Tamil new year’s day is called as Chithirai thiru naal. It is the first day of traditional Tamil solar calender month. It is celebrated on 13th or 14th of April every year and this year it was today – Friday the 13th. Well, that may be sound like a scary duo combination of date and day for many but for us the Tamils, today marks the beginning of a new year a beginning to refresh old memories and make new ones. Today we make elaborate meals, spend time with family, share laughter and pray to God for good health, peace and happiness. It marks the beginning of spring. At this time of the year, neem flowers would blossom in South Indian homes and first batch of mangoes will hang in the trees. Hence in most Tamil homes, there will be veppampoo rasam (South Indian soup (onion or chicken) with neem flowers) and pacha mangai pachadi (mango chutney sweetened with jaggery) in the Tamil new year’s feast. These dishes symbolize the arrival of Spring, a month to signify growth and prosperity as per Tamil traditions.
We see the mirror as the first thing in the morning of Tamil New year and we pray to God with rice, lentils, beans, fruits and vegetables, gold, jaggery, tamarind, cash and currency. Top right: That’s my son doing namaskaram (seeking blessing from his dad). Bottom right: Late morning we offer “sakkara pongal” as a prasad to God and pray reciting slokas.
World’s civilizations emerged along the rivers. Yes, rivers play a major role for the growth and sustenance of a human population. It is a known fact that every civilization emerged and grew because of food. Such is a role of food in a community. Any festival in any part of the world is related to great food. Tamil Nadu has a rich cuisine involving both traditional vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The menu predominately revolves around the use of rice, legumes and lentils. Most dishes made in Southern part of India are gluten free. Lentils are used to make sambhar or rasam (thengai paal, tangy) and eaten as an accompaniment to rice. Tamarind, a fruit pulp from the tamarind tree is used as a souring agent in cooking. Lots of vegetables and milk based products like yogurt (homemade yogurt), buttermilk (spiced buttermilk) are also eaten along with rice.
Rasam and moor (buttermilk)
On special days like today, traditional Tamil dishes are cooked just like the way our ancestors cooked – elaborate and lip smacking good. The food is served on a banana leaf and we eat the food with right hands, holding the food between the fingers and thumb is used to navigate the food into the mouth. The food is eaten sitting on the floor.
Spicy potato curry and green mango chutney
Once while devouring a scrumptious South Indian meal, my grandfather told this to me. Those words are etched in my heart forever. I was in grade 5 when this conversation happened. He started like this “Why does leaves look green?”. “The green color of any leaf is because of chlorophyll” I replied.”Wonderful!, that’s a known fact. But did you know that chlorophyll present in banana leaf favors digestion and helps to heal stomach ulcers.” I nodded with excitement to hear more so that I can go back to Chennai after the summer break to flaunt about the stories and facts I learned from him. He continued “Also banana leaf has the quality to kill the microorganism in food. Eating on a banana leaf can prolong a person’s longevity.” I don’t whether that’s a myth or fact but my great grandmother (my grandfather’s mother) was alive till 96 and she ate on a banana leaf on most days. Isn’t that something to think about? Every time there is a occasion at home, my dad would insist on eating the meal over a banana leaf.
(a). It’s use and throw, makes it easier for women and also maid at home. No time spent on washing
(b). It’s affordable and
(c). He loves the smell that erupts from the banana leaf when hot food is placed. That aroma has the ability to trigger hunger in your tummy. That’s interesting right?
Okra sambhar and carrot-beans stir fry
Today my mom and I cooked Virundhu Sappatu. Virundhu in Tamil means “feast” and Sappadu means “a full course meal”. We made close to 10 dishes (including white rice) today and since new year day is significant to Hindu calender, the meals are always vegetarian. The dishes are served in a particular order and in particular spots of the banana leaf. The top half of the banana leaf is served with sides and lower half for the rice, sweet pongal, thalicha paruppu (lentils seasoned with spices) and payasam (milk based puddings). In the top left of the leaf, we place a pinch of salt, little pickle and a spoonful of salad/ thayir pachadi, or a dash of thogayal. In the upper middle of the leaf, there would be couple of poriyals (stir fries) and curries. Plantain, yam/potato chips, vathals (wafers) or appalam/pappadam (papads) or vadais are served on the lower left corner. If you had noticed in cuisines like French, Italian, Mediterranean desserts are eaten as a last thing in the meal but in India, any feast begins with a sweet. Yes, traditionally sweets are eaten first. This is preceded by rice with sambhar and drizzle of ghee. This is followed by rice with moor kozhambhu or vatha kozhambhu and then rice with rasam. A final round would be rice with yogurt/curd or buttermilk. A ripen banana will be served as the last thing in the meal. Burp!
There is a reason behind this order
(a). Lentil with ghee is eaten first as it soothens the stomach and the food pipe (esophagus)
(b). Sambhar is taken to tickle your taste bud with spicy, tangy, mild sweetness and since it will be little gritty, they can create a roughness in the food pipe.
(c). Rasam is eaten to favor digestion for the foods that has been eaten before.
(d). Finally buttermilk or yogurt to provide the body with good bacteria (probiotics) and also helps to lower body heat.
Since I couldn’t find a decent looking banana leaf this week, I went ahead and bought the other one (dried version). Tamil new year’s day menu in our home: I served the meal in “thaiya ellai” (hand stitched dry leaves) instead of banana leaf.
- Sakkara pongal (Sweetened rice and lentil dish topped with oodles of ghee)
- Uluntha vadai (deep fried savory donutes made with lentils)
- Carrot – beans poriyal (stir fry)
- Pacha mangai pachadi ( green mango chutney)
- Urullai varuval (Spicy potato curry)
- Thakali pachadi (Tomato chutney in yogurt)
- Javvarasi vathal (Semolina wafers)
- Arachivitta Vendaikai sambhar (Okra cooked with lentils, tamarind and spice powders)
- Vengaya rasam (Onion rasam)
- Thallicha moor (Buttermilk)
- Mangai inchi urukai (Mango ginger pickle)