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Culture & Cuisine

The Brihadeeswarar temple in Thanjavur (Tanjore) city is one of the largest and grandest in India. Made of roughly 60,000 tonnes of sandstone and granite, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of ‘Great Living Chola Temples.’ Apart from its gigantic size and scale – the central tower at 216 feet high makes it among of the tallest of its kind in the world – the richness of detail and execution of the many sculptures, carvings, reliefs and paintings on the temple’s walls and interiors add to the overall grandeur of the whole. Of equally stupendous achievement are the other temples, big and small, well-known and lesser known, and other monuments that dot the architectural landscape of Tamil Nadu. So, too, language, music, dance and painting, each of which claim a rich and ancient lineage.

If Tamil culture heavily influenced that of South India’s as a whole, so, too, did Tamil Nadu’s cuisine influence and inspire that of South India. Chettinad, NanjilNaadu and Kongu Naadu food are the three main cuisines of Tamil Nadu.

The Tamils believe that serving food to others is a service to humanity. A traditional vegetarian meal (virundhusaapadu) is cooked elaborately and leisurely as it was centuries ago and is served on large glistening green banana leafs which are supposed to enhance the flavor of the food. Such meals usually comprise of rice eaten with, in succession, sambar and ghee, rasam, kozhumbu and curds or butter milk. Arrayed around this mound of rice are an assortment of fried, boiled and curried vegetables, salads, chutneys and other fried delicacies. Each has a pre-ordained position on the leaf and is constantly replenished. The entire sumptuous meal is rounded off with a sweet dish. Non vegetarian saapadus will include chicken, fish, mutton, crab and even, occasionally, beef, depending on the region. A word of caution. Authentic Tamil cuisine is unique to itself. Therefore, sambar served in an Andhra or Udipi (Karnataka) restaurant will not be the same one as served in a Tamil or ‘Madras’ hotel!

The mark of a people, it is said, lies in their culture and their cuisine. In Tamil Nadu, the two go hand in hand. Both claim a rich and varied history, both show marked variations from region to region, and both aim at elevating the senses to fulfillment.

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