Breakfast or Tiffins include Idly or Idli (steamed rice
cakes), Dosa (a pancake made from a batter of rice), Vada (deep fried
doughnuts made from a batter of lentils), Pongal (a mish mash of rice and
lentils boiled together and seasoned with ghee, cashew nuts, pepper and
cummin seeds), and Upma (cooked semolina seasoned in oil with mustard,
pepper, cummin seed and dry lentils). There are several variations of the
dishes mentionedabove which are eaten with Coconut Chutney, Sambar
(seasoned lentil broth) and 'Mulaga Podi' (a powdered mix of several dried
lentils eaten with oil).
The Making Of Filter Coffee
Tamil Nadu, especially Chennai, is famous for its filter coffee as most Tamils have a subtle contempt for instant coffee.
The making of filter coffee is almost a ritual, for the coffee beans have to be first roasted and then ground. The powder is put into a filter set and boiling hot water is added to prepare the decoction and allowed to set for about 15 minutes. The decoction is then added to milk with sugar to taste. The final drink is poured individually from one container to another in rapid succession to make the ideal frothy cup of filter coffee.
Regular Tamilian Meals
Tamilians are essentially rice-eating people and they have preparations made of rice for all the meals of the day. Lentils too are consumed extensively, as accompaniment to the rice preparations. Being on the seacoast, coconut is also used a lot in Tamil kitchens, as are fish and other seafood. While tamarind is used for adding that distinctive tang, peppercorns and chili, both green and red, are used to make the food hot. To neutralize the effect of the chili, and soothe the stomach, curd is used in a variety of dishes. Other spices like mustard, cumin, garlic etc. are used for tempering and seasoning.
Though several communities in the state are strictly vegetarian, there is a whole range of non-vegetarian dishes - exotic, succulent, and full of fire. Fish and other seafood like crab are also cooked in the traditional Tamil kitchen with spices and traditional seasoning.
A Traditional Tamil Nadu Meal
In Tamil Nadu, food has a ritual purpose that reminds the individual exactly where he or she belongs on the culinary map of community consciousness. This is best seen during those occasions when members of any family or community get together to celebrate an occasion.
The 'Sappad' or food that is served on a banana leaf (even the size of the leaf varies from one community to another) is displayed like an identity card. One look and a guest will know the community, the status, the exact wealth of the family, and from which part of Tamil Nadu they originate.
The top half of the leaf is reserved for accessories, the lower half for the rice, and in some communities, the rice will be served only after the guest has been seated. The lower right portion of the leaf may have a scoop of warm sweet, milky rice 'Payasam', which should be lapped up quickly.
While the top left includes a pinch of salt, a dash of pickle and a thimbleful of salad, or a smidgen of chutney. In the middle of the leaf there may be an odd number of fried items like small circles of Chips made either from Banana, Yam or Potato, thin Papads, or frilly wafers, or Vada.
The top right hand corner is reserved for the heavy artillery, the curries, hot, sweet, or sour, and the dry items. If it is a vegetarian meal, the vegetables are carefully chosen, between the country ones-Gourds, Drumsticks, Brinjals - and the English ones, which could be Carrot, Cabbage, and Cauliflower.
If it is a non-vegetarian meal, in some cases, a separate leaf is provided for the fried meats, chicken, fish, crab, and so on. But again, the variations are presented carefully, one dry one next to a gravied one.
Major Culinary Delights
There may be a side attraction such as a 'Puran Poli' or sweetened Dal stuffed into a pancake, Sweet rice or any one of the famed rice preparations such as 'Pulisadam', or 'Bisibela' bath particularly if the family comes from Thanjavur, known as the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu.
After having worked through the preliminaries, the long haul starts with the rice, which is generously doused with ghee. Sambhar, the highly spiced Dal-based dish containing whatever appropriate vegetable there is in season follows, and the Rasam succeeds this.
After a final round of rice and curds, or buttermilk or both, the traditional meal concludes with a small banana, a few betel leaves and nuts.