A tango with thogayal

Sudha G Tilak | Updated on January 12, 2018

Mix and match: The thogayal remains versatile because it allows vegetables, skins and peel, nuts and lentils to be made into a mash. Seen here is orange rind thogayal

Global cuisine has our tables loaded with dips, sauces and salsas. It’s time we held up our thogayal from its humble status to make it a dining menu star too

As global food made its way into our kitchens, restaurant menus and cookery shows, our spread now includes multicultural dishes. However, another important reaction to the global food movement is the local asserting its right and asking for its honoured space in the kitchen and on the menus.

Heritage cuisine, slow-food movements, community dishes, family recipe cook-books are also elbowing their way to the front, reminding us of our food history and dishes that have fallen off our kitchen maps.

Some dishes do resist change and remain constant, though perhaps unsung. One of these, worthy of the “humble” stereotype and more, is the thogayal. And it seems that the dish is both fiercely local and prominent on the global food scene in its many avatars. Much like the fiercely desi Goodness Gracious father who claimed that “everything is Indian”, my mother constantly suspected that the many global spicy and salty dips, used to go with chips or crackers, were Indian. Thogayal, to be specific.

When a dip of hummus was laid out with chips, my mother sneered: “ Paruppu thogayal.

As a nod to Syria I laid out a muhammara with pita bread. “Tcha! Red pepper thogayal.”

The guacamole and tacos ground in the granite mortar was designated as “Any green thogayal — kothambir, curry leaves or the best, pudina, eh?”

And I’m not even bringing up babaganoush because I know this one would be “Aiyo, brinjal thogayal in an unpronounceable name smells as good.”

In Tamil Nadu, thovayal or thogayal is a mash and an accompaniment to rice or idli and dosa. Its many forms are also called pachadi in Telugu, chutney in Karnataka and chammanthi in Malayalam and bharta in Bengal or north India. Thogayal falls into the global rack of condiments, where a mix is made of vegetables — and in some cases, fish or meat — with local spices, and is turned into a mush that is sautéed in heat.

The vegetables and a combination of lentils, tamarind and chillies produce a mash that forms an accompaniment to a plate of hot rice, making for a meal in itself. It’s non-fussy and retains a simple but nutritious value.

Purists swear the mash tastes best when produced by a stone mortar and pestle, called ammi kallu in Tamil. Much like the guacamole, which tastes best when produced using the Mexican mortar-and-pestle, molcajete. Though these days we find it easier and quicker to use a blender or mixie.

The thogayal remains versatile because it allows vegetables, skins and peel, nuts and lentils to be made into a mash. This accounts for its sheer variety and ease of turning anything in the kitchen cabinet or veggie rack into the condiment. From the coconut, peanut, paruppu or lentils, to curry leaves, coriander, mint leaves or ginger, onion, tomato, chow chow, pumpkin, ridge gourd, brinjal, tamarind, red chillies, orange rind (kinnow too) and more. And yes, if you like a bit of fusion, why not serve the thogayal of your choice as a dip with chips and beer?

Inji thogayal


1/3 cup ginger, chopped

1 tbsp sesame or any refined oil

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

2 tbsp urad dal

1 or 2 red chillies

Pea-sized tamarind ball, soaked

Curry leaves

Salt to taste

1 Sauté the peeled and chopped ginger in 2 tsp of oil on a low flame and set aside.

2 In the pan add another 2 tsp of oil and pop the mustard seeds, urad dal, red chillies, tamarind, and curry leaves and sauté until the dal is golden.

3 Cool the sautéed ingredients and grind them all on a stone mortar or in the blender with very little water. Serve as an accompaniment to a plate of hot rice.

Sudha G Tilak is a Delhi-based journalist

Published on January 27, 2017

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