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5 South Indian Dishes That Everyone Should Try

Indian food has gone mainstream. You can easily find Indian spices in your local grocery store. Some major grocery stores even carry frozen ready-made Indian meals. Indian food is a crowd pleaser and has gained popularity around the globe. When it comes to aromatic and flavorful food, Indian cuisine is unparalleled.

India is a country with diverse culture and rich history which are both evident in its food. India is unique in that in every corner of the country, you will get the opportunity to taste different flavors of food.

Indian cuisine is one of the most versatile cuisines and varies between regions. For instance, South Indian food is vastly different from North Indian food.

What is South Indian Cuisine?

South Indian cuisine consists of the following southern states of India: Karnataka, Kerala, Andrea Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana. South India represents a large scale of culture and cuisine. It has vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. It is known to be spicier than other cuisines in India.

Rice is a staple dish in South Indian cuisine. Additionally, as parts of South India are coastal, different types of seafood such as fish, tuna, and shrimp are found in the south. Coconut milk is  used as a cooking agent for making curries.

South India is native to vegetables like okra, bitter melon (karela), bottle gourd (lauki), and eggplant. The state of Karela is home to the following popular fruits: sapodilla, jackfruit, guava, and black plum. You will spot the following spices in almost all South Indian food recipes – mustard seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and red chilies. Other popular ingredients found in South Indian cuisine include coconut, tamarind, and curry leaves.

South Indian cuisine is home to some of the most coveted dishes. We strongly recommend that you try the following South Indian delicacies:

1. Dosa

Dosa is a lacey thin crepe made with fermented rice and lentil batter.  It’s a giant crispy crepe and is served for breakfast. The most popular type of dosa is masala dosa, a savory crepe filled with spicy potato mash made with potatoes, spices, onions, and curry leaves. Dosa is served with vegetable sambar and coconut chutney. Dosa is a delicious creation.

2. Idli

Idlis are steamed rice cakes made from fermented rice and lentil batter. The batter is steamed into circular molds.  The result is fluffy moon-like savory rice cakes. It is served with vegetable sambar and various chutneys. It can be eaten by itself. Other types of idlis include vegetable idlis as carrots and green beans are added to the rice batter. Rava idli is made from semolina, yogurt, and spices. Idlis are light, fluffy, and flavorful.

3. Vada

Vada is a popular Indian street food. Vada is a donut-shaped fritter made from a batter of ground lentils, spices, and curry leaves. Vada is served with sambar or rasam and also eaten with mint chutney.  In North India, vada is known as bhalla. In dahi bhalla, vada is dunked into whisked creamy yogurt and topped with mint and tamarind chutneys. Vada is everyone’s favorite comfort food.

4. Sambar

Sambar is a spicy lentil-based vegetable stew. The stew is made with lentils,  vegetables such as tomatoes, okra, shallots, radishes, drumsticks and tamarind paste, herbs, and sambar powder. Sambar powder, also known as huli pudi is made by roasting and grinding chana dal, urad dal,  mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, asafoetida cloves, and whole red chilies. Sambar is a versatile dish and accompanies everything from dosas to rice. Sambar is spicy and tangy.

5. Hyderabadi Biryani

Hyderabadi biryani originated from the Nizams of Hyderabad. It’s famous all across India. First, meat is marinated with ginger garlic paste, yogurt, tomatoes, fried onions, and spices such as chili powder, turmeric powder, garam masala, cardamom, cinnamon,  cloves,  and cumin powder.  The marinade is then refrigerated for a couple of hours.

Lastly, the meat marinade is layered with pre-cooked rice topped with fried onions, mint, cilantro, saffron milk, and green chilies.  The pot is covered and slow-cooked until the meat is fully cooked. The result is mouthwatering. Hyderabadi biryani is served with mirchi ka salan (curry made with peanuts, coconut, tamarind paste, and spices) and raita (mint yogurt sauce).

Be sure to try our delicious easy to follow Hyderabadi-inspired egg dum biryani  recipe.

Other popular South Indian dishes include kaapi (filter coffee) rasam, uttapam, meen kulambu (fish curry), and payasam. 

Traveling from North India to South India, you are guaranteed to find unique recipes in every region you visit. If you are looking to expand your Indian food palate and want to try new dishes, we recommend trying these unique and scrumptious South Indian dishes from the list above. 

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About the author:

Hira Shaikh is a die-hard Chicagoan residing in Texas. She is an avid foodie and travel enthusiast who also enjoys creating new recipes in the kitchen. Besides her corporate job, her sweet tooth and passion for food lure her to hunt down instagrammable restaurants and cafes to try and critique.

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