‘South Indian Homestyle Food’ – the term itself evokes delightful sensory images of aromatic curry leaves and mainstay spices like turmeric, mustard seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and pepper to name a few.
Images of widely popular delectable dishes like dosa, vada, idli, uttapam, sambhar, rasam and many more come to mind when we think of South Indian food.
In this blog post, we will go beyond popular dishes like dosa, idli, vadas, and uttapam and explore South Indian homestyle food from the different states in the south of India.
Demystifying South Indian Homestyle Food
Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana are the Indian states that make up this rich heritage region loosely referred to as South India. These dishes are the stronghold of food originating in this region.
Each state has its own unique, distinct flavor and style of creating these sumptuous homestyle, comfort dishes. Different regions offer different varieties, methods of cooking, and spice range.
Tamil Nadu is known not only for its sambhar and vada but also chakra Pongal. Rava idli is synonymous with Karnataka, while Andhra Pradesh brings to mind delicious kebabs and aromatic biryanis.
Kadala curry and appams are as famous as Kathakali dance performances of Kerela. The local staple food is rice teemed with sambhar, which is rich in flavors. There is an abundance of root tubers, coconut, and aquatic life in the region, all of which have found their way into South Indian homestyle cuisine.
South Indian homestyle food is generously peppered with the delicious flavors of tamarind, ginger, garlic, fresh green chilies and dry red chilies along with chana daal, urad daal, plantain, and snake gourd.
Southern Karnataka favors Ragi (grain) while in Northern Karnataka, and Telangana, jowar (a type of grain), and bajra (pearl millet) would be the mainstay. Each state has its essence and flavor, so it’s only fair to look at each individually.
The mainstay of Tamilian food is rice, mildly or richly garnished with spices, and this includes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
South Indian homestyle meals are traditionally served in banana leaves and include a combination of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent flavors.
Tamil restaurants are either the Brahmin ones that serve traditional vegetarian food or Military Restaurants that serve homestyle cooked meats as well as vegetarian fare.
Tea and filter coffee are popular beverages here.
South Indian Homestyle Gravies and Curries
Kuzhambu – Every region has a dish close to its heart- this is what kuzhambu is to the Tamilians. Simple, tasty dal (lentil) balls in a tangy gravy. It’s a perfect blend of dal (lentils), coconut, keerai (spinach), and spices. Many variations of kuzhambu are cooked, most famous among them being mor, puli and molagu kozhambu.
Sambhar is spicy lentil soup with the richness of tuvar dal (yellow lentil) and an assortment of vegetables and the tanginess of tamarind.
Sambhar is nutritious, comfort food and one of the most versatile curries. It is often cooked more than once a day in a traditional Tamilan home.
Thayir sadam – Essentially, curd rice is both nutritious and straightforward. It is the perfect comfort food for a hot summer afternoon. Thayir vadai is a variation you will find at most celebration ceremonies like weddings. The Iyengars are widely known to make exceptionally delicious thayir vadai.
Rasam – A heady concoction of spices and tuvar dal (yellow lentil), a favorite during winter months, tastes heavenly, warms the body and tingles the taste buds with its unique balance of tanginess and spices. And let’s not forget the pepper that makes it an absolute hit.
It is served before the main course as an appetizer. Varieties of rasams are plenty namely kattu saaru, poondu rasam, koli rasam, inji rasam, kadalai rasam, to name just a few.
Sides like kootu- usually accompany main meals. It is a semi-solid dish cooked with lentils and vegetables combined in good measure. This is a healthy and tasty dish prepared during festivities, especially Pongal.
Poriyal is a favorite side dish of a three-course meal.
Poriyal is sautéed vegetables served along with pappadam (a crispy appetizer made of dal, sago or potato) and oorkai (pickle).
No Indian meal is complete without something sweet to savor. The most popular Indian sweets from the South are Thirukannamidu, Kesari, and Kheer. Bananas are often served at the end of a meal. Betel leaves (Paan) folded with lime; betel nuts which are known for their digestive properties complete the meal.
These meals are often referred to as Tiffin items. You will rarely find them as a part of the main meal.
Dosas – Dosas are pancakes made of fermented rice and lentil batter. They are served plain, or stuffed with potatoes, and served with coconut chutney and sambhar. This is one of the most famous South Indian delicacies enjoyed around the world. The chefs usually get very creative with the shapes and sizes of the dosa. Every South Indian household has dosas ready to serve at any time of the day.
Idli – Fermented rice and lentils are made into a batter for this steamed cake which is accompanied by sumptuous condiments namely sambhar and chutney.
Upma – A savory porridge of rava, ginger, garlic, green chilies, and vegetables. It is a favorite breakfast meal served with coconut chutney. It is also one of the most popular Tiffin items, which is nutritious and quick to prepare at home.
Vada, Bonda, and bhaaji are the relished snacks served with chutneys and thayir pachadi. A typical mini-meal (veg) would have tamarind, sambhar or curd rice, flatbread (chapatti) enjoyed with gravy, sweet Pongal and chips. Non-vegetarian Tamilians enjoy a variety of biryanis accompanied by thick meat gravy dishes.
The Southern part of Tamil Nadu in the Sivaganga district popularly known as the Chettinad region is known for its aromatic and spicy food preparations. The Chettinads are a social caste known to be skilled chefs. The most distinct feature of this decadent food is the salted vegetables and sundried meats in pungent, spicy flavors that are seasoned with ground spices and garnished with eggs.
Paniyaram, Adikoozh are some of the popular vegetarian dishes in this region. Chettinad Pepper Chicken, Karuvattu Kuzhambu and fish, as well as crab fry will leave you begging for more.
Karnataka food is synonymous with the foods that emerged out of the temple streets of Udupi, offering a rich array of delicious platters of masala dosa, vada, and idli.
This region has the lowest spice level and is liberal with the use of jaggery and palm sugar. As you travel up north, the food gets spicier.
Pearl Millet and sorghum flatbreads (roti), rice accompanied by spicy stewed lentils, vegetables and salads would be the staple food up North.
Most meals are served with spicy condiments (pickles and chutneys) along with a wide variety of eggplant dishes. The most distinctive and vital elements of the coastal belt are the generous use of coconut, coconut oil, and seafood.
In Karnataka, you serve most meals with spicy condiments (pickles and chutneys) along with a wide variety of eggplant dishes. The most distinctive and vital elements of the coastal belt are the generous use of coconut, coconut oil, and seafood.
The most delicious tangy and spicy meat and fish gravy dishes (Gassi) eaten with plain rice make for rich, soulful food. Saaru, a rasam-like dish; Huli, a traditional Karnataka-style sambhar with mixed green vegetables; and lentils peppered with spices, coconut and tempered with curry leaves and mustard, can be the most satisfying meal. These are usually accompanied by rice.
Side dishes like playa, gojju, happala, and tambli add texture to the main dishes.
Coorgi cuisine is distinct in the use of pork and other meats in its gravy dishes. It also uses a generous amount of kokum along with the usual spices and condiments.
Across the state, rice remains a staple. Steamed rice and the very nutritious and healthy ragi muddle are the mainstays of Mysore food fixations, including huli, gojju, and uppinakai.
Yogurt and spicy buttered milk are an integral part of any meal. Ghee and butter are used in liberal quantities in the preparation of delicacies, especially during festivities.
Bisibele bath which originated from the Mysore Palace is the most popular, traditional dish of this state. This spicy rice and lentil dish is undoubtedly addictive and is served hot with dollops of ghee usually accompanied by poppadums and raita (mildly spiced yogurt).
The food experience in Karnataka must include desserts like coconut mithai, Mysore pak, Belagavi kunda, Dharwad peda, and rava unde. Another distinct feature is the non-dairy, jaggery based sweets (no refined sugar), making them not just mouth-watering but healthier as well.
No food journey in Karnataka can be complete without a mention of Udupi, a coastal town in the southern region of the state. The modest Udupi restaurants have put the state and its cuisine on the world map, especially with the Indian diaspora for their dosa, idli, and other south Indian fares.
Kerala is known for its varied cuisine based on its local communities. Malabari Muslim and Syrian Christian dishes are the most popular.
Coconut, which is found in abundance in what is rightly called ‘Gods own Country’ has therefore managed to become the most integral part of Kerala’s cuisine.
This coastal belt is rich in its marine life and has led to seafood being the staple food in the region.
Breakfast would typically be dosa, idli sambhar, and chutney.
The main course meal would have porotta with meat or chicken curry, vegetable stew, duck roast, and non-vegetarian stew. Aviyal, Kichadi, Olan, and Pachady are some of the popular vegetarian accompaniments.
Kerala offers a wide range of non-vegetarian dishes, like meen thoran, duck curry, Malabar fish curry, pork mappas, pork vindaloo, and Malabar biryani, to name a few.
Banana fries, cutlets, cakes, and halwas along with the most famous payasam are snacks and sweets every household loves.
The culinary styles of the Mughals have a profound impact on some of the most exquisite and gastronomically delightful cuisines of Andhra Pradesh.
The rich, spicy, and heavy textured kurmas, delicacies like the biryani and kebabs can satiate the most critical food enthusiast.
Andhra Pradesh boasts of the spiciest among all Indian Cuisines with tamarind and chili powder being used in liberal quantities giving traditional Andhra cuisine a distinctive hot and tangy flavor.
The coastal Andhra belt with its fertile lands and abundant seafood offers some unique flavors that leave one’s senses satiated, yet asking for more.
The popular dishes include the soft and spongy upma, pulihora, a traditional Andhra favorite, tangy rice garnished with spices and roasted peanuts tempered with curry leaves.
Attu and pesarattu make up the most popular of the breakfast items.
Curries or Kooralu like cabbage pesara pappu and gutti vankaya are not just nutritious, but also delicious.
Daal lentils are called pappu and prepared with vegetables.
Another favorite is pulusu. It’s an invigoratingly flavored sour curry-like stew made with tamarind paste.
Chaaru, a diluted version of rasam, is daily comfort food traditionally cooked with tamarind juice as the base, seasoned with tomato, chili, pepper, and cumin.
Then there are the distinctive and decadently flavourful pickles of this region.
Gongura Pachadi is Andhra style sorrel leaves, spicy chutney served with piping hot rice and a dollop of melted ghee (clarified butter).
Tomato pachadi and maaghaya are equally good gastronomic delights.
You definitely need a nice dessert to conclude the spiciest and most delightfully flavored cuisine of India. Laddu, thokkudu laddu, boondi laddu, kaaja, and pootarekulu are some of the most popular sweets in the region.
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