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Cuisines of the Tamil Land

The delectable cuisine of Tamil Nadu is a culinary style which dates to antiquity and has since influenced the other states of South and South-East Asia.

The darkness of the night is intercepted by the bells from the nearby Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple serving the naivedyam to the reclining resident deity – Ranganatha . Naivedyam is food offerings prepared and served to the temple deity. The temple is suffused with scent of ghee which is wafting from the Temple's Kitchen. Raja Mani, the cook is melting down the jaggery into brown bubbly syrup that will wash over the mound of the rice, donated by a devotee. He hoists the brass cauldron and adds a liberal dosage of ghee and handful of aromatic spices into it before he enters into the sanctum sanctorum. The inscriptions of the suddhannam (boiled white rice) is inscribed on many walls of the temples belonging to the Chola period. We also find the selvar appam – a delicious recipe made up of rice, cumin, a dash of pepper, unrefined sugar, banana and coconut – which almost dates back to 800 years ago with little change in taste, still served in many temples across the state.

 Sangam Literature and Ancient Tamil Cuisine

As per the Sangam literature, the ancient Tamil cuisine can be broadly divided into five traditional landscape – the Kurinji (the mountains) , the Mullai (the forests), the Marutham (agricultural lands), the Palai (the desert) and the Neithal (the coastal areas). The food depended on the availability of the resources that the land has to offer. The Kurinji people often ate honey and tuber. The Mullai people often gorged on wild boars and cooked meat in the direct fire (vakkuthal). As the Marutham were predominantly the people of the plains, the vegetables dominated their platter. However, they also ate meat, white rice, spinach, pulses, cereals and pickles. There is a specific mention of a recipe of white rice accompanied by a thick curry of crab flesh and ridge gourd.

In one of the ancient texts of Sangam literature, the poet is treated in the palace of a Chola king where he was served – delicious skewered goat meat, rice, crispy fried vegetables and over 16 varieties of dishes as part of the lunch.

Fresh frothing buttermilk and bamboo rice accompanied by a kozhambu made up of jackfruit seeds, raw mangoes and tamarind extracts are some long lost recipes recorded in the Tamil literature.

The people of Palai and Neithal regions often preferred sundried and fried foods. Pickles were often sun-dried and preserved for months. During the harvest of paddy in the deltaic region, fishes like Vilangu, pothi, theli and valai were quite popular as the staple menu of the region.

There is also mention of Paalsoru – the Milk Rice which is made up of tender coconut milk and rice, it is generally accompanied with seeni sambol or lunumiris which is nothing but tantalising chopped onions and chilli flakes.

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