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Spice Things Up in Southern India

Posted December 30, 2016

A trip to India, Southern India more specifically, is a lesson in diversity. You can scuba dive off the coast of Andaman and Nicobar one day; ride all-terrain vehicles in Goa the next; then go whitewater rafting at Dandeli soon after.

One of the many spice markets in Southern India

Discover ancient ruins at Hampi. Try waterfall rappelling at Coorg. And then, stroll around the team gardens in Munnar. There is no shortage of things to do and see in Southern India, but the area is also known for something truly unforgettable - the cuisine. As the largest producer of spices in the world, India ranks as a top destination for those seeking enlightenment from the kitchen. Here are some of the top spices used in Southern Indian cooking, as well as some of the most iconic dishes that you'll discover on your trip abroad.

Tej Patta: These leaves are often mistaken as the common bay leaf used in Western cooking, but these leaves impart a different flavor reminiscent of cinnamon.

Ajwain/Carom Seeds: These diminutive seeds taste similar to thyme, but are slightly more bitter and are rarely eaten raw. Find them toasted in a pan, sauteed in oil or butter, and then used as a seasoning. Some individuals use Ajwain as an antiseptic or digestive aid.

Cinnamon: Generally used in stick form as a flavor enhancer, Southern Indian cooking relies heavily on cinnamon - most commonly the Ceylonese type, to intensify the flavors of a variety of dishes. The popular spice blend Garam Masala uses cinnamon as one key component.

Cloves: Southern Indian recipes often call for cloves as they deliver a warm, powerful flavor that gives a spicy kick to a host of popular dishes. Cloves are dried flower buds, which are initially picked as green, unopened buds, and are then dried in the sun until they reach peak flavor.

Close-up of coriander seeds prevalent in Indian cooking

Dhania/Coriander Seeds: As one of the key components in many Indian recipes, Dhania is often ground into a powder that can be easily mixed in to flavor your food. It is frequently blended with other spices to create incredible compound flavors - such as in garam masala or sambar powder.

Other popular spices for cooking include cardamom, mustard seed, nutmeg, fennel, cumin, red chili powder, saffron, turmeric, and rock salt.


The spices above are an integral part of creating some truly unforgettable Southern Indian dishes. Here are some of our favorites, with links for easy-to-master recipes.

Gonguru Mamsam curry dish

Gonguru Mamsam (Andhra Lamb Curry)

Popular across India, this lamb curry uses turmeric, salt, ginger, garlic, clove, and nearly a dozen other spices to create a hearty and flavorful lamb dish that is perfect over steamed rice.

Konju Varutharaccha Curry (Kerala Prawn Curry)

Juicy prawns, savory spices, warm coconut milk, and a quick cooking time equals a delightful dish of Konju Varutharaccha Curry that can be prepared for dinner during the week with ease.

Chicken Stew and Appam (Chicken and Rice Pancake)

This chicken stew dish takes a bit of prep time, but the result will be nothing short of incredible. Chicken is simmered in a variety of spices, then slow-simmered until fork-tender. Paired with appam, traditional rice pancakes, this dish has Southern India written all over it.

The spices and cuisine of Southern India must be witnessed firsthand to be truly appreciated, but you can create your own version of India right in your own kitchen. Buy quality spices from a reputable, local spice purveyor. Then, get to work and try one of the recipes above or duplicate one of your favorites.