Food on the temple trail at Thanjavur

Thanjavur has more than just magnificent temples. It also has traditional vegetarian food that are both delicious and simple

On a recent trip to visit the great Chola temples in and around Thanjavur and Kumbakonam, we feasted on some delicious yet simple vegetarian fare that Southern Tamil Nadu has to offer.

For breakfast we were treated to a few of the local specialities: temple idli, also called Kancheepuram idli and kadappa. The batter was tempered with mustard seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves and red chillies and the idlis were steamed in disposable cups made of dried jackfruit leaves. The kadappa, a gravy made with moong dal, cashew and khus khus paste and chunky bits of potatoes, along with three varieties of chutneys was the perfect accompaniment.

Our chef recommended that we pair the pongal with gotsu. Piping hot Pongal made with barnyard millet (kuthiraivali) was served to us with a bowl of spicy gotsu on the side. This is a gravy made up predominantly of brinjal and freshly ground spices.

When it was time for lunch, a Vegetarian Thali was the easiest and most widely available option. In Thanjavur we devoured a vegetarian thali in Sangam Hotel, and the in Indeco Hotel in Swamimalai, near Kumbakonam, the next day. A thali lunch in this region typically starts with a basket of vadams and vaththals served with a bowlful of hot soup. Then the traditional thali is served with a dozen little cups filled with an interesting vegetarian dish.

A dal and subzi for the chappathi and a pulao along with a raita are regular features. The accompaniments for rice include poriyal, kootu, kaara kozhumbu, more kozhumbu, sambhar, rasam and curd. The meal ends with a cupful of payasam.

For dinner, Hotel Svatma in Thanjavur offers a tasting menu of either four or seven courses. Each course is carefully curated and plated by the head chef, Vimal. This includes a soup, salad, snack, two main dishes, a side dish and dessert. On the day we visited Svatma, our menu was milagu rasam, karamani sundal, k(lentil dumplings) served on a bed of sweet tomato chutney, vegetable kari uthappam, red rice appam with stew, vazhaipoo poriyal and barfi.

Last but not least is the famous Kumbakonam Degree Coffee. I am no coffee connoisseur but I did look forward to my hot cuppa every morning on this trip. Even when the monsoon showers tried to dampen our spirits, a cup of hot coffee was enough to help us motor on through the day.