A trip to the Cultural Capital of the South had the band of friends enthused. Food was the first thing on our minds and for a change the vegans had beaming smiles. 

In the words of Albert Camus - you always get exaggerated notions about things you don't know anything about. This should explain the behaviour of a few of us who when required to make a call on vegetarian dining options, invariably think South Indian. 

Variety is the spice of life and spice the variety in the case of peninsular India. The region has a rich cuisine that offers choice non-vegetarian as well as vegetarian dishes composed from any imaginable combination of native fruits, vegetables, lentils, dried red chillies, coconut, tamarind, plantain, garlic and ginger. Rice finds favour as the staple and is realised in many avatars – idlis, dosas, appams, puttu and much more. 

Tamil cuisine broadly spans Chettinad, Kongunadu, Nanjilnadu and Madurai and its surrounding districts – the four erstwhile divisions of Tamilakam – a single cultural area, where Tamil was the natural language and culture of all people. 
Chettinad cuisine explores meats as varied as mutton, fish, prawn and lobster and techniques and spices from the Chettiar community’s historic forays to the Southeast. Far from the coast, Kongunadu cuisine plays with cereals, pulses, dates and plantain spruced by spices. The mildly spiced cuisine of the Nadar community of Nanjilnadu glories in the bounty of fresh seafood. Madurai and its surrounding districts along with dishing out orthodox pure vegetarian fare, venture bravely forth into the non-vegetarian territory too. 

Most traditional dishes are prepared as elaborately as they were centuries ago, served on formal occasions in the traditional style on a banana leaf. Tamil cuisine classifies food into six tastes - sweet, sour, salt, bitter, pungent and astringent and recommends that all of these six tastes be included in each main meal of the day. Each taste balances out the other and makes for wholesome nutrition while balancing the appetite and ensuring proper digestion. 

Chennai’s culinary disciplines are perfected with every ‘i’ dotted, every ‘t’ crossed and every meal polished off with a delicate roll of paan. Head to ITC Grand Cholafor the best Chennai has to offer – from the most exquisite coffee decoctions atCafe Mercara to impeccably prepared regional gastronomic gems at the Madras Pavilion.