Food & Culinary Tradition of South India

South India is the home of four states-Tamil Nadu, Andra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala. Residents of each state speak different languages and their culinary tradition is vastly different but has many similarities. The main foods for most of the South Indian people are rice, coconut, and seafood. South India grows various spices that have been exported to all over the world and their food tradition is to use spices in their food preparation.

South Indian thali-combo of all vegetable curries served with boiled white rice. A staple food for the South Indian people

Tamil Nadu is popular for various rice-based foods like idly (rice pancake) and dosa (crispy pancake made with rice batter), and both of them are eaten by dipping with dishes like coconut chutney (paste made with coconut and spices) and sambar (made with dal and vegetables). The capital, Chennai, is close to the Bay of Bengal, so it can offer varieties of seafood like fish fry, shrimp fry, and many other seafood delicacies. The popular drink in Tamil Nadu is filter coffee (made with dark roasted coffee bean, milk, sugar and chicory), with all big meals ending with a filter coffee.

As you travel on the coastal line of Bay of Bengal you will reach Pondicherry which was the colony of France until 1954-long after India got independence from Britain in 1947. Like other aspects of life in Pondicherry, you can see the French influence in its cuisine too. You can get authentic pastries, French baguettes, and brioches. You can also get various Indian curry items stuffed with French baguettes that are unique to Pondicherry.

Another popular area of Tamil Nadu is called Chettinad, a south region of Tamil Nadu that has given mouth-watering spicy food delicacies that are famed internationally. Both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods are cooked with freshly crushed spices that give a unique aroma and flavor that are the hallmark of Chettinad dishes.

If you travel north of Tamil Nadu, you will reach Andhra Pradesh, which is the largest producer of rice in India; their staple food is evidently rice. In the past several Muslim kings ruled Hyderabad, capital of Andra and other surrounding places for many years, they introduced Mughal cooking tradition in this region. Here you see the blend of Hindu and Mughal cooking that produces various food delicacies. Similar to people in Tamil Nadu, here also rice is mixed with sambar or dal and consumed with various vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries along with chutneys, hot pickles, and curry powders. Rice is also prepared by mixing with curry powders (made with tamarind and other spices) and gee.

Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, has a large Muslim population and is famous for its Mughal cooking. The Hyderabad Biryani (cooked with Basmati rice, various spices, lamb, and gee) is very popular in this region. Due to the popularity of Hyderabadi Biryani, several restaurants are serving it as a special delicacy all over South India.

From Andhra Pradesh as you travel west you will reach Karnataka , home of Bengaluru, or Bangalore, popularly known as the Indian Silicon Valley. Due to the influx of people moving to Bengaluru, now this city offers a wide variety of international food cuisines. But traditionally rice is the main food for the people in Karnataka. Boiled rice is consumed with dal and other vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries. In Karnataka, Udipi (from the Udupi district) cuisine is popular for lip-smacking vegetarian food. The world famous Masala Dosa (crispy rice pancake stuffed with masala vegetables) is originated from this cuisine only. Udipi cuisine food is prepared with an ancient Hindu tradition that does not include onion and garlic in their food preparation. Bisi bele bhath (hot lentil rice made with vegetables, toor dal, and masala), vangi bath (fried brinjal rice) are other popular food items that originated from this region.

Another important state in South India is Kerala, home of green vegetation, teetering coconut trees and lush plants. In Kerala coconut trees are in abundance, so all types of food are made with coconut. All parts of the coconut like coconut water, coconut milk, and shredded coconut are used in their food preparation. Kerala is the home of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, so based on their religious belief they eat vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. People who live closer to the coastline, rivers, and backwater cook various curries made with fish and coconut. Historically, Kerala was part of the Tamil-speaking area, and many foods from Tamil Nadu like idly and dosa are popular in many parts of Kerala. Vegetarian dishes like appam (pancake made with rice batter) and puttu (made with rice flour) are popular foods in Kerala. Snacks like banana chips (chips made with plantain) and jackfruit chips (chips made with jackfruit)originated from Kerala and is popular throughout South India. For dessert, the Kerala people drink payasam made with milk, sugar, coconut milk, spices, raisins, and cashews.

South India’s food traditions have been influenced by various settlers, invaders, and traders those who came to India for various reasons giving a culinary tradition that are benefited from centuries of cross-pollination. Over a period of several centuries, people created a unique style of cooking that is vastly different from other parts of India.


I love to read and write about various aspects of India, people, culture, history, tradition, food, etc. My goal for this web site is to help westerns understand India that are not generally available in other web sites.


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