History of Tamil Recipes
Tamil recipes for Dosai, idli, Poori to Fish, Mutton, chicken, Biryani varieties. Spicy, tasty, delicious, and hot Tamil recipes from the South Indian group of Dravidians. There is an ongoing discussion and argument about whose language and culture are foremost among the peoples of Tamilnadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra states. We will leave it at that because once upon a time about two millennia, they were all brothers from one family according to legends and epics like Mahabharata.
There is of course recorded history about the Dravidian people. Now the Tamils are all over the world. A good number of them live in South India, north Srilanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, and Fiji and in Caribbean islands too.
The three royal dynasties from brothers called the Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras date back to the third century AD.
History of Tamil Recipes
The history of Tamil recipes and food of South Indian cuisine is of much importance but not our focus today. The popular view in the west was that Indians do not know when their next meal would come. But India has far advanced today and what the west thought of it as an impoverished hungry continent is no longer valid.Food is available every where in India in plenty; and is very easily affordable. Food is also reasonably priced in India; it is the housing that is expensive.
Madurai is the center of Tamilnadu for culture and language. Tamil Sangam in Madurai is a center for Tamil literature. This goes back to the 6th century AD. Tamil recipes for idli and dosai have been mentioned as far back as the 5th century AD.
The Tamil idli is said to have been derived from two words, for spread and boil. ‘Itu’ means lay or spread or pour and ‘avi’ means to boil, so pour and boil is how idli is made and is appropriately named.
The word idli was mentioned in 920 AD, and there is even a description about the recipe. It is of course rather unlike ours today, as it seems to have been made of urad dal fermented with no rice flour at all; and more over seems to have been soaked in butter milk rather than water. There was also a mix of spices like cilantro, cumin, perungayam and pepper in it. So it has undergone a great make over today.
Dosai and vadai are mentioned too, seems like they also have been around for two thousand years in Tamil culture and food. Tamil recipes are not new but ancient and they have been modified a few times to what they are today.
The Staple Food of Tamil Cooking Is Rice
The Tamils love their rice. Rice is an important staple food for lunch for many. And it is not surprising that even the most popular and loved breakfast items have as their main component rice. Idli, Dosa, Idyappam and appam are all made from rice flour.
White rice in Tamilnadu is not eaten plain like the rest of the world does. Most Asians like the Japanese, Chinese, Koreans and others can eat white rice just plain. But not the south Indian. He needs to have some kind of sauce called curry to pour on it to mix and then it with his fingers.
That’s the best part. Use the fingers! Why? Because it is tasty when you touch food, tongue and the skin of your fingers. There is magic in taste when you do that compared to a spoon or a fork. More ever traditional Tamil food is served on a banana leaf which adds great flavor to any food served hot on it.
Many Tamils are vegetarian by birth, the idea of vegans and vegetarian in the west is entirely different. The vegetarian diet of a south Indian is packed with spices. It is spicy and hot and is not easily palatable by a western tongue. The basic ingredients in many Tamil recipes are chili, garlic, ginger and usually mixed in with red small onions.The usual vegetarian curry diet of a Tamil is sambar, rasam or puli kulombu. The side dishes used are also spiced up with red chili and onions.
Though they are spicy they are very tasty for us but are full of carbohydrates. Very little fat is in the diet though protein is in abundance through the variety of pulses and dal used. Nuts are also part of the snacks especially peanuts.
Vegetarian Lunch Sample
A typical vegetarian meal in Tamilnadu will be served on a banana leaf. First a little of salt is served on the top far right or left corner. Then three or four side dishes of vegetables called poriyal, kootu, chutney, patchadi etc will served on the top portion of the leaf. Now comes the white rice served on the center of the leaf and sambar is poured on the rice. After you finish this course the next will be rice and rasam.
Rasam tends to run, as it is very watery and has soupy consistency. You have to be very experienced with your fingers to kind of build a damn through rice to contain the rasam. It requires a dexterous finger and agility. Now after you finish the rice there will be some rasam left like a soup.
A typical Tamil person knows how to soup it up with his fingers without use of ay spoon. It is again with years of experience you can clean it up with a few scoops, using fingers and the palm without spilling and completely wipe your leaf off of rasam.
There is one more course of rice and curd or buttermilk comes after rasam. Course and throughout the meal vegetables side dishes are often refilled. There is also papad or appalam (fried side dish).
Finally if it is a feast or a festival is usually followed by a sweet dish called payasam. Some like to eat this before the last course of curd and others at the end.
Now you can fold the leaf as a sign that you have finished, and carefully fold so not to spill any on the way to the trash bin. Generally servants are there to do that job.
Curry is the westernized version of all Indian sauces and gravies. But it s not technically correct. Curry could mean anything now. It originally meant a mixture of different spices, pulses and dal ground together to form a powder, which is used as ‘masala’ which means mixture literally.
The word curry was and is exported through the colonial British to all the rest of the world especially to England and from there to many western countries. What ever is represented from the west as curry is not authentic curry as it is usually
means gravy or sauce, diluted to make it palatable for a foreign tongue.
Non Vegetarian Cuisine
The percentage of non vegetarian (meat and fish) eaters I would say are about 40-50%. There is no real dependable statistics or survey on this subject that I can count on. But according to the 2006 Hindu-CNN-IBN State of the Nation Survey it is an inconclusive 50%.
Since many are once a week meat eaters, others rarely while some eat only eggs or fish it is very difficult to really know the numbers. So there are varieties and spins of what is non vegetarian as a definition.
Pure vegetarians are found mainly in the Brahmin caste and even they are not that strict to day.Only a few who are non Brahmins can be classified as pure vegetarians.
Non vegetarian items like meat is expensive compared to vegetable bought in the market. It usually consists of mutton (goat, lamb or sheep meat), fish and chicken. Beef is not a very popular in the market place because of the Hindu belief of cow as sacred. Yet there is a fairly good population who eat beef.
All these non vegetarian Tamil recipes for mutton, fish, egg and chicken are spiced up pretty good in all forms of preparations. Most of the curries have chili turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic and other condiments like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Whole pepper is used very commonly too.
I hope this short walk through of Tamil recipes historically and a current affair of typical food in Tamilnadu helps in your understanding of Tamilnadu food and culture.
Short introduction video about Tamilnadu byJoseph Paul: