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A speciality drink from the region, filter coffee is prepared by mixing together milk and a decoction of coffee, made by filtering finely-ground coffee beans through boiling water. It can be had with or without milk. Filter coffee is a potent beverage that is brewed extra strong.
Coffee is believed to have come to India in the early 17th century in Karnataka. At the time, coffee was a safely guarded secret of the regions of present-day Yemen. Legend has it that a Muslim saint, Baba Budan from Chikmagalur, smuggled seven coffee beans in his beard and planted them in the Chandragiri Hills, in Karnataka.
A popular sweet, Mysore pak was first prepared in the kitchens of the Mysore Palace during the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, by a palace cook named Kakasura Madappa. He made a concoction of gram flour, ghee (clarified butter) and sugar. When asked its name, Madappa having had nothing in mind, simply called it ‘Mysore pak’.
This is a sweet meat that is the South Indian version of modak (rounded sweet balls). It is a steamed rice dumpling that is stuffed with grated coconut and jaggery.
Payasam is the South Indian version of kheer. It is a hearty and creamy pudding made with rice, sugar and milk that is usually topped with cashews and raisins.
This is a spicy and tangy chicken curry made with pepper Chettinad paste. It employs the use of curry leaves, coconut and onions. Chettinad is a popular style of cooking.
Chettinad is a popular style of cooking that uses local spices generously. Some of the common flavours you would come across are star anise, maratti mokku (dried flower pods), kalpasi (stone flower) and pepper. Authentic Chettinad dishes mostly use seafood and some of the delicacies you can sample are pepper chicken, chicken varuval (dry spicy fried chicken), mor milagai (chillies marinated in yoghurt and dried in the sun), poriyal (a sautéed vegetable dish), masiyal (a vegetable curry), kootu (lentil curry), delicious lamb biryani (layered meat and rice dish), urundai (fried lentil balls), home-made coconut ice cream and payasam (a sweet pudding). The vegetarian counterpart of the cuisine is murukku (a deep-fried round crunchy snack made with rice flour).
All the dishes in a traditional Chettinad meal are served in a specific order and have a designated place. For example, fritters are placed at the bottom left while rice and flatbreads, paired with lentils, occupy the centre point. The bottom right is reserved for desserts.
Chickpeas are stir-fried to make this snack. They boast the flavour of grated coconut, asafoetida, curry leaves and mustard seeds.
Murukku is a savoury snack made with a mix of rice and gram flour. They are usually coiled in shape and deep-fried. The name of the dish literally means twisted and it is a savoury snack in spiral shape. It can be paired with authentic filter coffee or tea.
Rice flour is fashioned in the shape of a noodle and then steamed to make iddiyappam. This can be eaten with curries and chutney.
Lemon rice is a lemon-flavoured tangy dish that is tempered with spices, curry leaves and other condiments. It can be had with sambar (vegetable stew), curry, or yoghurt and pickles.
Laced with gram and lentils, tamarind rice is a sour dish that is flavoured with tangy tamarind pulp.
Appam is a steamed pancake that is made with fermented rice flour and coconut milk. It goes very well with stews and curry.
Puddu is a rice and ground-coconut dish that is prepared in a cylindrical shape. It is later steamed and usually eaten for breakfast.
This is a classic way to make merry with leftovers. Kottu parotta is a stir-fry of parotta (Indian flatbread), egg, meat, and salna, which is a spicy sauce. It is similar to the North Indian parantha. It is a dish of shredded leaves served with a spicy combination of eggs, chicken and vegetables. It is served with chutney on the side and is a popular street food in Chennai.
A batter of black lentils and rice is steamed using a round mould to make kuzhi paniyaram. This is relished with coconut chutney. The dish can be both pan fried or steamed. Jaggery is used to sweeten the dish and chillies add some spice to it. Curry leaves and mustard seeds are an important part of the garnish for this dish.
South Indian thali is usually vegetarian, comprising an array of spicy and tangy vegetables, sambars (vegetable stew), pooris (fried flatbread), rice preparations, pickles and curries. It is also served with one or two sweetmeats and buttermilk. Coconut is the key ingredient in most of these dishes. Some of the other additions to the thali are: rasam, which is a consommé prepared with tamarind juice and tomato as a base, along with pepper, chilli, cumin etc.; pumpkin kootu, a curry-based dish in which vegetables and lentils are cooked together; potato fry; carrot kosumari, the South Indian version of a salad, it features coconut, lime juice and grated carrot; medu vada, which is a deep-fried lentil dumpling; deep-fried papad; plain yoghurt; akkaravadisal, a sweet made with rice and lentils.
Medu wada is the South Indian version of a savoury donut. It is deep-fried with a crunchy exterior and soft interior. The flour is usually made of a mix of rice and lentils. The word 'medhu' in Tamil means soft and 'wada' means a fritter. It is an important part of the lunch menu in Tamil Nadu and an important dish served during weddings, festivals, puja days and more. It can also be served as an evening snack with hot tea or filter coffee.
Dosa is the South Indian version of a crepe. It is made using a batter made of fermented rice and lentils and can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Chennai cuisine is incomplete without dosas. Some amazing varieties of the dish include ragi dosa, cholam dosa and dry fruits dosa.
Fermented black lentils and rice are used to make a batter that is steamed to make idli or rice cakes. These are relished with sambar (vegetable stew) and coconut chutney. Idli can be enjoyed in every meal from breakfast to comfort food to a tiffin essential or a midnight quick-fix.
This dish is made by deep-frying small fish and tempering them with chillies and curry leaves. It can be eaten fresh or dry.
This soup is an ode to the British era and is a version of ‘Madras soup’. The name is an anglicised version of ‘milagu thani’ (or pepper water). This soup, with its generous quantities of pepper and garlic, became popular with British officers when they felt under the weather. It can served with vegetables or chicken and always has a sprinkling of rice.
South Indian dishes can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian based on which region you visit. They usually use a lot of coconut and spices in their preparation. Rice, pepper and lentils feature prominently along with seafood. The best way to sample these dishes at one go is to opt for a South Indian thali.