Anatomy of South Indian Wedding Meal

Updated: Mar 5

For my food talk, I would like to walk you through the experience of a South Indian Wedding, culminating in the real star of the show, the kalayana sappadu (wedding meal)!

I will through the rest of essay use pictures from my own big fat Indian wedding and pictures from weddings I have attended in India (occasionally using images from other cited sources).

I've loved weddings even as a child, mostly because it meant I would get to take a day off from school and run around with cousins and friends.

A little about me and Chennai

I was born, raised, and got married (as you have probably guessed) in Chennai. Chennai or Madras (as it was known under British colonization and occupation) is a port city of about 7.088 million, half of whom my parents invited to my wedding. All right, that was an exaggeration but we did have over 2000 guests spread across the various wedding events (a vast majority of whom I have never laid eyes on either before or since my wedding).

An Indian City Bursting With Action

NYTimes - 52 places to visit

Prelude - The Wedding breakfast

Most South Indian weddings (or more specifically Tamil weddings) typically have an early start. It starts with hot steaming cups of the ubiquitous Madras filter coffee always served in a traditional tumbler davara. This is followed by a series of rituals that the bride, the groom, and their families get through sleepy-eyed.

As the quiet of the early morning chants die down, the hustle and bustle of the 1000+ crowd join the cacophony of the nadhaswaram and the mirudhangam (traditional musical instruments).

All the while the smell of freshly cooked Pongal, a dish made of lentils and rice cooked with black peppers and ginger, topped with cashews and curry leaves roasted in ghee, waft into the wedding hall. The guests filter into the wedding dining halls for piping hot Vadais (Fried lentil dough flavored with onions, cumin, and fennel seeds) and soft fluffy Idlis (fermented rice cakes) that they will soak in hot sambhar (a lentil stew) and a range of chutneys. The breakfast offers a sampler of the feast that is in store.

The Wedding

Keeping up with the theme, the actual wedding rituals (not surprisingly) revolve around food and food ingredients. The rituals start with the groom being "lured" by the bride's family promises of riches and delicious food (usually payasam - a delicious rice pudding).

The thaali ( a necklace that the groom ties around the bride's neck - akin to the exchange of rings) is dipped in turmeric, wrapped around a coconut, and passed along to be blessed by everyone in the audience. This is a perfect time to grab a quick snack.

For a few short minutes the spotlight is on the couple. The music reaches a crescendo. We tie the knot, exchange toe rings.

And the attention turns back to the star of the show..

The South Indian Wedding Meal

For a few short Like all traditional South Indian meals, the wedding meal is served on a banana leaf and it starts with a dessert - a rice pudding and/or semolina pudding. This is followed by several self paced courses of rice, sambar (lentil stews), vatha khulambu (a sort of tamarind curry), rasam, hand cut banana chips, appalam, poriyal (steamed vegetables cooked in coconut oil and grated coconut), varuval (yams or potatoes pan fried in spices), pickles, masala vadais (kind of like a falafel), raita.
  1. Rice

  2. Appalam

  3. Rava Kesari (Sweet)

  4. Jangiri (Sweet)

  5. Banana Chips

  6. Banana

  7. Picke

  8. Salt

  9. Vendaikai Kootu

  10. Keerai Kootu

  11. Cabbage Poriyal

  12. Sambar

  13. Rasam

  14. Vathal Kuzhambu

  15. Curd

  16. Water

Not only is it all delicious, but the meal is also really is a shared communal experience. Served in halls that seat several hundred, there are so many things I love about this experience. It is quite something to have several hundred people all eating in unison and the quick efficiency with which food is served. Hosts working extra hard to make sure that not a single person remains unattended. The bride and the grooms working the tables, making sure everybody gets a second helping of their favorite dish. Kids running around darting around servers with giant ladles. The chaos is soothing and familiar.

The wedding meal is a communal experience.

Waiting their turn to eat!

Finally my turn to eat at my wedding, the bride and the groom are often last to eat.

Having been up since 2am and having skipped breakfast, my wedding meal tasted extra delicious.

Being able to go to a South Indian wedding is one of the few things I truly miss (the other being Indian mangoes, but that story is for another food talk). So if you ever get a chance to go to one, take it and I assure you that you will have a good time!

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