INDIAN FOOD SYSTEM (More precisely, South Indian but more or less applicable
to all Indian meal systems) The following are rough translations of the
words of Kanchi Paramacharya extracted from the Tamil publication titled
Sollin Selvar (The Expert of Words), Sri Kanchi Munivar by Sri Ra.
Ganapathy. The different Indian delicacies are explained as follows.

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SADAM: Cooked rice, the main dish of a South Indian meal is called sAdam.
That which has sat is sadam, in the same way we call those who are full of
sat, sadhus. We can give another explanation for the term: that which is
born out of prasannam is prasAdam. What we offer to Swami (God) as nivedanam
is given back to us as parasAdam. Since we should not add the root 'pra' to
the rice we cook for ourselves, we call it sAdam.

RASAM: Rasam means juice, which is also the name of filtered ruchi. We say
'it was full of rasa' when a speech or song was tasteful. If something is an
extraction of juice, then would it not be clear, diluted and free of
sediments? Such is the nature of our rasam, which is clear and dilute. The
other one, served earlier to rasam in a meal, is the kuzhambu. Kuzhambu
contains dissolved tamarind and cut vegetable pieces, so it looks unclear,
its ingredients not easily seen.

BUTTERMILK: A western meal normally ends with a dessert. In a South Indian
meal, desserts such as pAyasam are served after the rasam sAdam. Any sweets
that were served at the beginning are also taken at this time. After that we
take buttermilk rice as our final course. Paramacharya explains that since
sweets are harmful to teeth, our sour and salty buttermilk actually
strengthens our teeth, and this has been observed and praised by an American
dietician. We gargle warm salt water when we get toothache. The buttermilk
is the reason for our having strong teeth until the end of our life, unlike
the westerners who resort to dentures quite early in their life.

 UPPUMA: If the term uppuma is derived from the fact that we add uppu or
salt, then we also add salt to iddly, dosa and pongal! Actually, it is not
uppuma but ubbuma! The rava used for this dish expands in size to the full
vessel where heated up with water and salt. The action of rava getting
expanded is the reason for the term ubbuma. 

PAYASAM: payas (in Sanskrit) means milk. So pAyasam literally means 'a
delicacy made of milk'. This term does not refer to the rice and jaggery
used to make pAyasam. They go with the term without saying. Actually pAyasam
is to be made by boiling rice in milk (not water) and adding jaggery. These
days we have dhal pAyasam, ravA pAyasam, sEmia pAyasam and so on, using
other things in the place of rice. Vaishanavas have a beautiful Tamil term
akkaara adisil for pAyasam. The 'akkaar' in this term is a corruption of the
Sanskrit sharkara. The English term 'sugar' is from the Arabian 'sukkar',
which in turn is from this Sanskrit term. The same term also took the forms
'saccharine' and 'jaggery'. And the name of the dish jangiri is from the
term jaggery.

TAMBULAM: It is customary to have tAmbUlam at the end of a South Indian
dinner. In the North, tAambUlam is popularly known as paan, which is usually
a wrap of betel nut and other allied items in a calcium-laced pair of betel
leaves. In the South, tAmbUlam is usually an elaborate and leisurely
after-dinner activity. People sit around a plate of tAmbUlam items, drop a
few cut or sliced betel nut pieces in their month, take the betel leaves one
by one leisurely, draw a daub of pasty calcium on their back and then stuff
them in their mouth, chatting happily all the while. The betel leaf is known
by the name vetrilai in Tamil, literally an empty leaf. Paramacharya once
asked the people sitting around him the reason for calling it an empty leaf.
When none could give the answer, he said that the usually edible plants
don't just stop with leaf; they proceed to blossom, and bear fruits or
vegetables. Even in the case of spinach or lettuce, we have to cook them
before we can take them. Only in the case of the betel leaf, we take it raw,
and this plant just stops with its leaves, hence the name vetrilai or empty