If it is Tamil Nadu it has to be Elai Sapad

Think Southern India and the image of lush green Plantain and Coconut Trees comes to mind.

Both the trees are so versatile that each part, from the root to the leaf, is either edible or used to make something that is useful.

As much as I love coconut and plantains and the various ways they can be used in the kitchen, ranging from sweet to savoury dishes, what I always applaud is the genius behind using a Plantain Leaf to serve a meal on. Eco-friendly, conscience friendly and aesthetically pleasing too!

A meal served on a Plantain Leaf is known as Elai (Plantain Leaf) Sapad (Meal) in Tamil Nadu.  Elai Sapad is a ‘full meal’ and almost always served as lunch. Click To Tweet

Elai Sapad is best relished sitting cross legged on the floor, but equally delicious when served on a table.


A fresh Plantain leaf is placed before you, with the leaf tip pointing to the left. Sprinkle a little water on it and rub it gently, thus washing it. When done tilt the leaf away from you, letting the drops of water slide away and you have yourself a clean plate.

As soon as you’re done washing a queue of servers line up next to you, each waiting to serve a dish in precise order. Rice is served on the bottom half of the leaf and the accompaniments that go with it are served on the top half. Salt, pickle, a chutney, salad followed by a variety of vegetables, both dry and in gravy form, are reserved for the top half. 


Vadai’s, Fried Chips and Appalam (Papad) find their place in the middle of the leaf.

Rice on the lower half is topped with Ghee, Dal, Sambhar, a Mor Kuzhambu (Mor Ko-lum-bu, a curd based dish, similar to Kadhi) and Rasam, of course not together but one after the other with the rice being topped up as you eat your way through. Keep sipping at a glass of Buttermilk as you relish your Elai Sapad. A sweet (like like Gulab Jamun) and/or Payasam (Kheer) finishes off the meal.

A Beeda (betel leaf/Paan) served at the end is as important as the full stop to end a sentence is.


If by now you’re wondering, ‘How can one possibly eat all THAT?’ let me assure you that this simply cooked and delicately flavoured Sapad does not leave you feeling overstuffed and is digested within 2-3 hours.

After you’re done, don’t forget  to fold the Plantain Leaf in half, toward you. This denotes gratitude and respect for the meal.

What is the thing to do after you’ve enjoyed your Elai Sapad? Enjoy a siesta! Bon Appetit!

Disclaimer: I am a Punjabi born and brought up in Bombay. I am married to a Telugu settled in Chennai. Any mistakes here are my own. Please feel free to correct me if you spot any.

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4 thoughts on “If it is Tamil Nadu it has to be Elai Sapad

  1. This is fun Mayuri! Looks like You have finally settled down in Chennai. Elai Sapadu is part of a rich culture of tamil Nadu, andit can come with variants to suit the occassion. The one at the time of Vishu, in a tradidnal home is a totally different fare. But enjoyable in its own way.!!

  2. What you’re saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I’m sure you’ll reach so many people with what you’ve got to say.

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