Chettinad foods are the strong cultural link between Chettiar’s (A Tamil community) and rest of the Asian world. What do we Asians have in common? Apart from pretty hair we have an inclination towards spices. That’s how the Chettiar’s bonded with Sri Lanka, Burma, Mauritus and other places-through Spices.
South Indians have a saying amongst them ‘you are lucky if you can eat like the Chettiar’s’. Now, what does this mean? It simply implies that Chettiar’s consume a well balanced composition of spices with their food and the taste is said to be the best. One might think that too many spices make the food hot but the well balanced spice blend provides an amazing burst of flavours.
It was during the 8th century that due to great floods, the Chettiar’s moved in land towards the Tamil Nadu and settled there. Due to the community’s great affinity towards the sea, Chettinad foods comprise many sea food delicacies which include Surru Puttu (Shark fin) curry, Eral (prawn) curry, squid curry, nandu masala (crab curry), kuzhambu (Fish curry), etc. Wild game like muyal (rabbit), pitta (turkey), kada (quail) and jumgle( fowl) are also part of their Chettinad cuisine. Rice, papadam, appams, dosais, idlis and adais are their staple food items which are accompaniments for their spicy curries.
So what is the whole hulla all about? Chettinad foods host lots of locally found spices like the kalpasi (stone flower), star anise, black and white peppers and maratti mokku (dried flower pods). Food preservation techniques like sun drying meat and fish, pickling and salted vegetables are a sign which tell that the community travelled and adapted. Black sticky rice pudding which is an exotic Chettinad dish gained its roots from Burmese culinary and the idiyappam which are steamed string hoppers are compliments from Sri Lanka.
You will be surprised to know that blenders or grinders are not favored when it comes to mixing spices. A traditional chettiar house will have stone grinders and aruamanai which is a vegetabe chopper with iron blade. Buttermilk or sherbet (sweet juice) is often served with Chettinad food to tone down the heat.
Traditionally, Chettinad meals are served on banana leafs and there a order on how much and where the food items need to be placed on the leaf. Starting from the left hand corner and then moving towards the right, the items are placed in this manner. First salt, pickle, sun dried chillies in curd, a spicy dish and then a lentil curry will be placed. Then comes fried lentil patties, sautéed vegetebles and a vegetable mash. Fried fritters, fries, papads are placed in the bottom with rice, Sambhar and chapatti take their place in the middle of the setting. The far right bottom is reserved for sweet dishes.
Below is a list of Chettinad foods which have authentically Chettiar.
- Kozhukattai– This food delicacy can be sweet or savory and is made from sweet rice dumplings. It is prepared during auspicious occasions and a proud symbol of Chettiar community.
- Chettinad Chicken– this dish has found a place for itself in many Indian and foreign household due t its amazing blend of spices and coconut. The chicken in cooked in the sauce of coconut and spices till its soft and served with hot rice or Indian bread.
- Vazhaipoo Meen Kuzhambu– This dish is made from dried banana flowers which are soaked in a tangy soak hours before preparing it. These dried flowers look like anchovies which are a type of fish hence the name Kuzhambu which translates as fish.
Chettinad foods are an amazing blend of flavorful spices and tradition. From soothing curd recipes to fiery spices you will find it all.