While wandering around Chennai and getting high on its unique cross-cultural delights, an unmissable experience awaits you as Chettinad Cuisine. What sets Chettinad cuisine apart from the usual offerings of the state’s traditional Tamil Brahmin vegetarian narrative, is that it evolved out a piquant regional situation. Influenced by the lifestyle of the Chettiar community, mercantile bankers, and traders of salt and spices, who during the rule of the Cholas drew their enormous wealth from their maritime activities livened up by trade relations with their counterparts in Burma, The Dutch East Indies, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Having roamed the ocean routes for centuries and with prospects for them diminishing between the 1850s and the 1940s the Chettiars settled down in the Tamil hinterland in what is now known as the Chettinadu region, with Karaikudi serving as its commercial heartbeat.
Its great allure for gourmet food experience seekers Chettinad food is remarkable for predominance of non-vegetarian dishes reputed for the flavourful, fresh and spicy permutations in the recipes driven by the ingredients and cooking methods.. Even sea food found aplenty because of their proximity to the Bay of Bengal tastes differently as do the veg dishes. Life in the Tamil hinterland, in later times, brought welcome new allurements to the kitchen menu including game meats like turkey, rabbit and quail, which teamed well with Tamil staples like dosas, idlis, appams and the like. One of the most popular signature dishes is the fiery Chettinad Chicken, which you absolutely must sample.
Unmistakable is the role that the spice box plays in this very distinctive culinary narrative of the Chettiars. The grinding stones in Chettinad home kitchens are kept busy, bringing out the delectable aromas and textures of star anise, peppercorns cumin seeds, fennel seed and whole red chillies. The secret weapons sequestered in the spice box to floor you with Chettinad delicacies are ingredients like dried flower pods and kalpasi (black stone flower). The rich gravies get their gravitas from carefully portioned tomatoes, coconut, ginger and garlic. Were you aware that even the variety of firewood used to keep the cooking pots busy adds their own aromatic nuances to a dish?
When you sit down to a Chettinad meal, don’t shy away from experimenting with the Chettiar version of fish curry (vazhaipoo meen kuzhambu) (fish curry), crab (nandu masala), shark fin curry (sura puttu), and prawns (Karaikudi eral masala) pepper chicken fry (milagu kozhi varuval) spiced and fried quail meat (kada fry).
Aim to, at some point, get invited to attend a traditional Chettiar wedding to delve deep into this unique Tamil culinary legacy. The lavish wedding banquet typically features a seven course meal, many savoury side dishes and at least six varieties of sweets or desserts.