International Cuisine Holidays: India’s Thai Pongal

pongalWith the start of the new year, there are a number of food-rich traditions and holidays in the beginning part of January going on all over the world.  In South India, Sri Lanka and other parts of the world, Thai Pongal (or simply just Pongal) is celebrated as a harvest festival for the Tamils during the winter solstice and occurs in 2013 on January 14. It’s one of the most popular harvest festivals in India, as the day marks the beginning of the sun’s movement from its southernmost point, also known as the Uttarayana.

As a major harvest festival, food is a mainstay of the Thai Pongal celebration much like Thanksgiving. Farmers and producers give their gratitude to animals, the sun and other factors that help bring in their good harvests. Instead of a one day celebration, Thai Pongal lasts several days and includes preparation of a number of different sweets and savory cuisines as celebration. Not only are some of these dishes rich in tradition, but they are exciting to try and make yourself.

The Main Dish

The main preparation for Pongal is the actual rice dish with the same name, that’s popular in South India.  It consists of rice boiled in milk and jaggery, usually enjoyed as a breakfast food, but known to taste great at any time. As a celebration of the holiday, the dish is usually cooked outside to be dedicated to sunlight and can include raisins, cashew nuts and cardamom for flavor. The cooking is traditionally done in dishes that are decorated and served on banana leaves.

Sides of Celebration

The food celebration doesn’t stop with preparation of the traditional pongal dish. In addition to that recipe, side dishes such as payasam and vadai are delicacies that are commonly enjoyed during the holiday.

Vadai is a fritter-like snack common to South India similar to doughnuts, but more flavorful. This delicacy combines dough, paste or potatoes that can be seasoned with black mustard seeds, curry leaves or onion, then shaped and deep-fried for a finished product. Commonly a breakfast food, these snacks are a great compliment for the traditional Thai Pongal dishes that are prepared as the main course for the harvest celebration.

Payasam, also known as kheer, is another common dish usually prepared in South India for Thai Pongal. As a common part of many traditional South Indian meals, payasam is a popular side dish that consists of boiling rice or broken wheat with jaggery and coconut milk. It can be flavored with raisins, nuts, pistachios, almonds or saffron and consumed as a dessert, but in South Indian culture it is usually served first at many different occasions.

Thai Pongal is usually a combination of different dishes, allowing for regional foods to be prepared based on culture and preference. International Food Club is home to a number of different ingredients from India that can be used to prepare some of the traditional dishes consumed on Thai Pongal.

For more information on Indian foods and to search for ingredients, check out our store!

Image by Jennifer Kumar

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