Tandoori, butter chicken, naan bread, and rich vegetable curries are all great, yet they represent only a small portion of the country’s extensive culinary options. You must also travel south to get the full picture. South Indian foods are considerably different, with dishes that are steamed, spicy, and flavored with coconut.
Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Karnataka are all South Indian states with their own variations on popular foods as well as regional delicacies.
Popular South Indian Foods and Desserts
Here are 30+ meals to try if you’re new to South Indian foods.
Rice and wheat are the two most popular grains among Indians, with rice topping the list. Indians have converted this basic grain into a cornucopia of sweet and savory delicacies, unlike any other culture on the planet.
The simple dosa is a testament to the people of this country’s unending love affair with rice.
Dosa is a traditional South Indian breakfast consisting of crispy crepes cooked from lentil batter and fermented rice. It is typically put onto a thin crispy crepe and paired with lentil stew known as sambar, mashed spicy potatoes, and coconut chutney.
Vada is an Indian category of savory fried appetizers. Different varieties of vadas include cutlets, donuts, fritters, and dumplings. Wada, vadai, wadeh, vade, and bara are some more names for this cuisine.
Vadas are made from legumes. The lentils (dal) are soaked in water before being ground into a batter.
The batter is subsequently seasoned with additional ingredients such as cumin seeds, onion, curry leaves (which are sometimes sautéed beforehand), salt, chilies, or black pepper grains.
In stores, ginger, and baking soda are usually added to the seasoning to boost the fluffy texture and facilitate fermentation for large batches.
The mixture is then formed into vadas and deep-fried, resulting in crispy skin and a fluffy middle. They are commonly referred to as “Southern savory donuts.”
Idli or idly is a delectable rice cake from Southern India that is a common morning meal in Sri Lanka and Southern India. Steaming a batter of fermented black lentils and rice produces the cakes.
Each region has its own variant, which usually comes with coconut chutney and sambar (spiced lentil stew).
Button idli, sanna idli, rava idli, tatte idli, and masala idli are some of the newer varieties.
Appam is a sort of South Indian pancake prepared with coconut milk and fermented rice batter that is popular in Kerala, Sri Lanka, and Tamil Nadu.
It is most commonly consumed for breakfast or dinner. Plain appam, also known as vella appam, are thin bowl-shaped pancakes produced from fermented rice flour.
The little appachatti (appam-pan) in which they are fried gives them their form.
They are quite excellent, neither too sweet, and are eaten with the following curries: Kerala-style chickpea curry, Kerala-style mutton stew, Kerala-style chicken curry, and others.
Puttu is a breakfast meal popular in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and parts of Karnataka, and also in Sri Lanka. In Tamil and Malayalam, puttu means “portioned”.
It is a steamed cylinder of pulverized rice topped with coconut shavings, occasionally with a sweet or savory filling.
Puttu is typically served hot with sweet side dishes such as palm sugar or banana, or with curries like dal, chickpea, fish, chicken, mutton, or cow curry.
Puttu is made primarily of finely ground rice, a pinch of salt, grated coconut, and water. It is mostly seasoned with cumin, but other spices can be used.
Sambar is a spicy and tangy lentil-based stew filled with vegetables like drumsticks, eggplant, and carrots.
It’s flavored with a unique blend of spices and tamarind, making it a staple dish served with dosa, idli, and rice.
Chakarai pongal or chakkara pongali is commonly prepared in temples as prasadam (a god offering).
This pongal is traditionally prepared during the Pongal festival in Tamil Nadu and the Sankranthi festival in Andhra Pradesh.
Coconut, rice, and mung bean are all possible ingredients. Chakarai Pongal is usually sweetened with jaggery, giving the pongal a brown tint, but it can also be sweetened with white sugar.
Pongal is classified into two types: sweet chakarai pongal and venn pongal, which are prepared from clarified butter. Pongal is a common morning meal that mainly refers to spicy venn pongal.
South Indian biryani is a fragrant rice dish cooked with aromatic spices, vegetables, and sometimes meat.
It’s a celebration of flavors and is often enjoyed on special occasions.
9. Lemon Rice
Lemon rice is a zesty and quick dish made by mixing cooked rice with lemon juice, mustard seeds, curry leaves, and turmeric. It’s a light and tangy option, perfect for a simple meal.
10. Banana chips
It’s typical to see roadside kiosks frying up and selling packets of brilliant yellow crispy banana slices. In South India, banana chips are a common snack.
Thin circular banana slivers are deep-fried, commonly in coconut oil. They are sometimes covered in jaggery. These salty crackers with a subtle coconut flavor make an excellent teatime snack.
11. Malabar parotta
Tired of vegetarian food? Try some scorching Keralan foods. Parottas are flaky, stacked flour flatbreads.
Serve with erachi varattiyathu (Kerala-style dry beef fry), an exceedingly spicy and tasty meal of beef pieces fried with black pepper, coconut, ground spices, and chilies.
Nothing like a warm tumbler of South Indian filter coffee to get your day started. Coffee experts will agree that the south does kaapi better than anywhere else in India.
Roasted, ground, and sometimes blended with chicory beans from southern Indian coffee-growing districts such as the Malabar, Nilgiris, and the hills of Karnataka.
The coffee is then boiled in a steel filter, blended with hot milk, and poured rapidly from a considerable height between two tumblers to create a frothy strong drink that is served in a stainless steel glass.
Pesarattu, pesara dosa, pesara attu, or cheeldo is a crepe-like bread similar to dosa that originated in Andhra Pradesh, India. It is prepared with green gram batter but does not contain urad dal like dosa.
It’s usually accompanied by ginger or tamarind chutney. Other variations include green chiles, ginger, and onions.
A pesarattupma is a pesarattu served with upma. It is widely used in South Indian cities. Pesarattupma is a popular dish in coastal Andhra Pradesh, particularly in the Godavari, Guntur, Nellore, Krishna, and Vishakapatnam districts.
14. Coconut Rice
Coconut rice is made by immersing white rice in coconut milk or by boiling rice with coconut flakes. Coconut rice is widespread in the tropics all over the world because both coconut and rice are available.
Coconut rice is popular in India’s southern areas. Coconut rice is widely eaten with curries and is typically made from short-grain rice with subtle coconut flavors obtained from coconut milk.
It can also be made with grated or desiccated/dry coconut (or coconut flakes).
Make the rice separately and then combine it with the coconut milk (toasted coconut flakes in sesame/coconut oil and flavored with nuts, curry powder/leaves, paprika, and other spices).
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15. Beans carrot Poriyal/Thoran
Poriyal/Thoran is a South Indian vegetable stir fry that is typically seasoned with red chile, mustard, curry leaf, and lentils.
In this example, it refers to a popular southern Indian dish that consists of fresh carrots and tender beans stir-fried and tossed in freshly shredded coconut with mustard, curry leaf, and red chili tempering.
This meal is a favorite in many South Indian households, and it goes well with chapati, poori, rice, and parottas.
Patrode/Patrodo/Patra/Patrodu is a vegetarian meal from India’s western coast (Tulunad). Adaptations can be found in Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Bihar, where it is known as rikvach, as well as in other parts of India under different names.
Patrodé in Tulunad, chembila appam in Kerala, patrodo in Maharashtra (particularly in Malvan) patra in Gujarat, and Goa, patrode in coastal Karnataka, and patrodu in Himachal Pradesh are all names for it.
It is made from colocasia leaves (chevu in Tulu, kesuve, taro, orarbi) that have been stuffed with rice flour or gram and flavors like tamarind, spices, and jaggery (raw sugar).
17. Palkatti Chettinadu
The paal-katti chettinad curry dish is a paneer gravy made in the style of Tamil Nadu-Chettinad. It is a recipe derived from traditional chettinad-style curry. This meal is bursting with flavor and a must-try. For your next meal, try it with chapathis.
To make true chettinad masala, roast a mixture of spices and combine it into a smooth paste before adding it to tomato mixture and a sautéed pearl onion to give it a rich and spicy flavor. The paneer has only been boiled into the sauce.
The process of making cottage cheese or paneer is referred to as paal-katti in Tamil. It literally translates as “held milk.”
18. Curd Rice
Curd rice, also known as “Thayir Sadam,” is a soothing blend of cooked rice and yogurt.
It’s often tempered with mustard seeds and served as cooling comfort food.
Avial is a vegetable medley cooked in a creamy coconut and yogurt sauce.
It’s a harmonious blend of textures and flavors, making it a standout dish in South Indian cuisine.
20. Chicken Ishtu
Kerala-style chicken stew is a classic meal from the Indian state of Kerala. It is a very light yet tasty chicken curry prepared in coconut milk with mild spices.
It is typically prepared in Kerala’s Syrian Catholic community and served as a morning staple alongside rice hoppers (pancakes).
Cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves are combined to create a sweet yet aromatic flavor. The veggies of choice here are potatoes, beans, and carrots, which provide body and texture to the overall dish.
This dish is usually prepared with coconut oil, which raises the flavor to a whole new level.
21. Beef Ularthiyathu
Kerala beef fry is a meal comprised of onions, curry leaves, slow-roasted beef, and coconut slivers, and fried in coconut oil. In Kerala, the meal is also known as “Beef Ullarthiyathu.”
The meal is made by cooking chunks of meat in a spice mixture that includes turmeric, coriander, garam masala, shallots, ginger, black pepper, red chile, onions, and garlic.
For garnish, slivers of coconut fried in coconut oil and curry leaves are utilized. The meat is frequently softened in a pressure cooker before being slow-roasted in a spice mixture until it achieves a dry consistency.
Kerala beef fry is typically served with Kerala porotta, but in other parts of the region, such as Thrippunithara, the meal has been mixed with pazham pori or banana fritters and has grown into a popular combination in the state.
22. Konju Varutharaccha Curry
This prawn recipe is a seafood lover’s dream, packed with tasty and aromatic spice tastes. South Indian cuisine, particularly Kerala cuisine, is rich in curries and different regional flavors.
The region is well-known for its delectable fish and prawn curries made with fresh spices and coconut.
Serve this rich and scrumptious Kerala prawn curry with roti or rice at dinner parties. A delectable dish that all of your guests will enjoy.
Combine fiery spices, juicy prawns, and a warm coconut milk blend. With tantalizing, fragrant aromas of chiles, coconut, and tamarind, as well as other spices and herbs, this classic prawn curry is sure to cast a spell on your taste buds.
23. Meen Pollichathu
Meen pollichathu is a traditional Kerala meal that is prepared in coconut oil and then enveloped in a banana leaf (vazhayila). This meal is traditionally made using karimeen, or pearl spot fish.
The taste permeates the fish effectively, and the flavor of the banana leaf is divine. The fish is marinated in marinade before being pan-fried and coated in a hot masala before being securely wrapped in a banana leaf.
It is then grilled to bring out all of the flavors. It is served as a side dish and typically provides a spectacle for all the senses, which makes it a worthwhile experience to sample while in Kerala.
Cooking the fish in banana leaves imparts an earthy, one-of-a-kind taste to the dish.
24. Coorg Pandhi Curry
It gives the meal its dark, rich color and flavor and is also known as black vinegar. Coorg is well-known for its pleasant weather, picturesque hills, and coffee plantations.
All that’s required is good-quality pork with a substantial amount of fat, as fat, together with the rich flavor of the spices, lends this meal its incredible flavor.
If kachampuli is not available, it can be replaced with thick tamarind juice or limes, but the results will vary substantially.
25. Andhra Chili Chicken
A hot stewed blend of garlic, green chile, and ginger. A simple but lethal dish.
This fiery, uncomplicated dish is liked and cherished by many and eaten in the state of Andhra Pradesh, which is notorious for its spicy chilies. Served with biriyani or parotta as a side dish.
This meal is made by stewing chopped chilies with plenty of garlic and a little ginger. The chilies are cooked until mushy and begin to break down, and the sauce is finished with soy sauce, green chili sauce, and MSG.
Then, boneless chicken chunks are tossed in and poached until tender.
Hyderabadi haleem is a variety of haleem popular in Hyderabad, India. Haleem is a stew made from lentils, ground meat, and pounded wheat ground into a thick paste.
It is an Arabic dish that was introduced to Hyderabad during the reign of the Nizams. The recipe calls for a blend of grains such as broken wheat, rice, and even oats, as well as exotic spices and herbs such as rose petals and saffron.
Because it gives rapid energy and is heavy in calories, it is popular in the month of Ramadan for Iftar (the evening food that ends the day-long fast). As a result, the meal has become synonymous with Ramadan.
27. Gongura Maas
Gongura mutton is a traditional Andra Pradesh dish. It is considered to be one of the most famous and traditional Andra dishes.
The gongura leaves used in this recipe give the meal its distinct flavor. The tartness of the gongura leaves gives the mutton curry a distinct flavor.
The mutton is pan-fried after marinating in spices such as salt, green chili paste, cumin, turmeric powder, coriander powder, ginger, garlic paste, and oil.
The gongura leaves are then cooked till soft with cinnamon sticks, cloves, cumin seeds, cardamom, pepper, red chilis, onions, green chilis, ginger, and garlic paste. Finally, before serving, the cooked mutton is put into the gongura leaves and stirred well.
28. Nalli Mamsam
Mutton Nalli is a spicy and savory meal made from goat shanks. When the bone marrow is cooked, it is squeezed out and served with the curry.
It is a very traditional dish that is only offered on rare occasions like festivals or weddings.
It entails braising the shanks in a rich tomato-based curry seasoned with cinnamon, black pepper, red chile, onions, tomatoes, and garlic until they are tender. This recipe goes well with chapati, rice, and parottas.
29. Pork Vindaloo
Vindaloo, also known as vindalho, is a Goan curry dish inspired by the Portuguese cuisine carne de vinha d’alhos. It is well-known throughout the world as a mainstay of curry house and Indian restaurant menus in its British Indian form, and is frequently viewed as a fiery, spicy meal.
The classic recipe calls for marinated pork in vinegar and garlic, however beef, prawns, chicken, mutton, and vegetables can be substituted.
This dish arose from a Portuguese custom of preserving meat by stacking layers of pork and garlic alternately and coating them with red wine; this method was eventually adopted by the local Goan population, who transformed it into the dish we all know and enjoy today.
The meat in the British Indian form of vindaloo is marinated in fresh ginger, vinegar, sugar, and spices before being cooked with more spices.
30. Chicken 65
Chicken 65 is a spicy, deep-fried chicken delicacy served as an entrée or quick snack at Hotel Buhari in Chennai, India. The dish’s flavor can be ascribed to red chilies, however, the actual ingredients for the recipe may differ.
It is typically served with an onion and lemon garnish and can be made with boneless or bone-in chicken. Vegetarian variations, such as “Paneer 65” or “Gobi 65,” substitute paneer or cauliflower.
There is significant discussion as to why the dish is referred to as Chicken 65.
Some believe the number 65 relates to the 65 distinct spices or chili peppers used in the dish; others say it was invented in 1965; and still, others say it is called Chicken 65 because it is prepared from a bird that is only 65 days old.
31. Mysore paak
Mysore paak is a ghee-based Indian dessert. It began in Mysuru, one of the biggest cities in the Indian state of Karnataka. It’s made with a lot of ghee, gram flour, sugar, and sometimes cardamom.
Depending on the variant, the feel of this sweet can be compared to a buttery and thick cookie or a creamy milky fudge.
It is cooked and served at weddings and other celebrations throughout southern India, and it is a favorite at baby showers.
South Indian cuisine is a celebration of flavors, spices, and the art of combining simple ingredients to create extraordinary dishes.
From dosa to Mysore paak, these 30+ popular South Indian foods and desserts offer a glimpse into the diverse and mouthwatering world of South Indian gastronomy.