The Traditional Way Of Serving A South Indian Meal
The holistic South Indian meal experience is not just about cooking and eating – because, one of the salient features of South Indian cuisine is the importance paid to an intermediary step, namely, serving… with love and care. In fact, if you pre-serve all the dishes of a South Indian meal on a plate and place it in front of an orthodox South Indian, he or she will feel very offended and ask if you are serving them a ‘railway meal’!
Food is an important part of South Indian culture and there are guidelines for every aspect of it – right up to how the food should be served and of course, the unsaid rules about how the served food is to be consumed. It is good to follow these guidelines because they ensure that you reap every drop of the satisfaction that comes out of cooking a good meal and watching loved ones savour it!
A traditional South Indian meal is typically served on a freshly plucked banana leaf or “vazha ilai”. The sappad or food that is served on a banana leaf (even the size of the leaf varies from one community to another) is displayed like an identity card. One look and a guest will know the community, the status, the exact wealth of the family, and from where they originate. Normally, the required size of the leaf starting from the tapering (narrow) end of the leaf is cut, washed and used for lunch. (The rest of the leaf may be cut into required sizes and used for “tiffin” or other lighter meals, but normally, a leaf without the tapering end is not used for serving the main meal, especially during auspicious occasions.) The leaf is placed before the diner such that the tapering end of the leaf is on the left hand side.
First, a drop of the payasam is placed on the right side of the leaf (when seen from the diner’s side). Thereafter, the food is served on the leaf starting from the pacchadi (raita) Doodhi Pachadi which is served on the top right corner. This is followed by the curries Avial and then the pickles Ginger Pachdi, along the top of the leaf. On the left hand side, one has the heavier accessories like vada Dal Vada, sweets Pineapple Sheera, mixed rice ( Lemon Rice, Coconut Rice etc.) etc. Then, the main course begins with the serving of dal Kerala Parippu, rice and ghee, with Sambhar and Rasam. And then, the payasam Moong Dal Payasam is served in a cup made of dried banana leaves or on the main leaf itself, followed by Curd Rice and buttermilk.
After finishing the meal, relatives and friends normally gather outside the dining hall or in the front yard, and chat over a slight digestion-aiding snack of bananas and betel leaves and nuts.
Well, you guessed it right… who can resist a refreshing siesta after such a heavy meal!