Freshly ground coriander, cummin, pepper, fenugreek, anise and sweet stick are some of the flavours that find a place in Chettinad palakaarams (snack dishes) and sappadu (three course meals). Any self-respecting aachi (respectful term of address for older Chettiar women) would be most disapproving of the pungent and oily menus that pass for Chettinad fare. Aachi is frugal (like with everything else) when it comes to spices and oil.
Among the repertoire of non-veg dishes you could try are: yerra varuval (prawn fry), kozhi vellai kurma (chicken stew), varuval (a dry dish of chicken, fish or sauteed vegetables with onions and spices), nandu masala (spiced crab), masala sora puttu (shark fish), nethili varuval (a small fish fried and eaten whole), rabbit fry and milahu (pepper) chicken. Vegetarians must relish beans usili (pan-fried lentil paste), malai poondu (hill garlic), nei kathirikai (ghee-fried aubergines), paruppu urundai kozhambu (lentil balls simmered sambhar), urulai (potato) roast and samba souru (spiced rice).
Chettiar idlis are among the fluffiest, often sliced into rings, served with chutneys. Their sweet and salted pani haarams (deep fried rice batter seasoned with curry leaves, chillies and ginger or with jaggery and cardamom) must not be missed. Ditto for the melt-in-the-mouth idiayappam (soft strings of steamed rice flour served with coconut milk and thin sambhar), or kurma (meat or veg in coconut gravy). Gracious upachaaram (enquiring after guests) is the finest accompaniment to their extraordinary cuisine.