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  • Writer's pictureMary Ann Issac

The best food in Chettinad & Where to Find it!

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

‘One is fortunate to eat like a Chettiar’, is a popular saying in Chettinad, and I soon find out that truer words have not been spoken!

Chettinad is a region comprising a group of 73 villages in the interiors of arid Tamil Nadu.

The Chettiars' travels around South & South East Asia for work, in the pre Independence era had greatly influenced their food, the most important being the introduction of meat & fish into their traditionally vegetarian diet.

The traditional Chettiar meal is served on a banana leaf, with rice in the centre, surrounded by 15-25 (or sometimes more) different dishes ranging from vegetarian delights to meat, and fish preparations. The meal starts with a serving of soup, which is distinctly Indian in flavour, but reminiscent of the Chettiar's worldly travels.

Contrary to popular belief, Chettinad cuisine is not spicy. It showcases a beautiful blend of spices that create a depth in flavour in their exotic dishes.

Unlike the spicy 'Chettinad' fare that is served around the country and the world, the authentic Chettinad cuisine that I tried during my trip was mildly spiced and beautifully flavoured.

From their travels to South East Asia, they brought back ‘Kavuni’ rice, a black rice which is the star ingredient in the dish called 'Kavunarisi', or 'black sticky rice'-a sweet concoction of coconut milk and sugar. This was my absolute favourite find in Chettinad. I was skeptical at first, but I fell in love with the first bite!

Try it at The Bangala, and Chidambara Vilas, and you will see that though the recipes are similar, every kitchen has their own take on it.

Coconut rice which is made with rice, coconut, and a mixture of toasted spices and nuts, is a must try! It is surprisingly light and flavourful, and I loved it at The Chidambara Vilas.

Check out my detailed guides to other parts of Tamil Nadu!

Chidambara Vilas, Chettinad food, Chettinad things to do, Chettinad restaurants, banana leaf lunch
The banana leaf lunch at Chidambara Vilas-before everything was served

The best way to sample as many delicacies from the region is to have a banana leaf lunch. I had a delicious lunch on a banana leaf at both The Chettinadu Mansion and Chidambara Vilas.

The lunch at Chettinadu Mansion started with a light yet flavourful lentil soup which I loved! I am not a fan of vegetable biriyani, but I really liked their version of it. The Chettinad chicken curry was beautifully spiced and had me going back for more!

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Lentil soup at Chettniadu Mansion

Chidambara Vilas, Chettinad food, Chettinad things to do, Chettinad restaurants, banana leaf lunch
Banana Leaf lunch at Chettinadu Mansion- before all the dishes were served

The Bangala is renowned for its delectable traditional & Anglo-Indian or 'Butler' cuisine. The Butler cuisine is a clever mix of Indian spices in traditionally English recipes.

I stayed at The Bangala in Chettinad, so I got to try a lot of their food, and I have to say, it was the best gastronomic experience! The traditionally Chettinad fare were cooked to perfection. The Butler cuisine came as a pleasant surprise to my tastebuds, as I hadn't had anything like it.

The tender mutton chops were fried in a spiced egg coating.

The crab cutlets were my absolute favourite- mildly spiced crab with potato, coated in a breadcrumbs and egg mixture, and deep fried.

Of their traditional offerings, the mutton, crab, and cashew curries served for dinner were sensational. The cashew curry was a surprise for me as I had never heard of it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it!

For breakfast, keep an eye out for ‘paniyarappam’, which is a fried dumpling made of a soaked rice and lentil mixture, spiced with onions, green chillies, curry leaves and coriander leaves.

The Bangala, Chettinad food, Chettinad things to do, The Bangala table, Chettinad breakfast
Breakfast at The Bangala- Kavunarisi, chutney, Paniyarapam, & idli

The ‘pongal’ (spiced rice porridge) at the Bangala deserves a special mention, for the flavour of the coconut and clarified butter came through beautifully, making it a delight to devour!

The Bangala, The Bangala table,  Chettinad food, Chettinad things to do, Chettinad restaurants, Breakfast in Chettinad
Breakfast at The Bangala- Idli, coconut rice, chutney, vada, & coconut chutney

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