The Traditional Utensils of Chettinad

On April 17, 2017

The cuisine of Chettinad has established itself as a worthy opponent to be reckoned with among the various other dishes of India. The old rustic charm of the Chettinad region and its multitude of palatial mansions are not the only reasons why the rich Chettiars of the state of Tamil Nadu became so famous; their aromatic cuisine is something worth trying out at least once in your lifetime, and once you have tried it out, you will only want more!

It’s believed that the cuisine is made special by the fact that they use freshly roasted and stone-ground spices for each meal prepared by the ‘acchis’ or the old women presiding over the meals prepared in the huge kitchens of a Chettiar’s home. During the ancient times, the meals were predominantly vegetarian, but with the Chettiars increased travelling to different parts of the region, they introduced non-vegetarian foods to their diet, cooked to suit the Chettinad taste. The robust aroma of a Chettinad meal is famous not only in India, but other parts of the world too. The use of coconut is not so common and the use of oil is minimal; it’s the spices used that give it the full-bodied medley of flavors.

Iron blades were used to cut the vegetables and traditional stone hand grinders were used to pound the freshly-roasted spices into powder. For preparing the wet dough for their snacks and breakfast dishes like ‘idli’, ‘dosa’ and ‘vada’, they also used stone hand grinders of different shapes. And as you can guess, the stone grinder was a very important part of every kitchen as it was needed to grind spices newly for each meal!

Traditionally, Indians have been cooking in clay pots over the centuries and the Chettiars will swear to you that the best way to cook is still in these clay pots for that earthy flavor that sets their foods apart. But that’s not to say that they didn’t use metal cooking ware; cast iron and copper pots and pans were also popular in their kitchen. Interestingly, a visit to the antique market in Karaikudi in the Chettinad region would yield quite a number of these types of pots which are now out of fashion, what with the current craze over non-stick utensils.

A multitude of beautifully preserved enamel-coated cast iron cooking utensils as well as serving dishes can be easily unearthed among the multitude of items in these antique shops and were probably a part of some young brides’ dowry! Clay jars were used by them to store food items in their huge kitchens designed to feed a dozen or more.