IndusFresh Details

By TPCI | February 26, 2020

If you are an explorer at heart and seeker of extraordinary experiences, this place could be your next holiday destination. The small town of Chettinad, which is situated in Karaikudi near Madurai, is a treasure trove of fascinating tales – both joyous and tragic, ostentatious mansions and exotic Chettinad cuisine.

The Chettiars, who are the local community of this region, were among India’s most affluent merchants from the mid-17th century to the early 1900s. Under British tutelage, they were trading with countries across South and Southeast Asia, including, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Burma, Malaysia and Cambodia. With their accumulated wealth, the Chettiars set up massive mansions that were a tribute to their travails – with marble from Italy, Bohemian glass, Indian ivory and Burmese teak.

However, the Great Depression of the 1930s, 2nd World War and Japanese invasion destroyed much of the fortunes of this community. Most didn’t recover, even though some of them managed to set up successful business empires like the Murugappa group and MA Chidambaram group.

So while the lavish lifestyles of the Chettiar community may interest only the history buffs, the food lovers can still pamper themselves to the complex and enamouring flavours of Chettinad cuisine. The cuisine of the Chettiar community uses a variety of freshly ground spices including cumin, star anise, fenugreek, bay leaf, turmeric, tamarind and clove, testimony to their rich legacy in the spice trade. With secret ingredients including dried flower pods and black stone flower, Chettinad food is replete with rich gravies that use tomatoes, coconut, ginger and garlic.

An addition facet of Chettinad cuisine is that the meats and vegetables are sun dried. Rice-based preparations like appams, idlis, idiyappams, adais and dosais are the common accompaniments and a soothing glass of buttermilk completes the package.

While the Chettiars were traditionally vegetarian, trade and global exposure also resulted in the infusion of non-vegetarian influences, apart from the adaptation of foreign cuisines. For instance, the black sticky rice pudding has a Burmese touch while Idiyappam has a Sri Lankan influence. Sun drying itself is an import from their overseas travels, as is the practice of using an odd number of dishes as a rule.

In the initial period, the community lived close to the sea, which is why some of their signature dishes are of the seafood variety - meen kuzhambu (fish curry), nandu (crab) masala, sura puttu (shark fin curry), and eral (prawn) masala. When they shifted to the hinterland, they included wild animals like jungle fowl and quail in their food habits.

Today, dishes like Chicken Chettinad, Idiyappam, Paal Payasam, Chicken Chettinad, Palkatti Chettinadu, Paniyaram, Aatukkari Kuzhambu with Steamed Rice, 'Nariyal and Soya Paneer Vada' 'Kozhambu' and 'Cabbage Poriyal' 'Karuppatti Paniyaram' have become quite popular beyond the borders of this small town. But if you want the most authentic and overwhelming experience of this distinctive cuisine, there can be no better a place than Chettinad, the land of its birth.