Andhra Pradesh and Telangana

Hyderabad is a very plural city. It is a synthesis of many cultures living in harmony. Mughals, Persians, and Arab have all influenced the Hyderabadi cuisine. But it is the Telugu cuisine that has contributed most to the tang and perkiness of Hyderabadi food. It is generally hot and spicy, with liberal use of chillies and tamarind. The array of pulaos, biryanis, kababs, and kormas are the pride of Hyderabadi cuisine.

Hyderabadi vegetarian dishes have a sparkling and lively quality. The dals in Hyderabad come in several varieties. Meethi dal, khatti dal, dalcha with vegetables and meat. One of the hot favourite dals of Hyderabad is khatti dal. When people have this dal, all they want is more. Another quick and reassuringly undemanding dal from Hyderabad is lassan aur lal mirch ki arhar ki dal, which I learnt from family friend Ghulam Haider. Thikri ki dal is not only exquisite in flavour but looks highly exotic too. You can serve this dal triumphantly at parties. Another gustily flavoured dal is mutton ka dalcha with drumsticks – just the dish to bowl you over.

Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu, as also other southern states, are known for the wide range of spices such as chillies, tamarind, cloves, cardamom, pepper, and coriander. Coconut, coconut oil, curry leaves, and drumsticks are used in abundance. South Indian food has earned much fame not only in southern states, but, across the globe.

Masala dosa can be found across the world. Some other equally popular dishes include idli, sambar, vada, and uttapam. Tamil Nadu also offers many other flavourful dishes such as curd rice, upma, lemon rice, payasam, and many biryani and mutton dishes. Snacks such as banana chips and bondas are hugely popular. Some amazing dals and lentil-based dishes such as kootu, mixed dal rasam, arhar dal with vegetables, and payasam (moong dal with jaggery, flavoured with cardamom and saffron) find place in this section.


The traditional cuisine of Karnataka is known for its generous use of jaggery, palm sugar, and limited use of chilli powder. Karnataka is the mildest in terms of spice content among the five South Indian states. North Karnataka cuisine, however, is an exception and can be highly fiery and spicy. Coorg is known for its wide use of pork, meat, and game. Kokum is generously used. Coastal Karnataka makes wide-spread use of sea food, coconut, and coconut oil. Lentils and vegetables are cooked with coconut, spices and tempered with mustard, curry leaves, and asafoetida.

Karnataka offers a wide range of appetising dishes. Masala dosa, idli, and vada are said to have originated in the temple streets of the city of Udupi. Bisi Bele Huliyana is a famous and traditional dish of Karnataka. An unbelievable medley of lentils, rice and a host of vegetables, this dish finds place in the following section.


Situated on the south-west coast of India with its lush, tropical land, and tranquil backwaters, Kerala abounds in spices. Coconut, fish and prawn are available in plenty as also curry leaves, shallots and, green chillies. Vegetables such as tapioca, yam, colocasia, pumpkin, drumsticks, and banana flowers are all staples of Kerala cuisine.

Demand for pepper and other spices such as cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg drew traders from Arabia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, and China to this land. The Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English all vied with each other to capture and hold the lucrative spice trade. Many settled in Kerala. Thus, we find many Muslims, Jews, and Christians living in the state. They also strongly influenced the local cuisine. Syrian Christian and Malabari Muslim dishes are now becoming popular across the country. Malayali cuisine is characterised by its imaginative and delicate use of spices, despite their availability in plenty.

During one of our visits to Kerala, we stayed in Kumarakom Lake Resort – a popular tourist destination and famous for its lovely backwaters. While cruising on the backwaters, we came across a two-roomed hut on the bank with a beckoning sign that read “Hawaii.” A garden umbrella was perched in front, with a coarse wooden table, and four chairs. Our curiosity aroused, we sat ourselves down at the place. There was a husband-and-wife team ready to cook jumbo prawns for us, which they did right in front of us. My family gorged on the delicious prawns that the couple cooked and served.

Popular Kerala dishes include sambar, rasam, stews – vegetarian and non-vegetarian – served with appam, shrimp, and fish curries. Kerala also offers a dazzling array of biryanis. Included in the section that follows are some truly flavourful lentil-based dishes such as a spice flavoured Kerala dal, masoor dal and bitter gourd theeyal, payar thenga, muringakai theeyal, and more.

The Book of Dals

Excerpted with permission from The Book of Dals, Pratibha Karan, Penguin.