Saturday, March 29, 2008

1001 Iyer Curries

Iyer cuisine arose from the ritualistic, vegetarian cooking practices of Tamil Brahmins from Cauvery delta, chiefly from Tiruchi, Tanjore and Mayavaram of central Tamilnadu.

Traditionally Iyer cooking is done only after a bath and concepts like madi ( avoiding contact with anything not recently cleaned) and pathu (avoiding contact with food served to the diner) are still practiced in many households. The food is served only after it is offered to Gods and ancestors ( or rather to crows ). After the food is served, the males go through an elaborate ritual, worshipping it, sanctifying it, offer it to various Gods and only then start eating it. A brief ritual is also observed at the end of the meal, thanking the Gods.

The most favourite 'curries' of the Iyers are also the most basic, requiring little or no cooking at all. Iyers are known for their love of yogurt , paruppu ( boiled tuvar dal) and ghee. The meal starts with cooked rice consumed with paruppu and ghee and ends with yogurt eaten mixed with rice. In fact Iyer’s undying love for yogurt- rice combo has earned them the name 'Thayir Sadam', which is what most lunchboxes of Iyer children still contain !

Iyer migrations to Kerala, Bengal and Karnataka has led to the development of distinct cuisines in these places. At their core, you'll see that these cuisines follow the Tamil Brahmin style of cooking, with some key ingredients replaced with whatever was available easily in the new lands they settled in. For example, replace sesame oil with coconut oil and Tanjore cuisine moves one step closer to becoming Palghat cuisine.

Typically onions, garlic or spices like fennel, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves are not used in Brahmin cuisine. But unlike the more orthodox Iyengar cuisine, Iyer cuisine tolerates them and you'll occasionally find them being used.

Like most south Indian cuisines, Iyer curries are built on tamarind, lentils, yogurt and coconut. Different combinations of these building blocks give rise to different curry families. Meenakshi Ammal’s ‘Samaithu Par’ is the classic cookbook cataloging Iyer cuisine.

If you spot a bloomer or have traditional Iyer recipes you’d like to be linked here, mail me or leave a comment. Thanks !


Rums said...

Hey, I'm part of the Facebook CFG too, though right now in America. Mohammed Ali was my senior in school. Read about your 1 cooks for 500 event. Hats off to you! My blog is It is a team effort with my cousin and mom so varied recipes. We have just begun building it though

bha said...

Vathakuzhambu is missing and no Iyer cuisine catalog is complete wihtou it.


Ramki said...

Hi Bhavani,

My goal is not to give a complete list of Iyer curries, but a sample of the rich Iyer cuisine.

Vatha Kulambu does not fit in well with the One page cookbook format as it needs to be cooked with specific additives. So I've dealt with it in the 1001 Kulambu cookbook given below :

Anonymous said...

I love all your recipes. It is so easy to follow and an excellent taste too. Thank you so much for your time and effort.


Rekha Srinath said...

Dear ramki,
hats off to you for your innovative venture. In the Iyer recipes, may i point out 2 discrepancies.
1. traditionally, asafoetida is never used in any dish which includes coconut paste.
2. In traditional Iyer cuisine, more kulambu is called puliseri. No soaked dals are used. Only 3 ingredients are used - coconut, jeera and red chillies. If some thickening is needed, porikadalai or pottukadalai is also added while making the paste.
The variety of more kulambu described by you is from Telugu brahmin cuisine.
My mother would call them bloomers, but we can call them "variants".

Ramki said...

Hi Rekha,
Thanks for your comments.
1. There is no connection between asafoetida usage and coconut. Asafoetida is normally not used when onions / garlic are used, because it is a onion- garlic substitute. In fact, asafetida is commonly used for tempering in coconut chutneys / kootu.

2. Puliseri is a Kerala brahmin variant of Iyer Morekulambu. In Tamilnadu, it is never called puliseri.

3.Which more kulambu variant do you think falls under Telugu Brahmin cuisine and why ?

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