The Indian state of Tamil Nadu has a reputation amongst aficionados of Indian cuisine for boasting one of the most celebrated and popular culinary cultures of the sub-continent. The secret of the food that can be found in this region lies in the variety.
The Indian state of Tamil Nadu has a reputation amongst aficionados of Indian cuisine for boasting one of the most celebrated and popular culinary cultures of the sub-continent. The secret of the food that can be found in this region lies in the variety. From plain and simple everyday dishes to a host of sensational masterpiece recipes, the cuisine of Tamil Nadu presents a spread worthy of one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants.
Of course, as in much of the rest of India, Tamil cuisine cannot be attributed to just one culture. Instead, several culinary traditions are to thank for the delectable assortment of food the region has to offer. The Chettinar community is one such culture and Chettinad food has consequently gained notoriety for its flavoursome and extra-spicy dishes.
In fact, Chettinad cuisine offers some of the spiciest dishes in India – no mean feat in the country that brought us the super-hot vindaloo and the blow-your-head-off phall. Gravies rich in tomatoes and chillies are common, however the dishes of Chettinad are not simply hot – they are alive with a fascinating complexity of spicing. Common spices that appear in Chettinad cooking include pepper, star anise, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, turmeric and cloves. You will also find the use of tangy tamarind greatly favoured in the dishes.
To accompany these richly flavoured dishes, plain and simple sides that are easy on the palate are preferred. Rice-based accompaniments such as idlis, appams and dosas are greatly enjoyed, as are creamy glasses of buttermilk and silky raitas, ideal for soothing hot tongues.
The topography and close proximity to the coast means that Chettinad enjoys access to a well-stocked natural larder. As a result, a wide selection of grains, vegetables and seafood ingredients are employed in the favourite dishes of the region. Here are our must-try picks:
1. Chicken Chettinad
The iconic dish of Chettinad, this fiery dish gains its red-hot flavour and colour from the tangy tomatoes and flavoursome chillies that form the keynotes of this recipe. Neatly balanced by the sweet, caramelised onions as well as a warming selection of mouth-watering spices such as cinnamon, the aromas of chicken Chettinad are almost as good as the taste.
2. Chettinad fish fry
Chettinad’s favourite fish dish involves succulent chunks of firm fish, rolled in a mouth-watering masala and pan fried until perfectly crisp. The combination of crunchy skin and tender flesh is a winner.
This stir-fried vegetable dish offers a few of your five-a-day. The veg are smothered in mild, delicate spices and fresh, grated coconut. Enjoy as a side or as the main dish with a portion of rice and chutney.
This spicy broth is a true winter warmer, thickened with dal. Tangy notes of tamarind, aromatic curry leaves and hot chillies give this curried soup an extra kick.
Versions of this decadent dish are popular all over the Indian states. This one is rich, creamy and created from rice and sweetened milk. After all that spicy food, a soothing dessert that’s gentle on the tongue could be just what the doctor ordered.