Tamarind: The Soul Of Andhra Cooking

Sour agents are commonly used in Indian cooking due to their several functions as digestion aids, flavour enhancers, and preservatives. The availability and historical context dictate their utilisation. In Andhra cuisine, tamarind plays a significant role and is included into numerous recipes. This sour fruit has a plethora of medicinal qualities due to its high mineral content, which includes calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium, as well as its abundant vitamin B and vitamin C content, which contributes to its unique sweet-sour flavour. For many, the famous tamarind rice, or pulihora, from the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, is sampled for the first time. Pulihora, with its strong tamarind flavour, is very different from the Kannadiga and Tamilian equivalents, puliyogare and puliyodharai. It lays down the foundations of the cuisine of the two southern Indian states quite well. 

Tracing Tamarind’s Antiquity 

Even Hindu mythology attests to the chintapandu's (Telugu: ripe tamarind) centrality to Andhra cuisine. During a furious dispute, the snake god Adisesha was supposedly carried away by the wind god Vayu while holding a piece of the mythical golden peak Mount Meru, which is said to be at the core of the cosmos. Legend has it that Adisesha landed near the Swarnamukhi river in Andhra Pradesh. The name "Saptagiri range" was given to this area. Lord Vishnu, who had been following Goddess Lakshmi since she had fallen to Earth to resolve an argument with him, eventually landed on Venkatadri hill in the Saptagiri range to try to win her back. Where is he laid to rest? Among the tamarind trees! The story is further enhanced by the account of a devotee who had a dream in which Vishnu was sleeping under a tamarind tree. His undying dedication was rewarded when he was bestowed the title of Tondamana, the founder of the Pallava dynasty. In homage to his patron deity Vishnu, King Tondamana constructed his capital in what is now known as Tirupati and named it Narayanapura. He planted two trees there: a chamapaka and a tamarind. 

The reason why puliogare is served as prasadam at the Tirupati Balaji temple (and at many other Vishnu temples in South India) could be because of the association between Lord Vishnu and tamarind, according to Ratna Rajaiah's book Secrets of Health from the Indian Kitchen. Even outside the temple kitchens, this tamarind dish is incredibly popular. 

Apart from urban folklore, the culinary use of tamarind has been documented consistently for at least the past hundred years. Lokopakara, a book produced by Chavundaraya in the 11th century, contains one of the oldest references to the subject. The Rashtrakuta dynasty, which ruled over much of what is now Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, was a powerful political and cultural force during this time. It delves into a wide variety of diverse topics, including astrology, water divining, home medicine, scents, and omens, and is thus regarded as an encyclopaedia of sorts. Recipes for cookery, including some including tamarind, take up a whole chapter. 

The Indispensable Ingredient 

Indeed, tamarind is so integral to Andhra cuisine that it is bound up with memories. Grandmas and moms would sit down with her mug of south Indian filter coffee every morning after soaking a big tamarind ball—the size of a lime—in warm water. 

The tamarind is the foundation of many Andhra dishes. Puli, meaning sour, is the most prominent quality of this fruit, and the name itself comes from it. The term has changed from pulusu in Rayalaseema and Telangana to sambhar in Rajahmundry and Vizianagaram, among other districts. For greens and vegetable pachadis (chutney or relish), when tanginess is key, it is the foundation. This is the foundational dish for pulusu, the Andhra word for gravy or sauce. Pulusu can have lentils, greens, yam, drumstick, colocasia, brinjal, okra, etc. It is also used to make the well-known Andhra pappu, which is a lentil gravy that is mashed and tastes like North Indian dal. 

Things, however, do not end there. Meat dishes also feature tamarind. The base of nellore chapala pulusu, also known as fish curry, is generously rich in tamarind. You can also make kodi pulusu with cooked eggs, which is the chicken equivalent of Rayalaseema's signature tamarind-laced mutton pulusu. The day after a wedding or big event, such as Sankranti or Ugadi, is celebrated in the regions of Rajahmundry, Guntur, and Vizianagaram with a lavish feast of garelu kodi pulusu, a dish consisting of medu vadu dipped in chicken sauce and heavily spiced with tamarind. 

Tamarind juice or extract is usually thought of as something to boil or stew in most recipes, however that's not always the case. Pachchi pulusu, also known as raw or unheated gravy, is a chilled, watery, spicy broth that is often served with rice or consumed straight from the pot. It is thought to have originated in Telangana and is a popular summertime dish that makes use of uncooked tamarind.  

You may make chunky pickles and smooth relishes with raw or ripe tamarind. In addition to red and green chilli, carrot, tomato, and gongura (roselle leaves) pickles, tamarind is an ingredient in many more. Andhra cuisine also makes use of the lesser-known tamarind leaves in dishes like pappu, pulusu, and pachadi.  

It is not surprising that tamarind takes central stage in Andhra cooking, given its adaptability. The Andhra culinary tradition revolves around tamarind, which is a daily dose of nutritious goodness.