We all know that Sambhar is one thing that is associated with Tamil Nadu. Anything about Sambhar, it will have something to do with Tamil Nadu. Known famously for the Idly and Sambhar, to know the origin of Sambhar and the story behind it might take you by surprise.
The story goes that the original recipe for ‘Sambhar’ a dish which is so intrinsic to Tamil Nadu cuisine is actually traced to Maratha ruler Shivaji’s son. Legend has it that Sambhaji, son of Shivaji, attempted to make dal for himself when his head chef was away. “He added a little tamarind to the dal that he made, but the royal kitchen dared to correct him on the fact that tamarind was not used in dal,” says S Suresh, Tamil Nadu state convener of Intach. “He loved his own concoction, which was then referred to as sambhar,” says Suresh
Although Sambhaji’s sambhar is more lore than recipe, and there are more than 50 varieties of Sambhar today, chefs do admit that the Tanjore sambhar is still something to be savoured. While the Sambhaji influenced sambhar was more a tamarind soup, the Thanjavur brahmin sambhar recipe is mostly followed today where there is no onion and garlic, and the dish is not heavy on spice. “But even today, the sambhar of Tamil Nadu is very different from what you find in the state’s neighbour Karnataka,” says Vasanthan Sigamany, associate professor of food sociology and anthropology at the Welcome Group Graduate School of Hotel Management, Manipal. “In TN, dry powders are used, while in Karnataka they use wet pastes. In Tamil Nadu, in a traditional vegetarian meal, sambhar is served first and then rasam, but it is the opposite in Karnataka,” he says.
Sigamany adds that while in Tamil Nadu only local vegetables such as drumstick, radish or brinjal are used in the sambar, in other states like Kerala, English vegetables that became popular during the British rule in India such as potato and carrot are used.
Over the years, there have been numerous varieties of Sambhar now prepared all across the nation though the Thanjavur Sambhar is something to die for.