The state of Tamilnadu has its own distinct culinary traditions alive and well in Chennai. The food here is cooked with an array of spices. You will find a mouth-watering selection of dishes, including vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. This region is known for its use of lentils, legumes and rice. The distinct tastes are the result of spices and ingredients including curry leaves, coriander, garlic, ginger, pepper, chili, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, green cardamom, rosewater, nutmeg and coconut.
Many local dishes are prepared the same way they were centuries ago. This tradition calls for long and elaborate procedures that enhance flavours. Food is served on a banana leaf and it is eaten with the hands. After the meal, the banana leaf is traditionally fed to cows. It’s a belief from ancient times that the banana leaf removes toxins from the food.
Although these days you will be more likely to sit down at a table and chairs in a restaurant in Chennai and eat with utensils, the local cuisine still remains its traditional character. When you taste the food of this city, you can enjoy fantastic flavours that have been passed down and perfected over years.
There are several excellent dishes you should try when you visit Chennai, including aatukaal kuzhambu and chuppalkari.
This delicious local dish is a curry made with mutton or goat leg. It’s a rich and hearty dish that is flavoured with coconut paste as well as tomato and red chilli powder. It contains plenty of spices including cumin, turmeric and coriander. It is best served with rice as well as a warm and soft naan bread to soak up the flavourful and spicy curry sauce.
Sambar is a vegetable stew made with a broth of tamarind and pigeon peas. It is thought this dish originated in the 18th century in the kitchens of Thanjavur Maratha ruler Shahuji. One of his favourite foods was a dish called “amti,” which had kokum (a fruit from the mangosteen family) as a main ingredient.
One year, the kokum ran out and it was suggested Shahuji replace it with tamarind pulp. He did, as well as experimented with other ingredients including vegetables, pigeon peas and spices. He served the dish for himself and his cousin, Sambhaji. They enjoyed it immensely. Shahuji named it after his cousin and the dish has been enjoyed throughout Southern India since.
This is another mutton dish, due to the meat’s popularity. Chuppalkari is a meat dish cooked with aromatic spices, and it is very rich and filling.
Of course, no curry dish like chuppalkari is complete without side dishes including salad, pappadum and pickles. You won’t leave the table hungry!
When it comes to dessert, you won’t be disappointed when visiting Chennai. One of the famous sweeter dishes of Chennai is payasam. This tasty dessert is made by boiling rice with sugar and milk and then flavouring it with saffron, raisins, cardamom, pistachios, cashew nuts or almonds.
It is considered a dessert, but during a special or formal meal Payasam is served first. It is also an important part of the Kerala feast, when it is served from banana leaves rather than cups. This sweet rice pudding is also a common offering to the gods at Southern Indian Hindu Temples.
Chettinad Pepper Chicken
This hot and spicy dish is one of the most well-loved local treats of Chennai. You will fall in love with its flavourful chicken and rich aroma.
Tender chicken is cooked in spicy masala gravy. No water is added, so the spice stays potent and dominates the chicken. It is often served with rice and naan. Be warned; it will cause your eyes to water.
You will be able to try these dishes and more while you are in Chennai. Truly take the opportunity to sample the full array of culinary treats this city has to offer your taste buds.
About the Author: Priyanka Rangan is a travel writer and food blogger who likes her curry as spicy as possible. When she goes to Chennai, she enjoys sampling the city’s great food.