Chillies are an integral part of South Indian cuisine and have a long and interesting history. The word "chili" itself comes from the Aztecs in Mexico, and the plant is native to Mexico and Central America. Columbus took chillies to Europe from the Americas, and then the Portuguese brought them to India in the 1400s.
According to the book "Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors," the Portuguese took back large quantities of black pepper and other spices from South India during the 16th century. In turn, they brought potatoes, cashews, tomatoes, and many other fruits to India. Within 30 years of Vasco de Gama's first trip to Goa, there were three different types of chillies growing in and around Goa.
South Indians took to chillies with great enthusiasm because it was an accessible and cheaper alternative to the now-expensive, highly sought-after black pepper. Chillies were called 'saviour of the poor' by an Indian poet. Prior to chillies, the only way to add heat to South Indian food was by using natively grown black pepper and long pepper.
Chilies became a part of North Indian cuisine two hundred years after they were introduced to the South.
Today, the Telugu speaking states of India grow half of the chillies in the country. Guntur Sannam Chillies, which are grown in Guntur, this city is called the chili city of India and are home to the largest chili market in the country.
However, chillies are not just limited to fresh consumption in South Indian cuisine. The cuisine boasts a variety of condiments and spices made from chillies. Some of the most popular ones are curd chillies, pickles, and PODIs. In fact, these condiments are such an delightful part of the cuisine that some households have a dedicated shelf to curd chillies, pickles, and PODIs which are so beloved that they are often eaten alone with rice.
The history of chillies in South Indian cuisine is a testament to the versatility and adaptability of the region's food culture. It is also a reminder that the South Indian food culture has always been influenced by a wide range of cultural and historical factors. From Portuguese traders to Mexican Aztecs, the history of chillies in South Indian cuisine is a celebration of cultural exchange and culinary innovation.
- Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham