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October 2004 Issue
Part 1
by Monica Bhide
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Tamilian Cuisine

Tamilian cooking comes to you from the south eastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Its capital city Madras (now known as Chennai) is home to the legendary Madras curry powder developed for the British. I first visited Madras (Chennai) in 1990 and what struck me was the sheer choice of foods prepared from rice. Rice in its many forms – Dosas ,(Rice and lentil crepes) Idlies (steamed rice and lentil cakes), Uttthappams (pan fried rice and lentil pancakes) to name a few. These are served along with a lentil curry called Sambhar. The real crowning glory of the food here, in my opinion, are the range of chutneys, papadums (lentil wafers), pickles and spice powders that are available. Many of the people here are vegetarian and rice is a large part of their diet. I am also a huge fan of the strong filtered Madras coffee.

In addition, Tamil Nadu is famous for the fiery cuisine of the Chettiyars from the area of Chettinand. Tamilian cooking uses a lot of black pepper, red chili powder and mustard seeds.

Hyderabadi Cuisine

Hyderabad is located in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. My family lived in the gorgeous area of Banjara Hills there for a while. I was too young and so have no recollection of the city, though my father tells stories of the Hyderabad “chowki ka khana” that are quite remarkable. Chowkies are low tables that seat people on the floor and were used in Hyderabad for formal dining occasions. Multiple courses of meats, vegetables and rice dishes were served accompanied by live musicians singing. Dishes were prepared with aromatic spices, were plated in a beautiful manner and served by gracious hosts. One of my favorite Hyderabadi dishes is a pilaf made of layers of rice and goat meat cooked entirely in milk. The flavors are provided by spices in a “potli” or a bouquet garni which may have up to 21 spices in it ranging from coriander seeds to dried rose petals to sandalwood powder to dried vetiver roots. The end result is a very fragrant dish that is pure white with aromas that will make you thank God for being alive!

My father tells me of a saying in Hyderabad that the best food comes when it is made with mohabbat or love. His favorite dish he tells me is the Batter Ka Achar or pickled quail. I take his word for it when he calls it heavenly, I have not been lucky enough to try it or even find a recipe for it.

Hyderabadi cuisine is the culmination of the local ingredients like curry leaves, tamarind and mustard seeds tying the knot with the kebabs, pilafs and meat dishes brought in by the Muslim invaders. From the minced lamb to prepare Shimkapuri Kebabs to the layered rice and meat Biryanis, Hyderabad is a gourmet’s paradise. And then there is the typically Hyderabadi “Irani Chai”. A large number of Iranians came to Hyderabad in the 1600’s. Their tea, different from other parts of India, was absorbed immediately and became an integral part of the local culture with Irani Chai houses springing up all around the city.

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