Exploring The Flavours Of Vatha Kuzhambu
Image Credit: Instagrm @proudchennaites Curd Rice and Vatha Kuzhambu

Tamil cuisine happens to be one of the most aromatic spices. Be it the use of Cumin Coconut, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, Cardamom, Coriander or more, the unique blend of these spices is what gives this cuisine it’s identity. Nutritious and wholesome, the dishes of this region that’s both vegetarian, as well as non-vegetarian is much more than the common names like dosa, idli and vada served with sambar and chutneys. Interestingly this cuisines sees four divisions - Chettinad region comprising Karaikudi and other nearby areas, Nanjilnadu region, the western Kongunadu region and the Madurai, Tirunelveli other areas. 

But one dish that’s just catching a lot of attention is Vatha Kuzhambu. In a recent interview with R Mahavan he was seen introducing the host to this dish in this traditional trademark way, eating it with rice. For the uninitiated Vatha Kuzhambu is a speciality side dish that’s spicy and made without coconut. This curry dish sees a special blend of spices called Vatha Kuzhambu Podi, along with Sundakkai which gives the unique in flavor and taste to the dish. N. Gopi, Executive Chef, Hyatt Regency Gurgaon says “Varutha kozhambhu happens to be an amazing delicacy of south Chennai food which is a tangy gravy. The meaning of this gravy is “roasted curry” as the ingredients and masala are roasted and prepared. It’s finished with tamarind and roasted coconut. This gravy has always been the star in all the South Indian marriages. 

The flavor of spicy and tangy together makes this gravy stand out in all the functions. In my experience when in Pune, this was the dish I made for Dr. Abdul Kalam and served with curd rice. This gravy goes very well with a chilled nice creamy curd rice”.

The Tamil style is Vatha Kuzhambu is a vegan curry dish that’s perfect for lunch and dinner. You can make any Vathal either (salted or with sundried vegetables) sundakkal,  manathakki vendaikkai kothavarankai. This delicious side dish can also be made with sun dried berries. Apart from just tasting good this dish even has its own health benefits. Cooked in tamarind gravy, this is healthy for mouth and stomach ulcers and the rich fiber content helps to kill if any worms inside stomach along with balancing a good blood pressure, diabetes. 

Many other varieties like vendhaya kuzhambu, vatha kuzhambu, mor kuzhambu, paruppu urundai kuzhmabu also became a part of the kuzhambu name. Chef Chalapathi Rao of Simply South adds “Vathal / Vatha is a dish that sees sundried vegetables made by soaking in buttermilk and sun drying it for eg. curd chillies. Kozhambhu - literally means gravy which can be that of tamarind and can be made without it in some cases, depending upon the type of preparation. There are mostly three variations that can be seen usually firstly made by sautéing few ingredients in gingelly oil, then sauteing sambar onion, garlic pearls and tomatoes. Blending both ingredients and making it to fine paste and add this to gravy. It's a laboursome process but the best way to make. While the easy method is to make it directly by starting with tempering and followed by sambar onion & garlic pearls etc, while the Typical orthodox brahmin families they avoid sambhar onion & garlic but tamarind, coconut takes front seat along with the other vegetables.

My memory of the dish is when I tasted it at various batchmates houses during my college days as well as it was an integral part of our menu at Simply south. Typically, this dish is spicy, tangy and has a tinge of sweetness. Sweetness is attributed to adding little jaggery which enhances spicy and tangy flavours. It tastes better if you allow this dish to mature in a mud pot for a day. It can be eaten with rice, dosa etc.”

The hint of tanginess, sourness and the flavour of spices is what sets this dish apart. Also, do you know vatha kuzhambu happens to be one of Rajinikanth’s all-time favourite.