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Paruppu thogayal: A simple, delicious dish from the period of Raja Raja Cholan

Thanjavur food makes one remember the Cholas of the south who were the powerful ones among other empires.

Paruppu thogayal: A simple, delicious dish from the period of Raja Raja Cholan


Netherwoods cottage in Kodaikanal was situated on top of a hill overlooking a huge playground and a waterfall. Across was a range of hills with lush eucalyptus trees and vegetable plantations. Stone steps in the cottage were covered by an arch of blooming roses. One could see all the activities happening on the playground and the most fun part was leaning over the stone parapet and looking at what was happening there. Throughout my early school years, this was our summer vacation abode. 

During one such vacation, the ground was filled with activities. NCC cadets were marching and their fat drill sergeant was bellowing out orders. From the top, my siblings Uma, Kartik, cousin Vishu and I could not resist shouting ‘right’ and ‘left’ to the annoyance of the sergeant. The smell of food cooked on wood fire drafted up in the breeze, wanting us to go down and taste it. Holding a packet of biscuits, we ventured down and said hello to two cadets, who were busy eating roti and dal. The contingent was from Gujarat and there were only two Tamil cadets among them. We exchanged pleasantries, tasted their food and realised that it lacked both taste and edibility. The Tamil cadets were from Thanjavur and were wanting to have rice and authentic Tamil dishes. With a promise to bring them something the next day, we went back looking forward to our cook Narishman’s hot vatha kuzhambu, thogayal, rasam and rice. The food in India is so varied and yet a rice-eater cannot sustain on wheat only for long and vice versa.

Thanjavur food makes one remember the Cholas of the south who were the powerful ones among other empires. They were famous for their magnificent granite temples, literature talked about their victorious battles, fabulous feasts and far-flung conquests beyond the Indian coastline. The local cuisine, as a result, became interesting and flavourful, thanks to the varied spices the Cholas had access to. A lot of dishes made its way through the centuries to become modified and still served as heritage dishes. Rice, pulses, millets, pepper, spices, coconut, vegetables, meat, fruits and liquors were part of the royal repast. In the vegetarian food, various chutneys and side dishes to accompany the rice found royal acceptance.

They had different cooks for different kinds of food. It is said that Raja Raja Cholan appointed two special Brahmin cooks to make food for religious offerings and special festivals. Some of these dishes are still prevalent in many homes like vatha kuzhambu, paruppu usili and chutney made from coconut, lentil, pepper, and tamarind. Years later, when red chillies found its way into Indian cuisine, it was added to many dishes.

Paruppu thogayal is a simple, delicious dish that can be had with rice and rasam. I asked Narishman to make paruppu thogayal, rasam, potato fry, and rice and pack it in a big tiffin carrier to take for our new cadet friends. The next evening, it was bonfire night and we were invited. Since it was cold and got dark early, the bonfire was lit by 6 pm. All four of us wearing jackets and caps, carrying torches and a tiffin carrier full of food went for the bonfire. The cook had added Mysore Pak to give the finishing touch. Cadets Sukumar and Vijayan were delighted and ate our food. And we gorged on their dhoklas and puri aloo. There were songs and dancing. Food has that magical quality to transform a hungry, sad person into a happy, satisfied one. The merrymaking still echoes in my ears and I can almost imagine Raja Raja Cholan’s feasts, which must have ended similarly, with contented people making their way home. While we climbed up to our cottage after exchanging addresses and goodbyes, they made their way to their tents, ready to sleep and make an early start back to their city. In times like this, easy recipes are nice to try out. Make this and have it with hot rice and roasted papad.

Toor dal (thuvaram paruppu): 1/4 cup | Bengal gram/kadalai paruppu: 1/4 cup | Whole black pepper: 1/2 tsp | Red chillies: 4 | Grated coconut – 2 tbsp | Hing: ½ tsp | Groundnut or coconut Oil – 1 tsp | Salt as needed

Preparation time: 15 min
Cooking time: 10 min
Serves: 4 pax
Calories per
serving: 170

  • Soak the dals for 5 min in hot water with a pinch of asafoetida.
  • Now take a pan, heat the oil and on medium flame roast the red chillies, remaining asafoetida and the dals after draining away all water.
  • Saute till it turns golden brown, keep stirring. This will take 3 to 4 mins.
  • Let it cool and then add salt and transfer to a mixie jar.
  • Add grated coconut and 3 tbsp water.
  • Grind to a smooth paste.
  • Thogayal is ready. Serve with hot rice, topped with ghee and dry papad.

— Chef Ramaa Shanker is the author of ‘Festive Offerings to the Gods: Divine Soul Recipes’

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