The defining craze of Tamil Nadu is definitely bananas, as I found out when I blogged about bananas in Chennai. A helpful fellow blogger left me with the common names of a few varieties: mala pazham, poovam pazham, rasthali, yelakki,karpooravalli, pachai vaazha pazham, nenthram. Pazham is the Tamil word for fruit.
Walking around Madurai it was not uncommon to see cartloads of bananas being pedaled past you. I managed to catch one of these carts piled high with what I assume would be called pachai vaazha pazham, ie, green fruits. This time I gave in to curiosity and checked up the web site of the National Horticultural Board. Tamil Nadu is reported to grow 11 varieties of bananas, second only to Assam, which grows 13 varieties! Here are the ones grown in Tamil Nadu: Virupakshi, Robusta, red banana, Poovan, Rasthali, Nendran, Monthan, Karpuravalli, Sakkai, Peyan, Matti. Of these Robusta is a common cultivar worldwide. The rest seem to be fairly local. I say fairly, because several of these are grown also in the neighbouring states of Karnataka and Kerala.
I see a few names common between the list I got from a reader and the list from the NHB. The small banana which often rounds off a meal is either the Poovan or the Rasthali. Either could be commonly called yelakki. Some of the varieties grown in Tamil Nadu are not eaten uncooked. I wonder which they are.