Compiled by: Kandiah Thillaivinayagalingam

This thread is aimed to show you the food habits of Dravidians,mainly Tamil people-from first man,through Sumerian Tamils,Harappa-Mohenjo daro Tamils,Sangam Tamils,Medieval or Bhakti period Tamils.South India,where majority of Dravidians live, is the home of all kind of spices,infact spices like black pepper grew originally only in this region.Staple Food in Dravidians is mostly based on rice in all kind of variations.There has been influences from South East Asia,but also in some parts by the Islamistic kitchen during the time of Hyderabad Nawabs.But all in all the Dravidian kitchen has been independent and pure for the last 6000 years or so.Modern Dravidian food could be divided in two categories.Veg and Non-Veg. Meat and fish is eaten by virtually all people to a lesser extent,because these items are costly,while Veg food grows in every garden.Rice is the staple diet, with fish being an integral component of coastal South Indian and Srilankan meals,along with various kind of seafoods.Coconut is an important ingredient in Kerala and costal part of Karnataka of South India as well as Srilanka,whereas the cuisine in Andhra Pradesh is characterized by the delicious pickles,spicy aromatic curries and the generous use of chili powder.Dosa, Idli, Uttapam etc.are popular throughout the South Indian region.Tamil Nadu is well known for its idli,dosai, pongal, sambhar[a lentil-based vegetable stew],vadai which is the common breakfast in Tamil families,But in Sri Lanka,Tamil dishes distinct from Indian Tamil cuisine,with regional variations between the island's northern and eastern areas.While rice with curries is the most popular lunch menu,String hoppers, which are made of rice flour and look like knitted vermicelli neatly laid out in circular pieces about 12 centimetres (4.7 in) in diameter, are frequently combined with tomato sothi (a soup) and curries for breakfast and dinner.Another two common items among the Srilakan Tamils is puttu,a granular,dry,but soft steamed rice powder cooked in a bamboo cylinder with the base wrapped in cloth so that the bamboo flute can be set upright over a clay pot of boiling water.and  Appam,a thin crusty pancake made with rice flour,with a round soft crust in the middle.It has variations such as egg or milk Appam,Coconut milk and hot chilli powder are also frequently used by Srilankan Tamils along with a range of achars(pickles) and well as Snacks and sweets are generally of the homemade "rustic" variety, relying on jaggery,sesame seed,coconut, and gingelly oil, to give them their distinct regional flavour.

The everyday diet of Tamil people is fairly austere,consisting of
boiled rice,sambar (dhal [lentils] vegetable and tamarind) or Sothi with vegetable curries[Srilankan Tamils],fish or meat curry (for non-vegetarians),rasam (spicy pepper water) and curds.On special occasions payasam,a milk-based dessert flavoured with cardomom, is served.In modern Tamil cuisine coffee and Tea has become one of the main is always drunk at breakfast,occasionally at dinner.Even in affluent Tamil  families there is not much variety in the daily menu,but when there are guests or a wedding is held it is a totally different story, and a truly ambrosial meal will be served.The food served on these occasions is generally an indication of the hosts' status.Though stainless steel cutlery and crockery are used in urban homes,food is still served on ceremonial occasions in the traditional way-on a banana leaf.The leaf is spread in front of the diner,with the tip pointed left as most of the people used their right hand to eat food.The usage of banana leaf to serve food dates back to at least 1500 years and could be as old as 3000 years. So there is definitely historical reasons for it.But the choice of banana leaf during those times could be because (just hypothesizing]It is bigger and convenient to serve food.Available easily in those days.It  is hygienic.A simple sprinkling of water is enough to clean a banana  leaf.It is waterproof. Dravidian foods involve a lot of liquids and many other bio materials don't fit in easily.It adds a nice aroma to the hot food and improves the taste of some foods like rasam.Earlier days,flooring were of mud or cow
dung covered.Hence,It was easier to ants to crawl into the leaf during meals.So,water is ring around the leaf in those days . Silappatikaram,which was written in the 2nd or 3rd century AD has references to serving food in banana leaf as:"தண்ணீர் தெளித்துத் தன்கையால் தடவிக் குமரி வாழையின் குருத்தகம் விரித்தீங்கு அமுத முண்க அடிக ளீங்கென" .These lines describe how the wife is serving food to her husband and it explicitly says that she sprinkle water,clean the banana leaf and  spreads it and serves food on it.Another old Tamil work,Purananuru 168,which was written well before  Silappatikaram,also,has the following lines,"கூதளங் கவினிய குளவி முன்றில்  செழுங் கோள் வாழை அகல் இலைப் பகுக்கும்", "front yard where wild jasmine grows beautifully along with koothalam [ Convolvulus].They share their food on wide leaves of plantain trees." So there are enough evidences that banana leaf has been in use to serve food for a very,very long time. Even A song from,a poetry site of today,where you can find poems from all around the world,praise the tamilian traditional foods served on banana leaf as below:

"Gleaming, green and live 
Like a tailless fish alive 
Neatly cut and placed 
Gemming sheen of water sprinkled... 

Wished varieties cooked and brought on 
Dished up with many a pattern 
Items sweetened and savoured 
The Tamilian way innovated 

Served on sweetly first paayasam 
Of course hand to mouth a culinary mannerism 
Delightful pachdis sugar and salt varied next 
Delicious curries dry and semi-solid next 
Incoming pappads, crisp vegetable chips and pickle 
Following fudges and ladoos and like many to tickle 

Spooned in the centre hot rice 
Mixed with sambar so spice 
Rowed up curries in-between morsels 
Put into mouth, divine and dainty handsels 
Next helping…rice and rasam too hot 
Second helping…vegies to fill the heart 

Sweet break... 
Paayasam, much more to take 
On and on...' No' to brake 
Ending with rice and curd 
Touchy pickles dotted and tasted 
A meal of regale admired 
A menu of plethoric choices 
The banana leaf's magic flavours 
The stomach's cliche 
[-By Indira Renganathan/



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