Tamil Nadu is one of the more beautiful districts of India and a veritable magnet for tourists keen to explore its exotic shores and the magnificent Hindu temples that can be found throughout this part of the land. The scenery is characterised by lush, verdant hills as well as the snaking coastline peppered with soft, sandy beaches and towering palms. But for the true Indian foodie, there is one reason and one reason alone to explore the culture of Tamil Nadu – the glorious cuisine.
South India is a region blessed by nature with a vast larder of natural ingredients, from plump, juicy mangos and creamy coconuts to fresh-off-the-boat seafood, straight from the waters off Tamil Nadu’s coast. As a result, the array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes that have been created by the cooks of the state offer an unparalleled variety of options that will warm the hearts of any fan of Indian cuisine.
However, it is not just the savoury options that Tamil Nadu is foodie famous for but the list of sumptuous sweets on offer throughout the state.
Some of the most popular desserts in Tamil Nadu come out to play at times of celebration, most notably festivals such as Diwali, the Festival of Light. One of the classic treats of Diwali is the crispy athirasam, a rice-based biscuit flavoured with spices such as cardamom and ginger. Often the desserts of Tamil Nadu are linked to specific celebrations and Diwali and athirasam go hand-in-hand.
Then there is Pongal, a harvest festival that allows the people to give thanks for the fruits of their agricultural labours throughout the season. At Pongal, a dish called chakkaraipongal is an essential addition to the dinner table. This rice pudding includes an assortment of textures – the luxurious decadence of ghee and the grainy bite of the rice comes together with the soft yet crunchy mix of fruit and nuts that provide the garnish for this traditional dish.
Another treat with a tempting texture is the popular kulipaniyaram, a traditional Tamil sweet that goes under a variety of monikers including ponganalu, paddu and appe. Similar to the aforementioned athirasam, due to its crispy, deep-fried appearance, this snack can be sweetened with coconut and cardamom or savoured with chopped onions, mustard seeds, green chilli and curry leaves.
As you can probably gather from the mention of festivals and temples that hold such a special place in the hearts of the Tamil people, religious foods are an important part of the culture. In fact, many sweets are taken to the temples to be presented to the Hindu gods on certain designated days. One of these foods is the fruity conserve called panchamirtham, a sweet which has been around for centuries. Created from the sweet bananas that grow in abundance throughout the state, the fruits are mashed together with other sweet natural flavours such as brown sugar, dates and honey.