Tamil Nadu
Showcase 30 Nov 2014

Colour Palate - Part three

The third part of Colour Palate explores the colours of food in Punjab, Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Colour Palate travels through India, exploring the colour quotient of food traditions across geographical regions of Central, East, West, North, and South India. Based on exclusive Asian Paints research, the series presents a snapshot of each region and the medley of core ingredients which contribute to a unique colour palette per region. The second edition covered West Bengal and Odisha from East India, and Gujarat and Goa from West India. In this issue we travel to the North, exploring the colours in the cuisines of Punjab and Kashmir and then the South, to Tamil Nadu and Kerala.


Punjab was considered one of the most important kingdoms in ancient India, and has seen many rulers in its turbulent history, from the Aryans and Persians, to the Afghans and Mughals. At the end of the British Raj, the region was divided between India and Pakistan, leading to the modern state we know as Punjab. 

This legacy of war has instilled a fiercely independent and distinct culture in the people, a characteristic that also manifests in the cuisine of the region. 

The name Punjab is derived from the words ‘paanch’ which means five and ‘aab’ which means river, symbolising the five rivers that flow through the region, making it extremely fertile. The region has long enjoyed agricultural prosperity, with cultivation and animal husbandry being the primary sources of wealth for a majority of the populace. The dairy industry is particularly well-entrenched, with cattle being raised for their milk, which is consumed in myriad forms, from cream and ghee, to cottage cheese and sweet dishes. 

Most Punjabi dishes include their staple cereal wheat, which is used to make the famous Punjabi parathas, and corn, used to make delicacies such as makke di roti, which are now famous throughout India. Most ingredients used in Punjabi food are sourced locally, and the fertility of the land and the rich agrarian history provides a diverse array of ingredients to choose from. Apart from cereals, many different vegetables are used, especially onions and tomatoes, which, along with mustard seeds and oil, form the base of most curries. Chicken is also commonly consumed, and is prepared in a variety of ways from frying, grilling, and baking, to the signature tandoori style of cooking, which uses a cylindrical clay oven. Chicken or paneer cooked in a tandoor is typically accompanied by a green chutney made using pudina or mint leaves. 

The colours of the palette inspired by Punjabi cooking are pure, saturated, and intense, reminiscent of the determination, bravery, and zest for life that Punjabis are known for. The colours are well-suited to nurseries and schools, reflecting the energy desirable in a child’s environment. The palette can also be adapted for use in retail spaces, where they can be used during festive occasions to spread cheer and joy.

The sunset orange of the tandoori chicken, bright green and yellow of chutney and mustard flowers, and deep red of red chillies form the colour palette of Punjab.


Kashmir has long enjoyed a reputation as heaven on Earth, based on its location at the northern tip of India, as well as the scenic beauty of the region. While the region has changed many hands, possibly the most culturally influential event was the invasion by Timur in the 15th century, which saw the advent of many people from the city of Samarkand, who traveled to Kashmir along with their ruler. This history has led to the evolution of a unique dichotomy in the culture, with the Kashmiri Buddhists and Pandits contrasting against the Islamic heritage reflected in the Kashmiri Muslims. 

This history is particularly evident in the evolution of Kashmiri cuisine. The cuisine of the Pandits is elaborate, and makes plentiful use of yoghurt, oil, and spices, while the use of garlic, onions, and meat is typically avoided. Kashmiri Muslims on the other hand, use large quantities of meat, particularly lamb. One tradition that has survived to modern times, is the Wazwan—a ceremonial banquet that consists of many courses, primarily featuring meat and lamb in many forms, derived from Persian, Afghan, and other Central Asian preparations. 

The absence of sweets from Kashmiri cuisine is notable. Instead of desserts, kahwah or Kashmiri green tea, made from saffron, spices, and dried fruits, is consumed after most meals. 

The quality of colours in this palette is light, airy, and fresh. It is reminiscent of the humble lifestyle of the people and their respect for their surroundings/ The palette of colours inspired by Kashmiri cuisine is well-suited to living rooms and bedrooms, as well as office spaces, where it can create a harmonious atmosphere. Fashion houses can work with the palette to create beautiful collections which have an exotic feel to them.

The beautiful yellow of saffron, flaming red of Kashmiri chilli powder, white of yoghurt, and deep brown of lamb form the Kashmiri palette.

Tamil Nadu

The region of Tamil Nadu has been largely independent of external occupation for much of its history. Ruled by four mighty empires, the Cheras, the Cholas, the Pallavas, and the Pandyas for many centuries, the region developed a distinct art, literature, and culture. With the growth of maritime trade with Europe, the region was eventually occupied by France and Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

The rise and fall of mighty empires from the region, culminating in European rule is reflected in the culture and cuisine of the region. The different parts of the state each have their specialties, which come together to form the cuisine. The famous Chettinad cuisine of the South is known for a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare, while the coastal regions specialise in seafood and fiery curries. 

A traditional Tamilian meal or Saapaadu, is consumed while sitting cross-legged on the floor and is eaten using one’s hands. Food is traditionally served on banana leaves. However, stainless steel plates are more common these days. Rice and legumes play a central role in the cuisine, and are often used in various forms to create the different meals of the day. Flavourful ingredients such as turmeric, tamarind, fresh coconut, and hingh or asafoetida, are used liberally, with gingelly seed oil being the preferred cooking medium. 

Meals typically end with a sweet dish, called payasam, followed by a beeda, made using betel leaves, which aids digestion. Tamilians take pride in brewing a divine pick-me-up drink, the irreplaceable filter coffee, piping hot, frothy, and a deep, muddy brown. 

The quality of the colours is mostly bright, with the neutrals being muddy. It is reminiscent of the Tamil people’s reverence for tradition and their emphasis on purity. 

This palette will work well in corporate settings and restaurants, where they create an environment of sincerity and kindness. Fashion can take cues from this palette to create a uniquely Indian feel without the use of bright colours. Retail and home decor can also use these colours to create an aura of warmth.

The colour palette of Tamil Nadu is comprised of the bright green of the betel leaf, the khaki green of hingh, the pale white of gingelly seeds and the muddy brown of coffee.


Kerala’s history is intrinsically tied to the spice trade. Many Jewish and Arab traders set up trade centres in Kerala, leading to the formation of the city known as Mattancherry, a predominantly Jewish settlement in Cochin. Maritime trade with the Portuguese developed soon after, and the Dutch, the French, and the British soon followed. These different cultures have left an indelible mark on Keralite culture, from art and architecture, to dance, literature, and of course, food. 

The state is fertile, and well-endowed with natural resources. Often referred to as god’s own country, Kerala is a wondrous mix of misty hills, extensive backwaters, and shimmering lagoons. Such diversity in geography means a vast variety of ingredients for cooking, from seafood to oils and spices. The coconut tree is a trademark of Kerala, and the people use many different parts of the tree in their food, from the kernel to the milk, the cream, and the oil. Seafood, coconut, and tapioca form the staple of most Keralite dishes, and their flavours are accentuated with the use of cinnamon, garlic, ginger, cardamom, and peppers. 

Sadhya is the traditional banquet meal of Kerala, typically served to celebrate Onam, the harvest festival. It is customarily served on a banana leaf, with the dishes traditionally prepared in clay pots. The meal typically ends with payasam, a sweet dish made from rice and milk. Kokam, the sweet-sour spice found in abundance along the Konkan coast, is known for its therapeutic value, and is believed to have healing powers. It is an astringent, and cools the body, while also having antiseptic properties. Kokam, besides being used in several Kerala dishes, is often boiled in water, which turns it a deep pink colour, and sipped throughout the morning for increased health benefits.

The earthy brown of clay pots paired with the pure white of coconut milk, the pale yellow of jackfruit, and the deep pink of kokum form Kerala’s colour palette.

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