A Bit About Palakkad Iyers and Their Cuisine

I was going through my posts when I realized that while I had posted a few Palakkad Iyer recipes (we are Palakkad Iyers), I ought to introduce this style of cooking to all who are not familiar with it. I am sure that quite a few of you who are reading this are already familiar with all this. For all of you who are new to Palakkad Iyers as a community in India, here is a short introduction to our cuisine.

A Bit About Palakkad Iyers and Their Cuisine

Palakkad is a district of Kerala state (which is at the southern end of India) and is located at the border of Kerala with the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. Palakkad Iyers are a community of Tamil speaking Brahmins, living in Kerala. Originally from Tamil Nadu, these Iyers migrated to Kerala about 400years or so back and settled down in the Palakkad area. Some of these migrants also settled down in Trissur and Trivandrum. Today, they are very much an integral part of the state.

This migration has resulted in a unique cuisine that is a combination of cooking styles that came with them from Tamil Nadu, those adopted/ adapted from Kerala and a cooking tradition that evolved distinctly from the two styles and is unique to Palakkad Iyer homes. A lot of our cooking has evolved from Brahmin ritualistic traditions and even today, many of us maintain a prescribed style of cooking for festivals and various religious rituals.

Palakkad Iyer cooking is purely vegetarian (and traditionally uses no garlic or onions), and uses a lot of lentils, dry beans, vegetables and coconut (which grows abundantly in Kerala). Coconut oil and gingelly (sesame seed) oil are used and rice is the main carbohydrate source. Palakkad Iyer food is very healthy as it uses minimal oil, and steam cooking is extensively used. There is no baking tradition.

Most of the dishes are prepared using indigenously available vegetables and spices, though many changes have crept in over the years. Vegetables like potatoes, carrots, cabbages, cauliflowers, tomatoes and even green chillies came to India as a result of foreign influence of the Dutch, British and Portuguese over the years and were not a part of the original cooking ingredients. Most of our breakfast dishes, snacks and desserts are made with rice. Jaggery is the preferred sweetening agent, though sugar is also used and coconut milk is used a lot. We use tamarind or yogurt to add a tang to some dishes.

Our breakfasts or “tiffin” is largely rice and lentil based. Some popular dishes are idlis, dosas and adais. Dinner could be a lighter regimen of rice and an accompaniment or a light “tiffin”

A daily lunch usually consists of rice, a kootan (some vegetables in a gravy made of one or a combination of lentils, coconut or yogurt with spices), a rasam (a tangy watery soup-like dish), a curry ( such as “kootu”, “mezhukkupuratti”, “poduthuval”, etc.) served as an accompaniment or side-dish to the main meal (I use the word “curry” here to describe a dry or semi-dry vegetable/ combination of vegetables), and yogurt. Pappads or a variety of such fried items (these are unique to Iyers and some are “appalam”, “karuvadam” and “vethal/ vetral”) and pickles (the Indian type) are also sometimes a part of this meal. All these have a prescribed order in which they are served.

Festive meals have a larger variety of many of these accompaniments and usually one or two “payasams” (usually milk or coconut milk based desserts) depending upon the occasion. I shall do separate posts on these at other times.

Of course, we eat with our right hands (no spoons or cutlery) and traditionally food is served and eaten from a banana/ plantain leaf. It's all very eco-friendly and fewer dishes to wash! I hope I have been able to give some idea about our style of cooking and eating.

More information about Palakkad Iyers is available at www.keralaiyers.com/cuisine ,, http://www.keralaiyers.com/history and http://www.samooham.com/history.html if you are interested.