South-Indians and their rice.
It’s a love story that pre-dates any other love story you’ve ever heard.
You can take a South-Indian out of South-India, but you can’t take the rice out of their tiffin carrier. (Their mothers will make sure of it!)
People may say that the climatic conditions of the south of the country contributed to rice becoming a staple part of the diet, and they wouldn’t be wrong.
But that’s just geography and facts.
The relationship between a South-Indian and their rice is so much more than that—it’s emotional.
That’s why so many South-Indian dishes are made with rice as the central theme.
What else are you supposed to consume the 20,000 varieties of rasam and 15,000 varieties of sambaar with? Not to mention the pappu, khozumbus, and various thokkus/thogayals and other such rice-love affirming treats.
And hello, exactly what else do you think you were going to crush that poppadom on?
Then there’s rice itself. You know it’s love when you’ve invented different versions of rice to consume, just so that you can feel like you’re consuming different-different dishes while staying true to your one and only.
That’s why apart from the curry-aided versions, you also
have pongal, bisibele bath, lemon rice, tomato rice, tamarind rice, coconut rice, mango rice, and (our favourite even though we’re not supposed to have favourites but we do) biriyani!
Honestly, pretty much any ingredient you can think of, there is bound to be some version of a rice dish of it.
It’s no joke—South-Indians love rice so much, they’ve gone and made rice dishes for different meals of the day, so that you have an excuse to have rice for all three meals plus tiffin. (Like you needed an excuse! Poda!)
Think about it though:
Breakfast—everything from pongal and bisibelebath, to chitranna and rice bath.
Lunch—steamed rice/ghee rice/pulao/(insert random vegetable/ingredient) rice, and 50,000 curries as options,
and curd rice/mosranna for lining the tummy. Tiffin/Evening Snack—usually the same as breakfast items.
Dinner— same as lunch.
And then there’s biriyani, which you can have for all three meals, as far as we’re concerned. (YES, breakfast too!)
But we really weren’t kidding when we said the love for rice wasn’t a joking matter in the south.
If they’re not consuming it in its ‘pure’ form, South- Indians have found ways to disguise their rice consumption, so that they don’t seem like complete starch psychos.
Enter idli, dosa, neer dosa, sannas, appams, iddiyappams, and all the other rice-batter beauties. We could go on and on about these rice-origin dishes too, but let’s switch back to the pure form for now. (The purest form of rice-joy, of course, being biriyani.)
At this point, we feel obliged to explain our shameless (but loving) biriyani plugs throughout. All this talk about rice got us excited about The Permit Room’s version of the classic Nalli Biriyani.
Our version is a slow-cooked spicy lamb shank biriyani, layered with a short-grain aromatic rice, and served with the ever-essential accompaniment, onion raita.
If the meat doesn’t fall off the bone, and the fragrance of the rice doesn’t make you cry happy tears, we’ll change our name. That’s a promise.
Seriously though, ask a South-Indian to recall the earliest sounds they remember.
It’ll probably be suprabathams, Subbalakshmi, and steam escaping from a pressure cooker.
So, what is it about rice that makes it such a celebrated and integral part of South-Indian cuisine?
Maybe it’s the geography, maybe it’s the sheer variety of rice dishes, maybe it’s the marvellous way in which a seemingly tasteless dish can instantly transform the flavour of another, maybe it’s the memory of the first meal your mother/father/ajji/ajja fed you. Or maybe it’s all of these things combined.
Like we said at the start, in the southern part of the
subcontinent, rice is an emotion.