Sambar is a South Indian lentil soup that is rich in consistency with tangy, mild, sweet, and aromatic flavors. The traditional recipe, handed over by generations, uses home ground spices cooked with tamarind extract, lentils, sliced onions, tomato puree, and diced assorted veggies and tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves.Browse cuisine
Mutton Goat Meat Biryani
Mutton biryani is a typical dish served during celebrations such as weddings in South India. It consists of basmati rice cooked simultaneously with an array of spices and goat meat. The unique combinations of South Indian spices and masala gives the unique flavor, aroma and taste.Browse cuisine
Absolutely everything in South Indian cuisine is made from scratch. I come from Tamil Nadu — which neighbors the state of Kerala, the land of coconuts. Coconut is one of our most-used ingredients in the South. Every state will use it in a slightly different way, in Kerala, they will make theirs into a milk, in my state, we will grind it into a paste — in the end, it’s the same ingredient, but the way it’s added makes a huge difference in the flavors that come out in each recipe. South Indian meals are highly balanced, you will always have a carb, a protein, and a green. And every spice or green we use has a medicinal property to it — to help your brain, to strengthen you if you are sick, to aid with digestion — that goes back to generations of Indians before us.
"We are either grinding (our spices), fermenting (rice + lentils for dosas + idli’s), or dry-roasting (chilis) our ingredients. That makes for a huge difference in flavor."
If I think about my childhood, there will be one hot box in the center. A hot box is kind of like an American casserole dish, but inside is a steel bowl with insulation to keep the food hot. Every dinner table will have a few hot boxes, there will be idlis, dosas, some sort of kulambu (curry) with mixed veg, onions, and tomato, and my favorite, a tangy, spicy, salty, chutney. For Tamil gatherings, meals are served on a large banana leaf at the center of the table, each dish has a very specific order, beginning with salt and ending with payasam (rice pudding) to drink. The order matters, and it makes sense because each builds off the other in flavor, digestion, and medicinal order. Now, every night in my household, we eat dinner together.
"Food is something that, for us, is like connecting to the soul. When I miss my family, when I'm sad, when I'm happy, food heals."
One thing I am really happy about is that I’m doing something that I was missing when I was pregnant or sick. I wasn’t able to get the food that I ate when I was growing up because we don’t have many authentic South Indian restaurants here and my family was back in Tamil Nadu. I know many people who are missing family. We miss our homes and being able to eat our mother’s food. I am happy that I am able to share that with people here. I received a review that said “I am pregnant and your food reminded me of my mom’s,” that comment reminded me of my purpose, it was an amazing full-circle moment for me.
Back in India, we didn’t have machines, refrigerators, blenders, or anything until the late 90s. So that meant that our produce was always fresh and that we would grind everything by hand in a attukal ammikal (a very large mortar and pestle. We had no ovens or stoves, so we cooked over the fire pit, and that gives such an amazing flavor. I feel really proud of what we have created as Indians. It’s spices, spices that so many people are familiar with around the world, but it’s the way we brought them to life that creates the unique flavors that make our cuisine special, and it is special to me to be able to represent that here in a new country.
Be sure to check out Mayura (Sanskrit for elegance and grace), an incredible South Indian spot that specializes in the cuisine of Kerala, and is also a favorite of many LA shefs.
Definitely make time to stop by Little India on Artesia Blvd for some of the best markets and meals LA has to offer. (Warning: Parking can be tough, but carpooling/public transit makes it easier)
You’ll want to head over to Banana Leaf LA for some of the best authentic South Indian food in the city. The team at Banana Leaf strives to give away 5 free meals a day to support their community, and serves some of the prettiest and most natural food you can find in the area.