After marinating overnight, or at least for an hour or two, if you are in a hurry, the curry dish is cooked and served garnished with coriander or curry leaves.
Chettinad kozhi is commonly prepared to celebrate special occasions in the Chettinad region, and it is usually accompanied by paratha or steamed rice on the side.
Another traditional Tamilian dish is the Varuval, which also originates from the Chettinad region in Tamil Nadu. The dish is prepared with spicy, dry-fried pieces of chicken drumsticks or chicken breasts.
Varuval is prepared with spices such as cloves, fennel, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, red chili, cardamom, and black peppercorns. All these whole spices are roasted in a pan until they become fragrant and then crushed or ground into a powder.
The chicken pieces are then marinated in these spices, along with turmeric and salt, and cooked with chili peppers, curry leaves, garlic, onion, ginger, and chopped tomatoes until the paste becomes nearly dry.
Varuval chicken is served garnished with coriander leaves and usually accompanied by steamed rice or paratha.
3. Madras Curry
Madras Curry is a famous traditional curry of Tamil Nadu that is characterized by its complex flavors and spiciness. There are many variations to how Madras Curry is prepared, but it is typically made with a combination of chicken, onions, ginger, garlic, tomato paste, cinnamon, coconut milk, cinnamon, oil, and a spice mixture made from chili powder, dried fenugreek, salt, and a special Madras curry powder.
The trick to a perfectly made Madras Curry is that the curry should not be too thick. If the curry is too thick, then you need to dilute it by adding more curry base instead of water. Once the curry is prepared, the spicy curry is garnished with chopped coriander before being served.
In Tamil Nadu, Madras Curry can also be prepared with beef or lamb instead of chicken, but that dish is known as Ghoust Madras Curry.
A very popular dish in Tamil Nadu, Uttapam, can be thought of as a South Indian pizza. This popular South Indian dish is made from a batter of rice and lentils that is fried and topped with several types of chopped vegetables, including onions, tomatoes, carrots, corn, and green chili. You can put whatever vegetables you want in an uttapam.
The uttapam is usually of pancake size, but there is a variation of the dish known as mini uttapam, which is typically served in four pieces in a portion.
Uttapam is usually accompanied by sambhar on the side, which is a lentil curry made with onions, coconut, eggplant, and drumsticks. Sambhar is also a very popular curry dish of Tamil Nadu.
Another popular dish that Tamil Nadu has given to all of India is Upma. Today Upma is a commonly had breakfast dish in many Indian households, not just in South India. Upma is made from dry semolina or rice flour and cooked until it turns into a thick porridge. Upma is typically served piping hot for breakfast. It has a slightly bland taste, and to combat this, many people like to add beans, nuts, and spices like chilies and turmeric to the dish to add some flavor.
There are many variations of the dish. It is cooked differently in South India and made differently in North India. Some upmas are prepared with a topping of grated coconut instead of onions, while others can be made with milk and corn.
Upma is typically served with a side of Bell Pepper chutney.
6. Putu Mayam
Putu mayam is a very popular street food in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Even though the dish has its origin in South India, it is also a popular dish in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore today.
Putu mayam is made up of idiyappam or rice flour noodles that are topped with coconut powder and sweetened with sugar. In many places in Tamil Nadu, the noodles are still made using the traditional method of passing the dough through a rattan basket with holes, or a sieve. They are then steamed in the same basket, which imparts a wonderful wood-like fragrance to the noodles. Even now, in many restaurants throughout the state, putu mayam is still served on a traditional banana leaf, to allow for easier consumption. Putu mayam is often used as an accompaniment for chicken or meat curries or dishes.
The name of the dish is derived from the word putu, which is a Malayan for rice cake, and mayam, which is derived from mayang, which means desiccated or powdered coconut.
Dosa has today crossed all boundaries and became a global food. Who doesn’t know about dosa today! Worldwide, this thin pancake has become a symbol of South Indian dishes. In Tamil Nadu also dosa is a popular dish. Made from soaked rice and black gram beans, it is made after the rice and beans are ground into a fine paste and mixed to make a thick batter. This is typically left to ferment overnight.
The mixture can sometimes also be enriched by adding a handful of fenugreek seeds, which is what lends dosa its distinctive golden color and the deliciously crispy texture it is known for.
The batter is then put onto a hot oiled griddle and spread out to make a delicate and thin texture and round shape. Dosa has today become India’s export to the world over, but not many know that the dosa actually originated in the state of Tamil Nadu itself. This ancient dish can be traced all the way back to the 1st century AD when it first found a mention in Tamil literature.
Since then, dosa has become a hot favorite of Tamilians and all of India.
8. Sambhar or Sambar
This popular curry dish has become equally as famous as the dosa since worldwide we traditionally refer to the complete dish as Sambar dosa or dosa sambhar. This curry dish is made with a tamarind-based broth, vegetables, and lentils. Even though sambar is thought to be a traditional South India dish, it is today popular throughout India and has also become a staple dish in Sri Lanka. Sambar is typically served with dosa or steamed rice.
There is an interesting legend behind the origin of sambar. It is believed that sambar was actually created as a mistake made by the great Maratha ruler Shivaji’s son, Sambhaji. Since the royal chef was away, Sambhaji decided to cook some dal for himself, and added a little bit of tamarind into the dal while cooking. Sambhaji went on to love the dish so much that he named it sambar after himself.
Today all over the world, there are many variations of this dish, including seafood sambar, milk sambar, and chicken sambar.
9. Chicken 65
A classic chicken dish known to have origins in Chennai, the Chicken 65 is made up of deep-fried chicken that has been marinated in lemon, ginger, red chilies, and many other spices. The popular legend behind the dish says that Chicken 65 was first created in Tamil Nadu by A. M. Buhari, in 1965.
While the original dish was supposed to be prepared with 65 hot chili peppers as a testament to the manliness of whosoever eats it, today there are much milder versions of the dish that are popular. Some theories also say claim that the dish got its name because the chicken was supposed to be cut into 65 pieces or that the chicken should be exactly 65 days old when the dish was to be prepared.
Similar to the other Tamilian dishes discussed here, Chicken 65 has also grown in popularity so much that many different variations have emerged, and it is believed that each state in Southern India today has its own version of Chicken 65. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, the chicken is cooked rather than fried, while in Karnataka, the dish is garnished with grated coconut.
Chicken 65 should traditionally be served with spicy red chutneys.
How can a list of the best foods of Tamil Nadu be complete without a mention of Pongal? Pongal is a sweet dish made from rice that is made during ceremonial or special occasions in Tamil Nadu and even Sri Lanka. The dish became popular in Sri Lanka from the Tamil migrants who went from Tamil Nadu.
The dish is named Pongal in honor of the festival of Thai Pongal, which is celebrated on January 14th every year and symbolizes the end of the harvest season in Tamil Nadu. This festival can be thought of as being the Tamil equivalent to today’s Thanksgiving in the West.
Pongal is traditionally cooked in a clay pot over an open fire. Milk and water are brought to a boil, and a little bit of it is allowed to spill over for good luck and prosperity to the family. Over the years, many variations of pongal have emerged, but the simplest one is still similar to the rice kheer prepared in Northern India.
Apart from these main courses that are popular in Tamil Nadu, the state has also offered a myriad of snacks and side dishes that have become popular throughout the country. Murukku Bonda, Appalam, Banana Chips, and Green Gram Sprouts are just some examples of snacks and side dishes that you should try when you visit Tamil Nadu.