There’s something sweet about Kongunadu, the western region of Tamil Nadu. “Kongu” means nectar and “nadu” means country. The Kongu region comprises mostly the districts of Coimbatore, Salem, Dindigul, Erode, Karur, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Namakkal, Tiruppur, and the Nilgiris. Some parts of Palakkad also fall under Kongunadu.
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The cuisine of Kongunadu is very unique. The dishes use generous amounts of coconut, sesame seeds, black pepper, and turmeric. Lentils used in everyday cuisine are horse gram known as kollu, whole mung beans, and cowpeas known as thatta payaru is made into a mash and served with rice. The horse gram mash or kollu masiyal is not to be missed. Spinach mash or the keerai masiyal is also famous and the Kongu people call spinach as rakkiri.
The quintessential arisi paruppu saadam is a homey treat. It is an everyday rice preparation made with parboiled rice and lentils. There are variations made using toor dal and cowpeas. This is a dish that is a popular favourite in Kongunadu.
Idli with thakkali kuzhambu (tomato curry) is what you will be served in Kongu homes for breakfast. The tomato curry is prepared with ground masala made with coconut, fennel seeds, and spices. The spices are roasted in oil along with country tomatoes and coconut and then ground to a fine paste. The ground paste is then simmered to form a luscious gravy that is just perfect for dunking the idlis.
Don’t miss the Kongu upma made with emmer wheat. The dish is served with curd and bananas and is a hearty and healthy dish. Emmer wheat has a low glycemic index and gluten level, making it easy for digestion.
Kongu people do not marinate their meat. Most meats are cooked in a home ground masala heavily laden with coconut, fennel seeds, and black pepper. There are two kinds of biriyani made in the region. The vellai biriyani or the white biriyani and the dark Dindigul biriyani . The aromatic seeraga samba rice is used to make both these biriyanis.
Dishes like chicken pallipalayam and chicken Chinthamani are regional specialities. Most of the Kongu belt is arid in nature and food especially meat was scarce and reserved only for special occasions. Chicken pallipalayam is a simple dish made with meat, copious amounts of shallots, red chillies and coconut that is added to the dish as small bits. Chicken chinthamani is a similar dish but coconut shredded and added to offer gravy.
Since coconut farming is done throughout the region, elaneer or tender coconut water is consumed throughout the day. In recent times tender coconut pudding and payasam/kheer have also made its entry. We do not know who started this trend but it is a familiar dessert offered on the menus of most Kongu restaurants.
The healthy ellurundai made of sesame seeds and peanuts, coconut and jaggery is a popular chewy treat here. Kachayam is a deep-fried delicacy made with homemade rice flour and jaggery.
Find more recipes and stories by the author in her food blog www.kannammacooks.com and Instagram.