History of traditional Telugu food culture
A new-fangled interpretation
Dr. G V Purnachand, B.A.M.S.
Food is the supplicant of vital energy of life. Every human activity is
centered on food activity which place most dominant role in developing
the course of life.
The production and preparation of food has
been in accordance with the cultural concepts of each given race. It is
the Indian custom to take the food with reverence as divine prasaadam
whenever it is served in any form. Food is the chief agent of the
immortal continuity of all the created.
The Telugu classical food
culture, high in its antiquity, possessed qualitative, pure and rich
food habits. But the ill effect of modern multi-cultural experience
particularly after Globalization has affected all the aspects of human
life particularly the food habits leading a confrontation of perception
between the hygienic old and hyper sensitive new generations.
Telugu society is not an exception to this experience. The antiquity of
Telugu Language and culture. It is generally believed that the Indus
civilization might have sustained up to c.1750 B.C. Evidences are to
show that, the Proto-Telugu People mostly were the inhabitants in
Godavari and Krishna Basin in the same period. In his great work, “Agro-
Echo System of South India”, Dr. K R Krishna made a mention of the
wheat production by Telugu People in Telugu Land, during the Indus
They cultivated and consumed wheat and rice apart from
other grains like sorghum etc. People might have developed trade
relations with Indus Valley people and other civilizations.
Stone Age in South India quietly passed into the Iron Age. As Foote has
remarked, the iron industry of South India “is one of the great
antiquity. This might occurred long before the Aryans of North India
came into various kind of contact with South India. The invention of
Iron in this area leads to invent the plough, which enhanced the
Cultivation. Very durable pottery in large quantities which signifies
that the people who made it must have attained a considerable degree of
In their work, “An advanced History of India”, R.C.
Majumdar, H.C. Roy Chaudhary, and K Data expressed the following
opinion: “the Indus Valley people were either Sumerians or Dravidians.
These two races might have been identical or different.
Dravidians at one time inhabited the whole of India, including Punjab,
Sindh and Baluchistan and gradually migrated to Mesopotamia”.
The Cultural heritage of Telugu People as a race
Sindhus and Dravidians earlier to 1750 B.C. must lay a base for Telugu
Culture. The antiquity of food habits of Telugu People must be studied
from this perspective. F.C. Southworth, Emeritus Professor of South
Asian Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, in his paper,
“Proto-Dravidian Agriculture” presented at the 7th ESCA Round Table
Conference held at Kyoto in June 2005, identified late Proto-Dravidian
with Southern Neolithic culture in the lower Godavari River basin of
Andhra Pradesh, which first appeared in c.2, 500 B.C.
in agreement with Pro. Bhadriraju Krishna Murty, that the Dravidian
loanwords into the late Vedic Sanskrit might be explained as a result of
northward expansion of Dravidian speakers from the peninsula. FBJ
Kuiper released a list of more than 350 loan words from Rig-Vedic
Language. Most famous Skt. words like gaja(elephant), kaarpaas (cotton),
mayuura (peacock),putra(Son), matsya(fish), taaLa(Toddy Tree) were
found by him as Loan words in Sanskrit. Michael Witzel and Alexander
Lubotsky are also in the same opinion that, these loan words mostly are
from Dravidian or Munda sources. Living together (sahajiivana) or moving
nearer (samiipavartitva) of Vedic and Dravidian and or Proto Telugu
people can be the prime reason for the loan words in to Sanskrit.
Similarly Telugu received many Sanskrit Terms and enriched itself. It is
not a simple Influence of Sanskrit Language, but an inevitable social
pressure might contribute more Loan Sanskrit words into Telugu. This
assumption also proves the antiquity of Telugu language and culture.
“Deccan was found to be the safest place for so many Vedic Aryan
People, Particularly in the early Buddhist period. Builders, Artistes.
Artisans and Craftsmen went South because of the foreign invasions in
the North. Trade flourished and Aryans found a welcome home to the
immigrants could take shelter in the Andhra Kingdom which stretched from
the Bay of Bengal” says, Padminisen Gupta. Several Dravidian or Telugu
loan words in Sanskrit language might be due to their intensive
interaction with Telugu region. Most of such loan words might have
reached Sanskrit through Prakrit and Pali.
The process was more
accelerated in the Mauryan Period. Later, Buddhists also concentrated on
Andhra region for the same reason, besides the propagation of their own
dharma. Jains and others also joined this convoy, which ultimately lead
to superimpose vegetarianism among Telugu communities and earliest
Aryanisation of Telugu People than other Dravidian tribes. Meat eating
might had been a moderate habit by that time. It doesn’t mean that all
Telugu speaking people are vegetarians. There had also been Islamic
influence on Non Vegetarianism of Deccani cuisine from the Delhi
sultanate. It was enriched during Mughal period and by the Persian
The new cooking methods of Telugu food
new cooking methods of cuisines prepared with rice, wheat and other
grains have been developed by Telugu Buddhists, Shaivaits, Vishnavaits,
and Jains. Vegetarianism became a common dietary trend in Telugu
society. Early Telugu People of Pre Historical Period and Aryanised
Telugu People of pre-Mauryan or Mauryan Period ate Wheat as their Staple
Most of the Telugu Food Items of good olden days were
prepared with Atta (wheat flour) only. Chakraalu, jantikalu, chekkalu,
gavvalu of present day, are a few to mention among the wheat
preparations. The prasaadam of Lord Satyanarayana Swamy, prepared with
wheat powder, reflects an age old traditional contacts of Telugu People
with wheat. Several historians have quoted XuangZang, the Chinese
chronicler of 7th century AD stating that there were no steaming vessels
This statement needs critical examination and one must
confirm it with the original work of Xuangzang. This traveler had
visited places like Nagarjuna Konda, Bezawada and Amarawati where he
lived for consider-able number of years to learn Mahaayaana principle.
He talked about the Purva shaila and Avara shaila theories which justify
his close contact with Andhra region. By that time the Andhra country
distinguished itself in the knowledge of medicinal preparations too.
Siddha Nagarjuna who propagated Rasa Sastra, much before the visit of
Xuangzang to India.
The rasa aushadhas, otherwise called as
vantaaushadhalu… because several medicines were being prepared using
various techniques of vanta (cooking) techniques like baking (putapaka),
fermentation (aasava or arishta) and Steaming (Arka) preparations.
Dishes like Iddenu, Rotte, Undraallu, Mandegalu, sukiyalu, nippatlu
popular among Telugu Classical Cuisine are best examples of the
preparation in Baking, fermentation or steaming methods. Many Telugu
dishes are cooked with vegetable oils while Mustard oil is more commonly
used in eastern India. Gingili (sesame) oil is common in Telugu land as
it gives a fragrant aroma. Ghee and butter were used very frequently.
Eating Habits of Telugu People
Bhavamishra of 15th century published a popular medical text book
Bhavaprakasha, which is consi-dered as one among the three small works,
popularly known as laghutrayi. He belonged to former Kalinga country,
which comprises the southern parts of present Orissa and the northern
parts of coastal Andhra. He therefore dealt with the life style of
eastern Deccan which certainly includes Telugu. He made a mention of the
healthy habits of taking items like, kuura, pappu etc., as follows :ఘృత
పూర్వ౦ సమశ్నీయాత్కఠిన౦ ప్రాక్ తతో మృదు / అ౦తే పునర్ద్రవాశీ తు బలా
ద్రోగేణ ము౦చతి (ghRutapuurvam samashNiyaat kaThinam praak tattoo mRudu/
Antee punardravaaSi tu balaadroogeena munchati). He advised to take oily
and hard items like curry (Kuura), Daal (pappu) etc in the beginning of
the principal meal. Later soft items like chutney (pachadi) etc.,are to
be taken, followed by liquid items like broth or Soar Soup-pulusu,
sambaar etc., again and at the end curd or buttermilk. Desserts also can
be had after completing the principal meal. Crisps and pappads toasted
moderately can also be taken together with any curry or chutney.
Telugu people still follow the same manner. He also mentioned the food
habits of north- Indian people, at places like Varanasi and other areas.
This book further advised to take a grinded mixture of ginger and salt
as the foremost item, “భోజనాగ్రే సదా పథ్య౦ లవణార్ద్రక భక్షణమ్/ అగ్ని
స౦దీపన౦ రుచ్య౦ జిహ్వా క౦ఠ విరోధన౦ – bhojanaagree sadaapathyam lavaNa
He advised to eat the ginger and salt mixture as
the foremost item in the principle meal, as it acts as an appetizer and
stimulates the taste buds on the tongue.
He also recommended of
having a sweet item at the end bhojanaante madhurasam”. A sweetened
“kappuraviDemu” or taambuulam (Meethapaan) in the end of the meal helps
to improve appetite. According to the Sruti, one must have finished
one’s lunch by noon and night meal by dusk i.e. before 7-00pm – “సాయ౦
ప్రాతర్మణుష్యాణా మశను శ్రుతి బోధితమ్ saayam praatar manushyaa Naa
maSanau shruti bodhitam”.
Teluguness in sugar
been produced in the Indian subcontinent since ancient times. Sugarcane
was a native of tropical South Asia and Southeast Asia. One of the
earliest historical references to sugarcane is in Chinese manuscripts
dating back to 8th century BC, mentions the fact that the use of
sugarcane originated in India.
Crystallized sugar was discovered
by the time of the Imperial Guptas. Buddhist monks, as they travelled
around, carried sugar crystallization methods to China. During the reign
of Harsha (606–647 AD.) in Northern India, Indian envoys to Tang China
taught them the methods of cultivating sugarcane.
were prepared by cooling the sugar syrup in large flat bowls. In the
local Indian language, these crystals were called as khanDa which is the
source word of “candy”.
In Telugu, sugar is called as
panchadaara. I believe that it is a compound word of panchan +daara;
panchan meaning a Buddhist monk and daara denoting “a gift”. History
proves the Telugu shores as radiating centres for the spread of Buddhism
in all parts of the east, and on account of Telugu bhikkus associated
with the spread of sugarcane cultivation along with the spread of
Buddhism, the word panchadaara might have come to a stay in Telugu.
It is a significant point to note, that most of the Coastal Andhra
people alone use the word panchadaara, while others use chakkera. It may
be assumed that Telugu chakkera, Skt. Sharkara, Arabic Shukkar, and
English Sugar might be commonly originated from any Dravidian source.
As, according to G Bronnikov’s work, Dravidian Etymology, Proto-Telugu
cheruk or cher-ak means sugar cane or sugar juice. We can extend our
enquiry about the origin of the word chekkara from proto- Dravidian
Source. Also, in the proto- eastern Chadic language “car-k” means a kind
of herb. Since it is closer to the proto-Telugu word, those Proto-
Telugu people might have started the cultivation of sugar cane first,
which might have spread to the other parts of the country later.
Kalidasa, of the 4th century AD., described the sugar cane cultivation of Telugu People (Raghuvamsa, 4thsarga, 20thshloka)
“ikshuchhaayaanishaadinyastasyagopturgunodayam- The women of Telugu
farmers who were guarding their rice crops, taking shelter in the shadow
of sugar cane plants sang the songs of welcoming Raghu maharaja, who
invaded the Telugu country.
This explains the largest harvest of
sugar cane by Telugu people and sugar candy manufacturing activity in
the early parts of Christian era. It may also be assumed that, Telugu
Buddhists might be responsible for sugar exports in those days.
Annam is the synonym of Telugu people
Food history of Telugu people begins with annam (the cooked meal). amba
and andha are synonyms of annam in Sanskrit. amba means annam. Right
hand is called as ambaTi cheyyi as it is used to take food. ambaTi vELa
is food time. antha also means annam. People who eat annam might be
named as andhas. Apte’s Sanskrit Dictionary mentions annam as a name of a
race (Antha). amrutaandhas means the immortal andha race.
Buddhist and Jain records mentioned Andhras as andhas. In Latin, anthos
means “man”. Anthropology, the human science derived from this word
anthos. Anthos was originated from the Proto Indo European root “anth”,
which means a man. So, early Aryans might have called the Andhras with
the name andh,(not the blind people) denoting a human race.
Interestingly, Vietnam was earlier called as Annam until 1940s. Annam
means “southwards” in Chinese Language. Since Vietnam was located south
of China, it was called as Annam. Similarly telugus might have also been
named so, as they moved to south. (ten+agu… moving towards south)
Unlike “saapaDu” and Roti, Telugu people caalla their principle meals as
ChekODi and pakODi
The grass kind of grain కూడి
kooDi denotes sorghum (jonna) in Telugu. Certain Telugu food items like
చెకోడి, పకోడి chekooDi, pakooDi contain కోడిkooDi which stand for
sorghum grain. చోడి, చోళ్ళు ChooDi and chooLLu are synonyms of sorghum
in Telugu, and కోడి kooDi may be the original form of these words. There
is another grain by name ఆళ్ళు aaLLu otherwise popular as కోడ kODa
(Millet: Paspalum scrobiculaium L). It is కోరాడుష or కోద్రవ kOradusha,
kOdrava in Sanskrit and వరగు waragu in Tamil. This confirms again that,
కోడి kODi, kODa, chODi are the ancient Telugu names for certain food
grains. ATTu-exclusively of Telugu People ATTu means a toasted thin
pancake of moderate size. It is now popularly called asdOSa or dOSai. It
might have originated from a proto- Telugu word “aTT”, meaning “making
dry”. aTTamu means a fried or burned food. aTika means a broken pot made
of mud used as a pottagepan for the purpose of making aTTu. Telugu
people still call the nonstick pan as aTla penamu or penku. penku
denotes a broken pot. Poota reekulu, a sweet variety popular in the
Godavari belt are prepared by drying up the thin flour layers on this
broken pot, placed on fire.
The Telugu aTTu is a little different
from dOsai of Kannadigas and Tamilians. Now the entire world is eating
dOSai, but Telugus only could preserve their ancient Dravidian term
One of the important festivals of Telugus is aTlataddi
(Attu Eating Festival). Telugu style of aTTu preparation is different.
There is a considerable change of taste between the dOsai available at
hotels of other language speakers and the aTTu prepared in Telugu homes.
Shrinatha described both aTTulu and dOSiyalu,which testify the fact
that aTTu was different from dooSaeven by 15th century. It can therefore
be surmised safely that aTTu is specific to Telugu culture.
Chillies changed the Telugu Food style
The food history of Telugu People can be divided into two periods: one
is before and the other is after the introduction of chillies into
Telugu land. The exact date of this entry of chillies was not known.
Portuguese Traders might have introduced them either in early 16th
Century or in the last part of Vijayanagara rule.
originated in Chile, in America. Christopher Columbus discovered America
exactly onOctober 12, 1492. And after the Columbian Exchange, the
spread of chilli peppers to Asia was most likely a natural consequence.
Portuguese traders soon realised the trade value of chilli pepper and
promoted its commerce in the Asian spice trade routes then dominated by
Portuguese and Arab traders.
Telugu cultivators were encouraged
by these traders to grow more and more chili pepper. Telugu People also
showed interest and hugged these spicy items. This was recognised as
better alternative to pungent pepper (miriyam), long pepper (pippaLLu),
ginger (allamu) etc.
Portuguese and Dutch also encouraged Telugu
people to prepare mango pickles for export to western countries. Chili
pepper made it easier and cheaper to prepare mango pickle like
aavakaaya, magaaya and tokkuDu pacchaDi.
The Telugus made several
experiments and introduced several forms of pickles. They invented
varieties like the one with jaggery, (bellamaavakaya),
coriandam(dhaniyaalaaavakaya), sesame (nuvvuavakaya) and fenugreek seeds
(mentikaaya), all meant for export to west. Usually, most of the
Europeans do not like such pungent food items. But it seems somehow they
welcomed the Telugu pickles.
The foreign traders of this period
placed orders for large quantity of pickle packing-. This is how
chillies helped the promotion of foreign trade on this land and
significantly contributed to its economy, besides making aavakaya the
most favorite food item of Telugu house hold.
The great Karnatic
composer Purandara das (1480-1564) sang of the chilli: I saw you green,
then turning redder as you ripened, nice to look at and tasty in a dish,
but too hot if an excess is used. Even to think of (the deity)
Panduranga Vittala, the Savior of the poor, enhancer of good food is
difficult” (see Historical Dictionary of Indian food, by K T Achaya-
page no. 43). This reference throws light not only on its entry but its
high popularity all over Deccan.
Mariichi is the Sanskrit term
for pepper. Pepper is called miryam in Telugu. The pepper fruit
“miriyampu kaaya” from which the mirapakaaya is derived which has become
a popular spice of modern age. The other synonym of chili pepper is
mirchi, more popular in Hindi belt, could be a derivative from mariichi.
Foreign fruits and vegetables on Telugu land Sri Krishna Devaraya in
his classic Amuktamaalyada said “vaaNijyamu penchi yElagaa nagun-The
king must rule his country by encouraging the trade and commerce”. It
was his policy to allow foreign traders both for purchase and selling.
Chili pepper, papaya, guavas, tobacco, maize etc. were introduced to
Telugu people by Portuguese. The Dutch people brought a sort of orange
fruit from their capital Batavia to Palakole of East Godavari district.
Now, this Batavian fruit is popular as battaayi kaaya in Telugu.
Earlier to this, we knew only naarinja kaaya or naaranga kaaya (Citrus
Orange fruit). By dropping “n” from naarinja / naaranga, the foreign
Traders developed a new name “orange” for sweet citrus fruit.
their broader interest of trade, these foreign traders including the
British established their factories at Masulipatam, Nizampatam,
Vizagpatam and other port areas. They attracted our formers to grow
their fruits for their overseas trade and more often than not,
Tiffin-the newly introduced term into Telugu
Tiffin, the Indian English term is originated in British India. The
word originated when Indian custom superseded the British practice of an
afternoon tea, leading to a new word for the afternoon meal. It is
derived from the obsolete English slang “tiffing” which meant taking a
little drink or sip which was used for snacks being taken between two
principal meals-lunch and supper. Much later tiffin was applied to the
morning food taken much before lunch, taken as breakfast.
British officials of Madras Province started relishing the taste of
certain alpaahaara items like dOSai, idli, vada, puuri, upma, etc which
they called as tiffin. But snack items like buundi, chekODi etc, were
not attached to this label.
In other parts of India, such as
Mumbai, the word mostly refers to a packed lunch of some sort.
Dabbawallahs, sometimes known as tiffinwallahs, are used as a complex
courier system to send thousands of lunch boxes by the house wives, to
their spouses and/or children working at distant places. The lunchboxes
in Mumbai mostly contain rooTis or chapaatis.
This may be another
reason that items like chapaati or puuri are labeled by Telugu People
as tiffin. Tiffin time is a lunch time for Bombay people, whereas snacks
time for Telugu people. Food items, other than cooked rice and curries
etc., used in a meal, are popular in Telugu land as tiffin, which is a
recent development in its cooking history.
Traditional Telugu food items
The great Telugu poet of 15th century, Srinatha gives a long list of
more than 70 food items with their Telugu names of middle ages in his
SRungaara naiShadha. These food items were meant for serving to the
guests attending swayamvara function of Damayanti. Some more such names
of Telugu food items may be obtained from the literary works of Tenali
Ramakrishna, Peddana, and Timmana of Vijayanagara Period.
Suravaram Pratapa Reddy in his monumental work “aandhrula saanghika
charitra (The Social History of Telugu people), observed that some of
these names were confusing, as they were no more in vogue and required
the attention of scholars for further examination.
meaningful terms like tEmanam was lost in usage, as we use instead
majjiga pulusu. The reason is obvious. People are slowly urbanized and a
sort of indifference prevailed in their mind towards their mother
tongue and culture.
Traditional Telugu food items that are high
in their antiquity, rich in their nourishment, and pure in their
preparation provide good evidence of Telugu taste from ages.
eating habits of Telugu People are in according to the Ayurvedic Text
books namely Charaka Samhita, Susruta Samhita and Vagbhata Samhita of
ancient times (bruhatrayi) and Yogaratnakara, Bhaava Prakasha and Basava
raajiiyam of Middle Ages (laghutrayi). PulihOra (tamerindrice), gaarelu
(vadai), maDugulu (akind of Parotas), drabbeDa (traditional fried rice
of Telugu style), uurpu (a special soup prepared by frying a vegetable
on fire), angaarapOlika (an ancient type of Telugu butter naan-prepared
in tandoori method) paalakaayalu (a sort of sweet item prepared with the
cream of milk, that helps to develop good vision among the children who
are mostly exposed to computer monitors and television screens) are the
best examples of traditional
Telugu food items. Let us examine a few
drabbeDa was mentioned by pOtana
Mahakavi of 14th Century – oka konni drabbeDa loka konni taalimpu loka
konni vidhamula yorrachErulu. In this passage he mentioned about
drabbeDalu as a special cuisine to be served in the principal meal. But
the commentators failed to decipher what really drabbeDa meant. In
Sanskrit MahaBhagavata, we come across a word- sthaalii puriisha in the
passage: kaNa piNyaaka phaliikaraNa kalmaaSha sthaalii purii Shaadii
namrutava dabhyava harati (Skt. Bhag. 5.9.11) where it means sthaalii
lagnam dagdhaannam, a much deeply roasted rice layer stuck inside the
bottom of the cooking pot, which should not be eaten as it would lead to
This passage is in the context of JaDabharata’s life.
Potanaamaatya in his Telugu Bhaagavatamu translated this `sthaalee
pureesha` as “maaDu drabbeDa”. …uuka, tavuDu,telikapinDi,poTTu, maaDu
drabbeDa yaadigaa gala dravyambu layanduna mrutambu pagidi ruchecheesi
bhakShinchuchu (5.1.128)…it means jaDabharata lived by eating the husk,
bran, oil cake(the stuff of sesame seeds that remains after the oil was
pressed out ) and maaDu drabbeDa, a deeply roasted layer of rice.
If spices and vegetables are added to the cooked rice and fried
moderately, we will get the delicious drabbeDa, which equals to `fried
rice’of present day. drabbeDa was a popular traditional Telugu food
item, a special variety of rice by 15th Century.
MaDugulu-also known as maDagulu, maNugulu, or maDatalu was a traditional
cuisine mentioned by various writers of middle ages. maDagu in
classical Telugu means compromise or surrender. maData means a fold or a
folding. As far as preparation of a rooTi is concerned, folding adds to
its taste. Folding the wheat- layer twice is doupati, three times is
tripati and four times is chapati. In each time of the folding, oil and
dry powder are added. They increase the taste.
between a pulka and a chapaatilies in its foldings only. maDugulu or
maDatalu contain many foldings. paalagujju (cream of the milk) is
applied after baking the maDatalu, which equals butter naan or parOTa of
Angaara pOlika – a mudda or a
wheat-ball is to be prepared and placed on burning coal. After the
upper layer of the ball is roasted, it has to be taken out, and the
blackened crusts are to be peeled off. The core part of the ball appears
like a white flower.
Hence, Srinaatha of 15thcentury described
it as angara puuviya. This can be prepared either as a sweet or a salt
item and can be taken along with soup or sweetened milk. This is a good
example of the indigenous tandoori method developed by Telugu Vijaya Wada Prajalu
The present paper is to give only a brief sketch of the traditional Telugu cuisine and its history. It is one
of the neglected areas of historical study. In fact, history extends to
all important spheres of human activity and food history is also a
branch of history like political history or social history or economic
The food history of Telugus therefore demands a justified
focus of research in order to present the Telugu culture in its