To launch yourself into the sights, sounds and smells of southern India is to embark on a very interesting journey indeed! Perhaps the very best way to reach India’s heart is through the all-important sense of taste.
Travel around India and you will discover an array of delicious and aromatic dishes to satisfy your inner gourmet. Many find it a revelation that no self-respecting Indian cook uses curry powder, a relic of the British Raj, preferring to blend their own spices from treasured recipes handed down through the generations.
India is nothing if not diverse. Landscape, culture and religion have all played their part in shaping the distinct regional cuisines. Wheat grows well in the north, so it’s here you’ll find wonderful flatbreads, whereas the rice fields of the eastern and southern states have resulted in the most wonderful rice based dishes. Chilies grow well in Andhra Pradesh, so the curries, chutneys and pickles pack a serious punch here. In the deserts of Rajasthan, you’ll find dishes reflecting the lack of green vegetables, but rich with dried spices and herbs.
History has also played its part, with early Mughal conquerors adding Persian flavours, cream, butter and nuts to the mix. European and Arab traders, drawn to India by its wonderful spices, introduced tomatoes, potatoes and chilies which are now widely used. Religion also plays a role — Hindus sees cattle as sacred, and Muslims believe pork to be unclean — you’ll only find pork dishes within the Christian communities of Goa. India is heaven for vegetarians!
My heart (and stomach) lies in southern India — the coconut, the seafood, the chutneys, dosas and idlis are too delicious. Combine this with the beautiful tea plantations, colonial hill stations, an eclectic cultural mix, and the tranquil backwaters of Kerala, and you have a wonderfully rewarding travel experience.
Top 5 Southern Indian Experiences
- Cruising aboard a traditional kettuvallam houseboat in the tranquil canals of Kerala, with your onboard chef creating fresh and flavoursome local dishes. A relaxing antidote to the chaos of the cities.
- The hill station of Ooty, a fascinating blend of bustle and ancient temples, with lush scenic beauty and charming British Raj era houses.
- Mundackal Estate Farm, just out of Cochin, is a working rubber plantation which also offers cooking classes, using ingredients grown on the farm, including coconuts, cardamom and black pepper. A delightful glimpse into rural Indian life, and delicious food!
- Mysore, described by Lonely Planet as “one of South India’s most enchanting cities”, is bursting with royal history — its World Heritage listed palace is a delight. Check out the heady aromas of spices and incense in the bazaar.
- You cannot visit Kerala without taking in a Kathakali dance show — this classical dance is intense, loud, colourful and often bewildering, but well worth the experience! Some shows allow you backstage before the show to witness the elaborate costume and make-up preparation.
Words: Caroline Clegg, World Journeys