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The Foods of South India: Indian Food- A historical companion

Just a note before I start putting down these notes. It feels really nice that I’m able to connect my daily life to things I have been learning from this book. Today, we found a couple of hummingbirds harassing our small little growing bell peppers. No wonder why some the leaves and cherry tomatoes in the garden have been having perfect holes punctured here and there. My parents didn’t know how to solve this problem, I remember I had just read in chapter three how the Aryan’s used to use ashes of cow dung, sesame seeds, honey and ghee and made balls of it and put it on the farms to ward of pests, parrots etc.  I’ve been a little happy because of it the entire day.  (I’ve underlined somethings here in the section that I think that are things I can make at home. I don’t like eating fruits law and I like to cook them, so there are two pomegranate recipes I think I should try.)

Influences on the food culture of the South

There was a connection with Africa through Gujrat when the sea levels were low and a land bridge existed. There was possibly even a connection with Egypt since pottery head rests were found dated from the 1800 BCE, as well as Bajra, jowar and ragi, bhindi and tamarind.

The coconut is from New Guinea and the banana, betel leaf and yams have flowed through south-east asia. Australian Aboriginals strongly resemble ethnic group in south India and were once called nagas. Before the Aryans, in 600 BCE, the Harappans had found there way there because of the pottery and tombs with their markings.  There is also evidence that Australians (interesting article linked) were who settled there have their roots from India.

Archaeological food finds in South India

Food cultivation started rather early in the South, by 2300 BCE. There was even cotton and by the 750 BC iron was also known and horses were also used. Cattle, goats, sheep and rice were all used. Rice came in rather though around 1000 BCE and it took a strong hold.

Food in Tamil Literature

After the aryans arrived, six occupational classes evolved.

  1. Arivar- sages

  2.  Villaver-  landed gentry

  3. Aiyar/veduvar- shepherds and huntsmen

  4. Artists, Potters

  5. Armed men

  6. Valayar/ Pulayar- scavengers and Fishermen  

From a passage in Permumpanuru (3AD) food served to a wandering minstrel was described as served:

  1. By hunters: in a broad leaf with red coloured rice and the flesh of an iguana.

  2. By Shepherds: Jowar, beans and millet boiled in eggs

  3. Labourers: White rice with roasted flesh of the fowl

  4. Fishermen: rice with fried fish made with Palmyra leaves

  5. Brahmin: rice with mango pickle and pomegranate cooked with butter and curry leaves

  6. Farmers: Jackfruit, banana and coconut water.

All land on the earth was believed to be of five types:

  1. Palai- Dessert: this could grown nothing so inhabitants obtained their food by stealing.

  2. Kurinji- Mountains: Mountains grew rices and then and bamboo rice.

  3. Mullai- Forrest: Raise horse gram, beans and lentils.

  4. Agriculture river valleys- Marudam: Red rice and white rice.

  5. Coastal area- neydal

Importance of Rice

Rice was mostly boiled and fried. Rice kept for three years was considered healthy. Cooked rice was kept in cold water overnight and the rice and water consumed was the first meal of the next day. Rice was converted into many foods:

  1. Appam: mentioned in Permumpanuru

  2. Idiappam: in the chola times (10AD) was eaten with sweetened coconut milk

  3. Dosai and Adai(mixed with equal parts of rice and four pulses)

  4. Moodagam: deep fried modak

  5. Athirasam: Deep-fried patty of sweetened rice flour (called nai appam in Kerala)

Other Foods of the South

Pulses that were used in that time included, chickpea, Bengal gram, horsegram. It’s surprising that urad and arhar don’t make an appearance- which is the most common pulse now.  A tomato based soup with tamarind is also mentioned, similar to the modern day rasam. Oils that were used were sesame, coconut and ghee and were exported, ghee was exported in leather skins to Rome.

Vegetables included, Brinjal and Bitter gourd (called pagal) and some vegetables were cooked in milk. Raw bananas were used to cook. Leafy vegetables are mentioned as the food of the poor. Pomegranate was used fried in ghee and sprinkled with pepper as a dish. 

Pepper was most sought after spice in India and overseas and was grown in the Chera country (Kerela). There were other spices like tumeric, ginger, cloves, cardamom, tamarind, Lemond and mustard but it was not as widely used.

Chewing paan was originally a custom of the south. In Silapaddikaram (A MUST READ!), Kannagi gives her husband Kovalan belt leaves and areca nuts to eat at the end of his meal before he leaves on his fatal mission to sell her anklet at Madurai. It’s not only practiced in Southern India but it spread to the various parts in Vietnam and South West Asia.

Beef was very common there is a even a song about a fat bull being slaughtered in the open, pigs were also very common for all sorts of people regardless of class. Boars were actually fed rice and kept away from females because it apparently enhanced their taste. Meat from elephants was dried after being killed from a battle and stored for consumption. Deer, porcupine, fried snails, tortoise, iguana red meat, parrots, peafowl, quail, fish were all consumed. Fish was caught by the fishing communities, Meenvar. The Tamil word for fish, mean entered the Sanskrit languages.

A word for black pepper was kari, and it was important to add as a dressing in meat. This was anglicised to curry later on. Meat was first marinated with kari, mustard seeds, fried in oil. It was also roasted on the points of spits. Roasting was incredibly popular unlike now. Honey was important and was employed in barter, there wa liquor made out of it that was matured in bamboo cylinders. Families used to move around selling salt in carts, and apparently young girls used to keep count of the numbers of such carts that passed along. Alcohol was common, women used to drink in the company of their lovers. Poorer classes made toddy, wine germinated grains in pot was very common and was drink by soldiers. Liquor shops in Madurai gave a piece of raw ginger to be chewed on while drinking as it was an antidote. During the 1st and 2nd century AD, when trade with Rome was at its peak, southern kings had access to Italian wine that were served in golden goblets.

#foodhistory #FoodStudies #IndianFood #ktachaya

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