Having eaten at far too many Indian restaurants, and cooked hundreds of curries, I thought I was pretty much an expert when it came to Indian cuisine, so it was a big shock when I sat down to enjoy my first curry and didn’t understand 90% of the menu. South Indian food is rarely seen in the UK, and differs to North Indian food which largely compromises of Punjabi/Mughali fare. Having visited 5 South Indian states and spent an afternoon in a Goan kitchen below is an insight to some dishes that will be found on menus all over the South.
Fancy a change to your coco pops, why not try this typical South Indian breakfast. A pancake made from rice batter and black lentils is filled with potatoes, onions and spices and fried to create a spicy way to start your day. Served alongside a sambar (spicy stew) one of these will set you back about 35 rupees (40p).
Another breakfast treat, Idlis are steamed rice cakes made from a batter of fermented black lentils and rice. Popular in roadside eateries and most south Indian homes, idlis provide a cheap and filling way to start the day. Idlis are also served with different sambars and chutneys, and if in Madurai are washed down with a Jigarthanda, a milky drink made with rose syrup, honey and ice cream. Together these cost around 45 rupees (55p).
No visit to South India is complete without sampling some of the freshest seafood out there. Both the states of Kerala and Goa pride themselves on different sea goodies, all pulled out of the water the same day and whipped up in front of your eyes. Often you choose your fresh seafood from the counter, the choices are endless, Kingfish, Tuna, Shark, Snapper, Lobster, Marlin, Pomfret just to name a few. Then you decide how you would like it cooking, Keralan style, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed with coconut milk, in the tandoori oven with a spicy tikka marinade, or simply grilled with chilli and garlic. Prices on these are per kilo, and are dependent on the size of the fish, however the tuna that we got below cost us 600 rupees (£7) and to be honest could have fed four people, but don’t worry, we didn’t let any go to waste.
India’s answer to the all you can eat Pizza Hut buffet. Thalis are served at almost all Indian restaurants, especially those aimed at the poorer folk (like us). Thalis are ate either for lunch, or for dinner, and often comprise of 4/5 different curries, rice, popdadoms, and some curd to wash it all down. Being a vegetarian country at heart the curries included tend to be those of the potato, dahl and vegetable variety, and are often a lot more runny than the ones you get at the Darton Balti House back in the UK. For 70 rupees (82p) you can’t really complain.
What comes to mind when imagining a Vindaloo, sweating your ass off eating an overly spicy curry with no flavour at all apart from the sheer heat of chillies that have been added to ensure that nobody brave enough to order this dish will actually finish it. Well in Goa, where the Vindaloo was created things are very different, this dish is delicately spiced, and given the spicy kick by using a coconut vinegar, amongst chillies of course. Vindaloos of all varieties can be found, however the most traditional are Pork, Prawns, or any other seafood. A Pork Vindaloo costs about 120 rupees (£1.50)
Another Goan dish which will make your mouth (and eyes) water. A Xacutti is normally served with Chicken, and is slightly milder than a Vindaloo, however the use of tamarind in the marinade means the curry has a spicy and sour taste. Before I got to Goa I’d never heard of this curry, however this is sure to be a favourite in our kitchen when we eventually return home. Expect a Chicken Xacutti to cost around 120 rupees (£1.50)