Feeling totally overwhelmed with all your kind messages and comments! Thank-you all for your support smile emoticon #happyfriday #eelam #tamil #foodie#tamilfood #gratitude #blessing
Count your blessings, not your calories – especially if you are eating appam!
I just wanted to thank-you all for your support so far, I’ve been receiving many emails and messages about the blog recently, and I just wanted you all to know I really appreciate it! 🙂
In my previous post, I talked about food and Tamil Sangam literature. Hearing all your interest in Tamil history and culture made me do a little more digging about how this food connected with Siddha medicine, a form of medicine that was part of ancient Tamil civilization.
Diet probably plays one of the most important roles in our daily life and health. Our diets should be as such that we maintain equilibrium of vatham, pitham and kabham. There is that Tamil saying “Unavae marunthu; marunthae unavu” which means food is medicine, medicine is food. Thiruvalluvar talks about this in the Thirrukural. Siddha medicine talks about how we should consume foods in balance, and according to our land.
In my previous post, I spoke about how according to Sangam poetry, land is organized in to five geographical areas (nilam), with food particular to each area described. Eating habits are largely formed by what is grown in these different areas; native produce are incorporated to diet more frequently than non-native produce.
Siddha medicine, an ancient Tamil form of medicine generally predicted disease based on these five geographical lands (nilam) that were outlined in Sangam poetry. Three types of human equilibrium are needed to maintain good health. Marutham nilam is known to be the ideal area to live for optimal health. The three uyir thathukkal (life forces) in siddha medicine are vaatham (air and space), pitham (fire and heat) and kabham (earth and water). Different geographical areas are known to cause an onset of diseases based on these three life forces.
Within the three life forces, there are sub types which control food related functionalities. For instance, kirugaran, a type of vatham is responsible for taste and appetite, anala pitham, a type of pitham is responsible for digestion and kilaetham a type of kabham is responsible for aiding digestion.
Kurinji (Hilly Area)
Kurinji areas were largely formed by mountains and other hills. The diseases prevalent in this areas are vatham related which include diseases in bone, skin bladder, umbilical cord, thigh, nerves, joints and hair roots.
Mullai (Wooded Area)
Mullai areas were largely forested areas. The diseases prevalent in this areas are pitham and vatham related which include vatham diseases in bone, skin bladder, umbilical cord, thigh, nerves, joints and hair roots and pitham related, which have to do with body heat including sweat, lymph nodes, heart, blood, saliva, eye, and skin related.
Marutham (Agricultural Area)
Murutham areas were largely fields and this was thought to be the best place for health.
Neithal (Coastal Area)
Neithal areas were largely areas with ocean and seas in its surrounding. The diseases prevalent in this areas are vatham related which include diseases in bone, skin bladder, umbilical cord, thigh, nerves, joints and hair roots.
Paalai (Dry Area)
Paalai areas are dry and deserted. These areas are said to be the least ideal for healthy living and contain all three elements and all of the vaatham, pitham, kabham related diseases.
These geographical areas as a division related to health is interesting to think of. As many of us Eelam Tamils are no longer living in Eelam and are now part of the Tamil diaspora, we can think about how these geographical areas and their related diseases may play a role in the countries we currently live in. However, with all the urbanization and man made physical alternations, it is hard to tell what type of ecozone we live in, and how that falls into the five types of land. Furthermore, the five types of land were contained as part of areas occupied by ancient Tamil civilization, which would exclude sub-arctic type ecozones in North America.
Since I live in Toronto, I just looked up a little bit of background on the land of Toronto. Toronto sits on land that is identified as “mixedwood plains ecozone.” According to Natural Resources Canada, Toronto is actually named based on the word “Tkaronto which means “where there are trees standing in the water”. Mohawks used the phrase to describe The Narrows, where Hurons and other natives drove stakes into the water to create fish weirs.” Rayburn, Alan (1994): Canadian Geographic -September/October ’94. Ottawa, pp. 68-70.
Its land is described as a plateau with many rivers, valleys, rolling hills and is home to over 10 million trees, and 1600 parks over 8000 hectares of ravine, valleys, parks, etc. Toronto sits on sedimentary rock. The deposits from all the glaciers and ice underneath make the soil in Toronto one of the most productive and fertile soils in Canada. It seems like Toronto’s ecozone is as diverse as its people and contains different aspects of all five types of land described.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about Siddha medicine and how that may affect disease.
When I was younger, in elementary school, I use to feel embarrassed bringing my lunchbox of iddiyapa mix or biriyani to school. Although I grew up in Toronto, the area I grew up in did not have many Tamil children. Yet, my mom insisted that we bring Tamil food for lunch, and this meant being the one of the few kids my class with something different for lunch. When I think about it now, I feel sad that I was embarrassed of bringing my cultural food to school. However, after starting to cook, I have a new appreciation for our cooking. Today, my coworkers can attest to this, I am very proud to bring my own home cooked Tamil dishes to work. Here’s just some brief points of what Sangam literature says about cooking.
Sangam literature has been one of the greatest accounts in documenting ancient Tamil life. According to Sangam poetry, the land was organized in to five geographical areas, with food particular to each area described. Eating habits are largely formed by what is grown in these different areas; native produce are incorporated to diet more frequently than non-native produce. In most areas however, rice, idli, dosai, puttu, idiyappam and appam remain staple basics.
There is also much information about food habits of Tamils that are chiseled on Temple walls. Through these epigraphs on temple walls, you can see how sacrificing and fasting became integral parts of religion and worship. My husband and I talk a great deal about traditions and how they are intertwined with religion in order to make more people follow them. For example, fasting is cleansing to the body, and fasting from eating meat is also a way to stretch money further as meat was (and still is) costlier than vegetarian items. If you are able to impart that fasting should be done for religious reasons, people are more likely to follow than when you tell them it is just good for them.
There are also many Tamil food habits that were based in medicine. For example, taste is classified into six groups, and foods are classified as hot or cold. This classification of hot or cold is integral when preparing food during times of illness or preparing meals at different times of the day. Usually, when an illness is caused by one classification, the cure for it is foods from the other classification. Weather also plays an important role in this, and time of day – for instance, you may have heard from your grandmother or mother not to eat items classified as “cold” for dinner.
When preparing a meal, it is also important to keep in mind the different tastes. It is quite common to create dishes of contrasting taste – a spicy meat kulambu is often paired with a vegetarian milk curry.
There are many other little things that are important to cooking that is outlined in ancient Tamil literature and epigraphs – for instance, when cooking, you shouldn’t hold any grudges for this is believed to add distaste to the food. Oddly enough, I’ve noticed that the happier I am, the tastier my food is. Or other hygienic instructions, such as typing your hair when you cook to avoid any of it from accidently getting into the food. Even some of the spices we use regularly, like turmeric, are used to clean meat and veggies as they are antiseptic.
Hospitality is a big part of Tamil culture. When someone visits your house, you should always offer food. Whatever you have, you should offer it to your guests. You may have noticed when you visit a Tamil person’s house, you get offered so much food and tea. This is kindness and part of our culture. We should be very proud of this aspect of our culture!
The traditional way of eating Tamil food is on a banana leaf, using your hands. You start with salt and pickle (oorkai) on the far left, and then start the meal with a sweet dish, then with a series of veggie dishes, appalam, meat on the top half of the leaf. Rice is placed on the bottom half of the leaf. Tamils were always cognizant of wastage and being in harmony with the environment and nature. Banana leaves were traditionally served to cows afterwards so it would not go to waste.
There are many symbolic meanings in the way you fold the banana leaf, if you enjoyed the meal and want to maintain the relationship of the person serving you, you fold the banana leaf inwards, towards you when you complete your meal. If you did not like the meal, and do not want to maintain a relationship of the person serving you the meal, you fold outwards. This is considered quite rude, and should not be done!
Tamil cooking is an art, and based in a lot of history and tradition. This is just a small sample of Tamil food habits. I’ll try to include some more information about this in future blog posts. I hope you enjoyed reading 🙂
If you’re interested in more topics like this, check out these blog posts below:
Source Citation (MLA 7th Edition)
Baskaran, Thilaka. “Rice and ritual; the Tamil art of cooking.” UNESCO Courier Mar. 1984: 12+. Academic OneFile. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.
This makes a great energizing afternoon snack or morning breakfast. Kollu (horse gram) has many health benefits. Kollu is high in iron, fiber and is protein-rich. Kollu has been used in Ayurveda medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including asthma, kidney stones, heart disease and diabetes. I’ve found that the days I eat this for breakfast, I don’t have the feeling of wanting a snack as just 1 or two can be quite filling.
Here’s the recipe. There are many versions on this, you can probably get different variations from your mother or grandmother – from dates urundai to payaru urundai, there are many different types and ways of making this. Some people add cardamon or raisins to this, but I prefer it without.
If you are not eating it immediately, store it in an airtight container and refrigerate it. Use it within 1 or 2 days of making.
- Payaru - 1 cup (boiled)
- Kollu - 1 cup
- Jaggery - 3-4 pieces (use more if you want it sweeter)
- Oil or Ghee - 1 tablespoon
- Shredded Coconut - 1-2 tablespoon (use more if you want it sweeter)
- Soak the payaru overnight in water.
- Strain the water and grind into a paste.
- In a pan, dry roast the kollu for a few minutes, until it starts to golden. Remove from heat, let it cool and grind it into a powder.
- In another pan, add some ghee or oil (use sesame) and let the jaggery melt.
- Add the shredded coconut to this mixture.
- In a bowl, combine all the ingredients - the payaru paste, kollu and jaggery melt.
- Add some water if you need to help shape them into round balls.
- Let them sit to hold its shape and eat.
If you’re looking for a dish that is light, easy to make and packed with flavour, then this is the dish for you. You can basically use any fish fillet for this.
- Fish fillet - you can choose any kind
- Jaffna Curry powder - 1 tablespoon
- Cumin seeds - half a tablespoon
- Peppercorns - quarter tablespoon
- Salt - to taste
- Paprika - half a tablespoon
- Turmeric powder
- Ginger garlic paste - 1 tablespoon
- Onion -1 medium, cut
- Green chillies - 2
- Lime - to garnish
- Banana leaf and string
- Wash the fish throughly with turmeric powder and pat dry.
- In a bowl mix together Jaffna curry powder, ground cumin seeds, ground peppercorns, salt and paprika.
- Add ginger-garlic paste.
- Squeeze some lemon into the mixture to help turn it into a paste.
- Rub this mixture on the fish.
- Clean a banana leaf and spread some oil into it.
- Lay cut onions and green chilies over it, place the fish and cover with more onions.
- Wrap it up and put it in the oven to bake or in a steamer for 7-10 minutes at low heat.
- Remove and serve.
- Garnish with cilantro leaves.
It’s always good to balance a spicy dish with something that can offset the heat. I like making a salad from cucumber and red onions. It’s very simple, and it accompanies all dishes – especially meat dishes.
- Cucumber 2
- Red Onion 1 medium or shallots
- Cilantro - a handful
- Cut up cucumber and onions into equal sized cubes. For every two cucumbers, you want 1 medium red onion.
- Cut up cilantro - finely.
- Mix the ingredients together. Let it sit for a few minutes.
- Add 2-4 tablespoons of plain yogurt.
- Add salt and pepper.
- You can optionally add a squeeze of lime. If you do this, serve immediately.
- 1 whole chicken, cleaned and cut into cubes. Keep the bones as this enhances the flavour.
- 4-5 curry leaves
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon crushed peppercorns
- 3-4 cardamom pods
- 2-3 karambu
- 5 fenugreek seeds
- 5-0.75 tablespoon fennel seeds
- Half a cinnamon stick
- 1 whole onion sliced thinly
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 2-4 tablespoons curry powder
- 2 Roma tomatoes
- 1 potato, diced
- 1 whole garlic clove
- Mix together the chicken, half the garlic bulb and 1 teaspoon of curry powder and salt and let it sit for 30 minutes (or overnight in the fridge for maximum flavour).
- Heat oil in a pan and once warm, add the onions, potatoes, cumin powder, fenugreek seeds, karamu, and cinnamon stick and let it turn brown. Don’t let it burn, stir if needed.
- Add turmeric powder to the pan and stir.
- In a blender, mix together the peppercorns, tomatoes, half the bulb of garlic and curry powder.
- Pour this mix to the pan and mix together on low heat. Add very little water if needed. Don’t add too much water as you want a thick gravy. If it is getting too dry, add diced tomatoes.
- Add the marinated chicken and close the pan on low heat to let the juices flow for 15 minutes.
- Increase the heat on high and let it cook with the closed lid, stirring for another 10 minutes. Add more curry powder and salt if desired (if you like it spicier, add more curry powder). Alternatively, you can add green chilies if you like.
- Reduce the heat and let it cook for 10 more minutes (or longer if the chicken is not cooked. If you don’t defrost the chicken properly, you may need to cook longer).
- Add curry leaves and let it cook for a few more minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat and enjoy!
Drinking some malli thanni to prevent getting sick with all these crazy weather changes #toronto #Eelamflavour #spices #homeremedies#torontoweather #remedies #cold #flu #snowinapril
Check out this recipe and more cold recipes here.