The History & Food Culture of Kongu Nadu

Located in the western part of Tamil Nadu, the region of Kongu Nadu includes the city of Coimbatore and the towns of Salem, Karur, Athur, Pollachi, Avinashi, Udumalpet, Palladam, Erode, Mettur, Palani and Dharapuram.

Steeped in history, Palaeolithic burial sites were discovered along the Bhavani and Noyyal rivers. There is also evidence of flourishing international trade and it’s believed that the Togas worn by the Romans, went from here.

Kongu Nadu was the home of the ancient Tamil people. The Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas were the dominant rulers of this region from the 1st to the 13th centuries.

Kongu is where the heart is

“Namakku koyambathur pakamunga” (I am from Coimbatore)would be the exact words of the people living in and around this region, the heart and soul of Kongu Nadu. The locals are extremely proud and passionate to talk about their traditions and culture whenever they get an opportunity to meet and greet travellers and visitors from near and far. Kongu means nectar or honey and just like the people, the Tamil slang, and the food, the experiences of travelling in and around this region are truly sweet.

Native flavours in every bite

If you think Tamil cuisine is only about Sambar and Rasam, you obviously haven’t tried the fascinating flavours of Kongu Nadu. The ancient food habits of Kongu Nadu were very different during the rule of the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. The food had very little exposure to spices and only ginger and peppercorns were used.  Each century incorporated one or two spices and from the 15th century onwards, red chilli, garlic, onion and tomato were included.

Kongu Nadu food is more of a terroir cuisine rooted in indigenous ingredients. The cornucopia of ingredients are tightly knit in the culinary traditions of the region. The delicacies are derived from a collection of heirloom recipes from all the different towns of this region over the centuries. The speciality of Kongu Nadu cuisine is the method of preparation which is the use of native ingredients and traditional cooking methods. For example, turmeric is always used fresh and is roasted and ground. Milk and koparai (dry coconut) is used in gravies and curries, and kongu cooks always go easy on the oil and chilli too. Many cereals like bajra, ragi and jowar are used to create robust flavours. Meat is not marinated but cooked as is to retain its meaty taste. 

In our next blog, let’s explore the tastes and flavours of Kongu Nadu’s signature dish – Nattu Kozhi Kulambu and what makes it so special.