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 !