Just as Puttu for Kerala, Pesaratu for Andhra Pradesh, Bisibela bath for Karnataka, Butter chicken for Punjab, PONGAL is unique to Thamizh Nadu- or so I’d like to believe.
When i was a kid, on a New Year’s day, my dad’s office staff flocked at about 7.30AM to wish my dad the customary NEW YEAR wishes. In turn he had to provide them breakfast. The item was PONGAL and Vadai (wrongly hindi-ized to VADA!). It was a mela and the place was Pudukkottai district in Thamizh Nadu, a place which, prior to Independence, was a Princely state. That was the first time i had tasted PONGAL. Everyone was effusive about the quality of the pongal and the vadai served- maybe, because they wanted to ingratiate themselves to my dad who was the Boss!!
I tasted a little bit of Pongal and was disappointed, it was nothing but over cooked rice eaten with coconut chutney! In Thamizh Nadu, this is called VeNpongal and contrasted with sarkarai pongal– which is sweet pongal made of rice and jaggery with a lot of ghee, raisins and cashewnuts.
By hindsight, i think Thamizhians love their rice with sambar- irrespective of whether it is morning, afternoon or night. Just that they call chutney rice by another name – pongal!