Top 10 most popular dishes in south India
Most travellers will only have a limited amount of time on their holidays, so what are the most popular dishes in South India is an important question that you will want to know the answer to. After all, we want to sample the local cuisine and with so many dishes to choose from, it pays to know what ones to go for first. Of course, it’s all a matter of opinion. However, based on my extensive observations while travelling to South India, I would say these are indeed the most popular.
The insanely fertile western ghats produce some of the best spices in the world. That, coupled with seemingly endless stretches of bountiful seas, have given rise to some of the most delicious food to be had anywhere in the world.
Southern India is vastly Hindu, but there are also plenty of Muslims and Christians who also call this part of the world home as well. Each culture has its own dishes and its own traditions. There have also been countless empires rising and falling over the centuries. Each one has left its mark on the culinary heritage of Southern India and it is all just waiting for the intrepid traveller to sample for themselves.
The food in the south tends to be healthier than that you find in the north, as many of the classics here are steamed. There is also far less oil used in its preparation and the cuisine as a whole is a little lighter. That means your culinary voyage gets to be relatively guilt-free while you are at it, so that is a win-win situation!
South Indian food is an almost open-ended subject with a whole plethora of dishes for you to get your teeth into. I don’t have the time to cover them all. That is why I want to talk about what I consider to be the top 10 most popular dishes in South India. Then you have an idea of what to look out for with your fleeting time to this whimsical corner of the universe. So without further ado, let’s jump straight in, shall we?
For breakfast, you can look forward to such delights as the dosa (a paper-thin batter served with coconut chutney, tomato chutney and sambar.) Or perhaps sumptuous Uttapam. That is essentially a thicker batter and served with the same garnish. The dosa is sometimes stuffed with potato and while this is amazing, it is incredibly heavy and sure to keep your hunger locked up for hours on end. These have to be some of the most iconic and most delicious dishes to be had on the whole subcontinent.
Idli is a kind of steamed rice cake that the local people in Kerala and Tamil Nadu seem to think is simply amazing. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Idli is indeed one of the most popular dishes in South India. Most visitors to these incredible states seem to agree with this idea. However, I will be honest with you. They are not really my thing, but ill leave it to you for your own verdict. They seem to be sold everywhere in the far south and they too are sold with coconut chutney and sambar.
Another way to wake up in the morning is to have a breakfast of Lachha paratha. That is a flakey, crispy yet soft layered bread that is truly lip-smacking and served with Sabji curry (vegetable.) I am willing to hedge my bets; you will agree this is an incredible dish. If you see this on sale, do not neglect to dive in and thank me later. All of these breakfasts I have listed are super heavy, so they are good value for money.
Malabar Chicken Curry
The coast of Kerala and parts of Karnataka is known as the Malabar Coast. It is not so much a dish as Malabar is a whole train of thought. However, Malabar chicken curry is simply divine. There are a million varieties of this dish, but all will be heavily laced with coconut since it is the biggest cash crop in this part of the world. In fact, massive swaths of the land have become dedicated to growing just this one plant. You can trust me when I say tasting the freshest coconut in a dish like this is well worth the investment.
In Tamil Nadu, I have found their badam milk to be the best, although you can find versions of it sold all over India. What is badam milk I hear you cry? Well, that is, Almonds blended with milk and flavoured with saffron and cardamom. It is very rich and high in calories, but some things are worth getting fat for. Badam milk is serious business in South India and many market stalls sell nothing else. In my humble opinion, buying at least one glass of this milk is an absolute must for any traveller to these parts.
Beef Nadan has to be one of my favourite dishes to be had anywhere in India. Kerala is home to some fine beef dishes and that seems contradictory in a predominantly Hindu state. However, there is a strong enough Muslim presence for beef to feature on menus in almost every town. Here is a curry that has very bold and complex flavours. I also recommend trying the beef fry as it is also a unique treat for your tastebuds and it is not sold anywhere else.
Fish moilee has become a dish synonymous across the planet with Indian food, but the real deal is guaranteed to be so much better. The dish has a mix of Portuguese and Indian influences. The masses have enjoyed it for hundreds of years and it is comparatively easy to make. It is a very mildly spiced coconut-based curry and can be found widely sold across Kerala, but it is probably most famous in Cochin. To come to this state and not try this iconic dish would almost be criminal.
Oh my god, the fish fry is divine! Fish fry is marinaded pieces of fish that have been, you guessed it, Fried! So simple, but delicious it does not even need accompaniments and is often eaten as a starter.
If I had to say the number one dish you should be trying on your travels, it would be prawn masala. With mile after mile of coastline in this part of the world, it is hardly surprising seafood features so heavily on menus. There are many different dishes to sample, but none is as rich and varied as the prawn curries. If you are in Mangalore, I would suggest trying the almost heavenly prawn ghassi. However, you can’t beat the good old fashioned prawn masala, in my humble opinion.
I will not get into the heated debate among foodies where biriani first originated, but I will say Hydrabad sells one of the best I have ever tasted. It may only be braised rice, but it is a very serious business in this city. Whole restaurants sell nothing else but this one dish and your tastebuds will be grateful for all that passion. Do let me know your verdict if you have to be heading to Andra Pradesh because this dish truly is special to me.
South Indian Coffee
I know that is already ten, but South Indian coffee is well worth the mention. It is not as much a dish as simply something exceptional. That’s right, you heard me correctly. South Indian coffee has to be some of the best in the world. In fact, I have travelled to many countries where it is grown, but the Coorg region of Karnataka produce the finest brew that has ever passed my lips.
I am a bit of a coffee fanatic, so staying in one of the many plantations in the Western Ghats surrounded by some of mother natures most impressive work was my idea of heaven.
In summary of the 10 most popular dishes in South India.
Well, that was an easy post to write for me. Southern India has so many fine dishes, but some certainly stand out more than others. I believe I have genuinely mentioned really big players. If you disagree with my finding, by all means, let me know as of cause I don’t know everything and it is a matter of taste.
If you enjoyed this post, I am sure you will appreciate more of my food blogs. I have a whole section on food, so feel free to knock yourself out. If you want one massive post to immerse yourself in, check out my blog on where to get the very best food in India, It took me so very long to write and it is quite comprehensive.
It is also quite likely that you could find some issues with your belly when eating the local cuisine, especially if you are not used to the spice. To find out how to reduce the chances of getting sick and avoiding the infamous Delhi belly, check out this article. As a man who has had plenty of issues with this myself, I am sure you will find it of value. It is always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes, after all, right?
One thing I think everyone who visits south India would agree is that you will not leave disappointed. These states are quite the culinary carnival by anyone’s standards. I think that is enough said before I let you get back to your busy lives. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog as much as I enjoyed writing it and I will see you in the next one. Take care guys 😁
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