Coconuts of south India

Who Else Wants to Try South Indian Food?

What is Thali?

All over India north to south you will see thali on every menu and this traditional all you can eat meal served in compartmentalized plates is an absolute treat and every tourists dream. It features an array of breads, rice, vegetarian dishes, daal, pickles, curd and dessert and differs in every region and state that you visit. It is usually very affordable, allows you to taste many dishes at one sitting and because it is all you can eat you never go away feeling hungry. So you are probably wondering how south Indian thali is different to any other thali you can eat in India?

Banana leaf

Often your food will be served on a banana leaf in the South

South Indian Thali

South Indian Thali differs from state to state. What you will find in the southern states of Kerala will differ in Karnataka and likewise for Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. However as a general rule south Indian food uses a lot of coconut, rice and the dishes are primarily vegetarian. Non vegetarian dishes usually use seafood and chicken.

A typical south Indian thali is often served off a banana leaf or on a thali plate decorated with a leaf. Interestingly, if you are visiting a family the banana leaf can say much about the family it says which community they are from, their status, wealth and even where they originate! The leaf is spilt with the top the dips and the lower part the rice and in the middle fried items.

However usually in a restaurant it is a little more simple and the South Indian food is served on a thali plate.

The South Indian Thali Plate

So you are probably wondering what a typical South Indian Thali looks like so here goes:

Typical South Indian thali

A typical South Indian thali. All you can eat affair with lots of flavour and a real treat for the traveller. Photo by CulinaryTours

Here is a guide to the thali plate:

  • Rice (a staple of south Indian food)
  • Spicy potato (this is a popular item that is used to fill the masala dosa)
  • Pakora ( fried vegetables)
  • Kootu (coconut and lentil stew)
  • Poriyal or Kura (Dry vegetable curry)
  • Paruppu (spicy lentils)
  • Sambar (a vegetable dal)
  • Rasam (a tamarind dal flavoured with seeds)
  • Thogayal (chutney made with coconut and other herbs are often added such as coriander)
  • Payasam (rice and milk pudding)
  • Curd (to cool the palate)
  • More kulamba (cooked yoghurt curry)
  • Buttermilk chillies (fried chillies with a thick buttermilk coating)
  • Bread (often a papad or poori)

South Indian Culinary Schools

As mentioned food in the south differs from region to region so here is a quick overview when you are travelling of the differences between the tastes of the beautiful south Indian food that you will come across:


The food in Kerala displays the influence of a variety of cultures. It is where Islam and Christianity came  to India and is also the home of Ayurveda. Fish is very popular and the staple foods are rice and tapioca. Due to the diversity of the region there is a large range of both vegetarian and non vegetarian food and due to the state being on the coast there is an abundance of fish and it’s tropical location means coconut and spices are a staple.

Andhra Pradesh

The food is usually vegetarian but along the coast seafood is eaten. Rice is a staple and vegetables are flavoured with coconut, spices and fresh herbs. They use both spices and chillies heavily in the food and curd is eaten to cool the palate. Dessert is often payasam (rice and milk pudding) or sheer khurma (delicacy with dried fruit and nuts)


Fish and coconut are dominant ingredients used in Karnataka and each within the state have interpreted these ingredients in their own way. You will find when you eat a thali that there is usually kosambari pickle, palya, gojju, rice with ghee, thoyyee, chitranna, curd rice, raita dessert.

Tamil Nadu

The staples are vegetarian and reliant on rice. Food is eaten off a banana leaf containing rice, vegetables, curd, pickle, rasam (tamarind dal with seeds), sambar (vegetable dal), nariyal ki chutney (coconut chutney). The food is spicy, oily aromatic and tamarind, asafetida are used to sour the food while mustard seeds and curry leaves are popular.  Much of the population of Tamil Nadu are vegetarian but those that are not eat a lot of fish and will eat varuval which is a popular dry dish of onion and spices with either vegetables, chicken or fish.

So go thali your way around South India it is a treat on the tastebuds

Map of states of South India

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