While most of Tamil Nadu food is vegetarian, it has a lot of coconut and chilli which makes it delicious.
Tamil Nadu has a rich cuisine involving both traditional non-vegetarian and vegetarian dishes. Its favourite foods are overwhelmingly vegetarian, with lots of coconut and chilli. The cuisine is characterized by the use of rice, legumes and lentils. Its distinct aroma and flavour is achieved by the blending of flavourings and spices including curry leaves, mustard seeds, coriander, ginger, garlic, chili, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, green cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, coconut and rosewater.
No matter where you go you’ll find dosas, idlis (spongy, round fermented rice cakes) and vadas (deep-fried lentil-flour doughnuts), all of which are always served with coconut chutney and sambar (lentil broth). These will sometimes be your only options, and luckily they’re very, very tasty (though you want to eat your idlis fresh and warm), and they’re generally vegan friendly too. Thalis – all-you-can-eat meals based around rice, lentil dishes, rasam (hot and sour tamarind soup) and chutneys, often served on a banana leaf, are also good, ubiquitous, cheap and filling.
The exception to the all-veg diet is Chettinad food, derived from food traditionally prepared in the southern region around Pudukkottai and Karaikkudi but available at restaurants in most of the bigger towns. Chettinad menus often feature mutton, chicken and fish; it’s less fiery and more about the use of fresh spices like cinammon, cumin and star anise. Pepper Chicken is a classic Chettinad dish.
The Kanyakumari region is famous for its fish curries since the region is surrounded by the three great water bodies of Asia (Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal). Fish forms an integral part of their cuisine. Owing to its unique cultural affinity and the availability of coconut, coconut oil forms a base for almost all the preparations of the region.
Eating in the capital city of Chennai provides a glimpse of the unique lifestyle of the city. Chennai is known for its cuisine brought to the city by people who have migrated from different parts of Tamil Nadu making it a melting pot for Tamil Nadu food. Chennai has a large collection of restaurants; some of them are unique ‘Speciality Restaurants,’ which serve ‘South Indian Cuisine’, while most others cater to South Indian tiffin and meals at very reasonable prices.
For a state that grows a lot of tea, Tamil Nadu really loves its coffee; filtered coffee (mixed with milk and sugar, of course) is more readily available than tea in many cheap thali joints.