What is Tamil Nadu cuisine? It is impossible to define it in a single sentence or with a binary response. Like every region of India, Tamil Nadu has a culinary tradition dating back many centuries. But not every dish has a timeless legacy, which we define today as the Tamil cuisine has in fact taken the form of restaurants in the state capital and other culinary destinations like Madurai. There is no better place to explore Tamil Nadu’s vast cuisine than Chennai. It is impossible to make a complete list of foods, but our list is a good starting point:
Kari Dosai: The three-level Dosai is a local legend in the corner mess of Madurai. A thick dosa, an omelette and a layer of minced mutton. This is not a dosai that you can take lightly. Order a repeat at your own risk and wash it off with Madurai’s own soft drink bovanto. It is now available at their Chennai outlet.
Try it out at Corner Kadai, Vanell’s Road, Egmore
Dindigul Biryani: Dindigul’s biryani gets its unique flavor from local mutton, small grain (siraga samba) rice and water sources near town. The Chennai version comes a bit closer. Thalappakatti Biryani is one of the flag bearers of Dindigul-style biryani. The restaurant started in Dindigul and got its name from the founder’s passion for wearing turban (thalappakatti).
Try it at Dindigul Thalappakatti, 11th Avenue, Ashok Nagar
Bhada curry: A gorgeous Chennai dish, a mixture of thick lentils in a flavored gravy. It is prepared almost like the popular masala bhadar. One of the theories surrounding the origin of vada curry is that this dish was made with the remaining vada bits thrown into the gravy. By all accounts, Vada Curry was invented in a restaurant before it became a popular Sunday breakfast option in many homes. It is usually served with idli, idiappam, set dosa in many homes and restaurants. I enjoy digging into the bowl with the spoon.
Try it near Marie Hotel, Saidapet or Motel Mamalla, East Coast Road, Mamallapuram
(Also read: Top 8 Restaurants You Must Visit in Chennai)
Idiappam Paya: The taste of idiappam or string hopper may be the same everywhere but there is a significant difference in consistency. Some iconic restaurants in Chennai make peppers cooked with mutton trout. Samco is one such legendary restaurant that has not changed its pepper pepper recipe since 1960. It’s like Nihari Gost cooked with lamb shells. Several butcher shops in North Chennai provide specially smoked lamb shells for pies.
Try Samco Hotel, Eldams Road or Zoom Zoom Hotel, Second Line Beach, Paris
Sakkarai (Sweet) Pongal: Pongal Thirunal or Pongal Day is an integral part of the menu which is the most important day of Pongal festival. This harvest festival is the largest in the state’s festival calendar Sakkarai is the Tamil word for sugar but strangely enough Sakkarai pongal is usually cooked with molasses, not sugar. Molasses melting is the main process of this dish, this syrup is mixed with a mixture of rice and green gram. There is also a hint of camphor which gives the dish a unique taste
Try Murugan Idli Store (T Nagar or Besant Nagar)
Onion Uthappam: For the unconventional, uthappam may be very similar to a dosa but they are not exactly the same thing. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, this is where Dosa Idli comes in handy and is a popular evening snack or dinner dish that can be cooked instantly. It tastes better with a slightly sour dosa bata. Onion Uthappam is the most popular version and is cooked with chopped onion and green chillies with the reassuring smell of ginger (sesame) oil.
Try Murugan Idli Store (Besant Nagar) or Chennai Airport ID (Internal Departure)
Pisces KujhambuThere is a legend that the chefs of Velu Military Hotel still talk. Every day when their founder (Velu Ambalam) entered the restaurant (from at least a few buildings) they had to get a whiff of their signature fish Kuzhambu (fish gravy). If he doesn’t, he’ll take the kitchen by storm, throw away the gravy cooked for the day, roll up his sleeves, and make fish kujhambu. This fish gravy is deeply rooted in Tamil popular culture and at home across the state. It is equally delicious with rice and with idli or dosa.
Try Value Military Hotel, Eldams Road
Anxious: R.These popular sweet echoards date back to the reign of the powerful Chola dynasty almost a thousand years ago. This deep-fried sweet meat is basically a combination of two ingredients – molasses and rice flour; The aroma is enhanced by the quality of the oil (gingelly oil or peanut oil). The cooking process is laborious and requires skill and experience in equal measure.
Try it at Grand Suites Adyar or Suswad Mandaveli
Filter Coffee: Ask any real blue chennai what they miss the most when they are away from home, you will most likely hear filtered coffee. It’s not just a drink that wakes up most Chennaiites, it’s an emotion. The Chennai version of Filter Coffee bears a striking resemblance to the state’s famous Kumbakonam degree coffee. Most restaurants make this drip down coffee in large percolators and serve it in tumblr and davaras (cups). Strong coffee with condensed milk, which is most likely to cover your tongue, is always lively.
Try it at Sangeeta Adyar or Mami Mess Mylapur
(Also read: 8 Best Restaurants for Chinese Food in Chennai)
Pallipalayam Chicken: One of the most popular chicken dishes in Tamil Nadu and synonymous with the Kangunad region of western Tamil Nadu. The dish is named after a small town near Erode where this unique spice blend – Pallipalayam Chicken Powder, was perfect. It enhances this dish of chicken nuggets cooked with coconut sliver. Although some homes and restaurants have shifted to broiler chicken, the traditional recipe for Pallipalayam chicken involves free-range chicken.
Try it on Kovai Alangkar Mess, Anna Nagar or Junior Kuppana Nungambakkam