Need a Delicious Holiday? Luke Nguyen Has Done the Planning for You
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Need a Delicious Holiday? Luke Nguyen Has Done the Planning for You

South India is known for its spice production, coffee culture and delicious seafood, defined by centuries of multicultural influence. For chef Luke Nguyen, this was his first time on the subcontinent, tasting his way through South India.

Here’s where you need to go to plan your travel itinerary Luke Nguyen-style.

Destination: Bangalore

Bangalore is the largest city in the southern states of India, where rich history blend with the emerging high-tech industry. It is also highly regarded for its cuisine, coffee and cafe culture.

What to eat in Bangalore?

Idli is one of the popular dishes hailing from south India, a pillowy soft, steamed savoury cake made from fermented rice. The dish traditionally made from fermented rice is found all over Bangalore, like the Iyeridly, operating since 2001, selling 2500 ildis a day on average.

The town’s iconic Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR) is famous for their unique take on the traditional idli, rava idli, made of semolina flour instead of rice, as a response to the rice shortage after the World War II.


Credit: Luke Nguyen’s India

Next stop: Coimbatore

When you visit the vibrant city of Coimbatore, famous for its booming textile industry, the locals say you must try Annapoorna, a restaurant known as the “pride of Coimbatore.”

From its humble beginning as a theatre canteen in front of Coimbatore’s first cinema, the much-celebrated restaurant chain is found all over Tamil Nadu. Its founder taught many others how to start their own restaurants, such that numerous restaurants across India are called Annapoorna as a sign of respect and appreciation.

What to eat in Combaitore?

Here, Luke learnt the art of making their family roast, which has become synonymous with the restaurant. Unlike dosa , which is soft, roast is very thin and crispy. Here at Annapoorna, they make supersized roast to feed a family of eight or ten.


Luke learnt the art of making Annapoorna’s famous family roast. Credit: Luke Nguyen’s India

Then onto: Kochi

Kochi, the major port city where Kerala backwaters empty into the Malabar coast, and is known as the economic centre of the spice trade. Romans, Jews, Arabs and Chinese traders all came for the spice trade, while the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British occupied the city.

“Each time they came and went, Kochi kept what they left behind, forging a new identity as a confluence of cultures,” says Luke.

For example, Chinese fishing nets have evolved into a cultural symbol of Kochi, while the wok, known as the Chinese kadai, is used in cooking.


After that check out: Thekkady and Madurai

Thekkady, found high up in the southern ranges on the state border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, is known for its abundant natural beauty and wildlife. It is the best region in the world for growing pepper, cardamom, nutmeg and cloves.

As you descend the mountains down to Madurai, the second largest city in Tamil Nadu state, the scenery changes from the verdant green spice plantation to a dry, arid landscape.

Dating back over 2000 years, Madurai is also known as the “food capital of Tamil Nadu”, where streets are lined with produce markets and food vendors serving customers around the clock.

What to eat in Tamil Nadu?

Then stop over in: Chettinad

Chettinad, the merchant region of south India, is known for its scorching, arid landscape and sweltering heat. Luke says it can only be matched by their spice-driven cuisine, with “punchy flavours.”

What to eat in Chettinad?

Ask any South Indian about Chettinad cuisine, and many will think of mutton sukka. This goat dry curry originated in the area, before it became wildly popular across southern India.

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Luke cooks mutton sukka at Sri Rangavilas Mess Credit: Luke Ngyuen’s India

Essential to bear the region’s hot climate is Kambu, a millet drink known as Kambungol locally, which helps cool the body. The glass, almost like a porridge, is soft and delicate in flavour. Locals may add a kick to their drink by licking spice paste between the sips made of tamarind, chillies and salt.

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Kambu is a drink known to help cool the body in the hot climate of Chettinad. Credit: Luke Nguyen’s India

Before you head home don’t miss: Pondicherry

Once colonised by the French, Pondicherry is a quaint town with old colonial buildings dotted with French cafes, patisseries and restaurants. Coromandel Cafe is a venue serving a fusion of Indian, French, English and Asian.

Finally, end your trip in: Chennai

Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu state, where the culinary scene favours locally caught seafood and an amalgamation of flavours from across India.

Where to eat in Chennai?

Luke visits Sundari Akka Kadai, a busy eatery by the beach serving fresh seafood, followed by Kalathi Kadai, where rose milk has been served since the 1950s. Like an espresso culture, people come on a “rose milk break” between businesses to freshen up.

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Kalathi Kadai has been serving rose milk since the 1950s. Credit: Luke Nguyen’s India

“As I entered India for the first time, I was apprehensive about what I was going to encounter,” says Luke.

“The cuisine can be quite overwhelming to approach with its abundance of spices and multicultural influences.”

However, with the unwavering support and guidance of the locals he met on the way, Luke says so much was learned to enhance his culinary skills further.

Source : SBS Food