Across the world, all countries have their own food culture, unique dishes, and way of cooking. Considering the large swath of India, almost all the states have their own variety of dishes and regional specialties.
Almost a decade now in the southern part of India, there are few dishes you cannot stay away from. They are part of the culture and people loved them to the core.
South Indian cuisine is vastly different –steamed, spiced and coconut-flavored.
My career starting from Telangana to set things up in Karnataka, I have visited all the South Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka. Each state has its own variants of common dishes as well as regional specialties. Even Idli the most common dish across tastes very different at different places.
For an introduction to South Indian cuisine, there is N number of dishes to talk about. But to start here are 10 dishes to look out for.
In India, it is no brainer. If you are in south, by default Idli is part of lives out here.
Idli is a type of rice cake, originating from the Indian subcontinent, popular as breakfast foods in Southern India. The Idli’s are made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented lentils (Urad Dal ) and rice. The fermentation process breaks down the starches so that they are more readily metabolized by the body.
Idlis are light and mild-tasting, an ideal snack for when you want to give your stomach a rest from fiery flavors.
Idli has several variations, including Rava idli, which is made from Rava or semolina
Since plain idlis are mild in taste, a condiment is considered essential. Idlis are often served with sambar and chutneys but this varies greatly by region and personal taste. Idlis are also frequently served with chutneys (coconut based), kaara chutney (onion based) or Spicy Fish Curries.
Vada is a savory fried snack that resembles a doughnut. It is deep-fried, crispy and if served hot, it is the ultimate snack item.
Made from a batter of black lentils, gently spiced with peppercorns, curry leaves, cumin, chili, and onion, this crunchy fritter tastes best when smeared generously with coconut chutney and Sambar.
In typical south Indian outlet, you will see Masala Vada- prepared using whole lentils (Toor Dal)
Pongal or Huggi is a popular South Indian rice dish. As you travel down south, you will find multiple varieties of Pongal but mainly Venn Pongal and Chakarai Pongal.
Usually, Pongal refers to spicy Venn Pongal and is common breakfast food. It is usually served with Sambar and Coconut Chutney.
Chakarai Pongal is made during the Pongal festival. Ingredients can include rice, coconut, and mung bean. Chakarai Pongal is often sweetened with jaggery, which gives Pongal a brown color, though it can be sweetened with white sugar instead.
4. Masala Dosa
A dosa is a rice crispy thin crepe in appearance, originating from South India, made from a fermented batter. Its main ingredients are rice and black gram ground together in a fine, smooth batter with a dash of salt.
Dosas are a common part of the diet in South India, but has become popular all over the Indian subcontinent. But believe me, guys, what you get here and other parts of the country there is a great difference. And you must visit this part of the country to taste this.
Traditionally, dosas are served hot along with sambar and chutney.
There are huge varieties of dosas. We have that 99 dosa’s, which usually serves some great variants with filling of cheese, Chinese and mixed vegetables. But mainly you have plain dosas, Masala dosas are stuffed with a spicy mash of potato and onion; Rava dosas are made from semolina; Neer Dosa (Water dosa) very thin dosa and some new-age variants get creative with fillings such as cottage cheese or mixed vegetables.
Appam is a kind of pancake with thin crepes, another dish originating from South India, made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk, common in Kerala, Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu. It is eaten most frequently for breakfast or dinner.
As you travel from state to state you will see the great amount of variation from plain appam to Egg appam, Idiyappam, Neyyappam to Pesaha appam.
Soft, light, and fluffy, Appam partners best with a fresh coconut milk-infused stew of veggies, shallots, mild spices, and meat of your choice. Mutton, chicken and vegetable stews are the common options.
6. Filter Coffee
There’s nothing quite like a steaming glass of South Indian filter coffee to kick start your day. The filter coffee that you get here, you will not see it anywhere. I still remember having a filter coffee more than a decade back @ Cothas in Jayanagar. I still remember that taste and always ensures when I am around Jayanagar 4th block, I visit Cothas coffee.
Coffee Beans for filter coffee usually growing around the regions such as the Nilgiris, Malabar and the hills of Karnataka are roasted and ground.
The filter coffee is then brewed using a filter machine, mixed with hot milk, and poured vigorously between two tumblers from a great height to create a frothy strong brew, served in a glass. I usually will have it a little strong and bitter which gives you real kick.
7. Kesari Bhat
Called it Kesari Bhat, Sheera or Halwa this sweet Indian food is common throughout the country. The classic ingredients used for its preparation are semolina, sugar, ghee (usually), water, and milk.
The precise composition of the Kesari bath varies regionally depending on the availability of ingredients. The dish might be prepared with pineapple, banana, mango, coconut, or rice.
Claims to the origin of the dish are made by Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and other regions of South India. The dish is common in the cuisine of Karnataka as well as of multiple regions in South India and is a popular dish during festivals such as Ugadi.
The word Kesari in multiple Indian languages refers to the spice saffron which creates the dish’s saffron-orange-yellow-colored tinge. Though it is a sweet dish, in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, it is prepared not only as a dessert but also for normal breakfasts.
8. Banana chips
Banana chips are a popular snack in South India. Thin circular slivers of banana are deep-fried, usually in coconut oil. Sometimes they’re coated in jaggery. Salty with a mild coconut flavor, these crisps are a good teatime snack.
9. Bisibele Bhath:
Bisi bele bhath (bisi bēle bhāt) or Bisi Bele Huliyanna is a spicy, rice-based dish with origins in the state of Karnataka, India. Bisi bele bhath, which translates to ‘hot lentil rice dish’ in the Kannada language, is a wholesome meal. It is said to have originated in the Mysore Palace and from there spread across the entire states.
The traditional preparation of this dish is quite elaborate and involves the use of spicy masala, toor dal (a type of lentil), rice, ghee, and vegetables. Spices like nutmeg, curry leaves, and tamarind pulp contribute to its unique flavor and taste. Some versions of the dish are prepared with up to thirty ingredients.
It is served hot and sometimes eaten with chutney, boondi, salad, papad, or potato chips. This dish is commonly found in restaurants that serve Udupi cuisine. The masala used is available off the shelf nowadays.
Biryani no need any introduction and found in different forms all over India, changing in flavors and preparation style according to regional influences.
While there is no single South Indian-style biryani, you’ll find different varieties such as Hyderabadi dum biryani, Nellor style Andhra Biryani, Karnataka’s Donne Biryani, Kerala-style Malabar or Thalassery biryani, the coastal Karnataka variant of Bhatkali biryani, Tamil Nadu’s Dindigul biryani and so on.
11. Ragi Mudde
Ragi Mudde is a wholesome meal in the state of Karnataka and the Rayalaseema region in Andhra Pradesh. It is mainly popular with the rural folk of Karnataka.
Ragi mudde, a storehouse of multi nutrients and surprisingly it has only two ingredients, the Ragi (finger millet) flour and water.
Ragi flour is first mixed with water to make a very thin paste and later added to a thick bottomed vessel containing water on a stovetop. As this mixture boils and reaches the brim of the vessel, ragi flour is added which forms a mound on top of boiling water. The flour is allowed to cook in this fashion on medium-high flame.
First time I tasted it during my visit to Rayalseema Ruchulu with one of my dear friends. And importantly we have to swallow the Ragi mudde, which I found it difficult at first.
You can have it with Upsaaru (Samber), buttermilk, or even non-veg curry. Loaded with nutrients this surely gives you a glimpse of traditional local culture.
Taza Thindi, Sarvana Bhavan, Vidyarthi Bhavan, Bramins café, local restaurants across, MTR, Cothas etc.