As a chef who loves food and travel, undertaking a culinary journey to research the traditional cuisine of Karnataka for Oota was perhaps one of my most enriching experiences. The food can be divided based on geography and culinary leanings — the Canara Coast from Mangaluru to Karwar famous for its seafood, Malnad (the Western Ghats) from Coorg to Kudremukha and beyond for its love for pork and greens, North Karnataka covering Hubli-Dharwad, Belgaum, Gadag to Bijapur, the border districts of the Hyderabad-Karnataka region of Chitradurga, Hospet, Bellary, Koppal, Raichur and Gulbarga, besides South Karnataka — Mysore, Mandya, Bengaluru and Kolar.
Malnad is famous for its kadabus (steamed dumplings) that are sweet or savoury, best eaten with ghee. While Coorg’s signature dish is pandi curry, the Handi (Pork) Kempu curry, so called after its fiery red colour, is a favourite Another hidden gem is the protein-rich chigli chutney made of fire ants — the sourness is derived from the formic acid in the ants! The Haviyak Brahmins are dictated by the medicinal properties of food. Their unique buttermilk-based tumbullis are not just refreshing but also therapeutic.
In the Canara coast, pink Gokarna salt is essential in fish curries and dishes. The Navayath Muslim community of the ancient trading town of Bhatkal have the delicate Shaiyya Jhinga Biryani made of rice vermicelli and prawns, bursting with flavours of the sea. Raw cashew is used by the Goud Saraswat Brahmin community as Bibo Upkari while Mangalore Catholics pair it with ivy gourd to make tindli moi.
— The writer is a consultant chef and founder of a traditional food restaurant in Benglauru. His insta handle is www.instagram.com/chefmanjit.
Arshinada yele kadabu/turmeric leaf dumpling
The dish takes on the flavour of the turmeric leaves in which the dumpling is steamed, imparting its distinctly strong aroma. Other fruits or leaves are not used for this reason.
- 1½ cup grated coconut
- 1 cup jaggery grated
- 1 cup soaked rice (soaked for 1 hour)
- 250 gm haralu pudi — roasted paddy (husk with puffed rice)
- 1 gm cardamom
- 1 gm cloves turmeric leaves
- Grind ingredients (soaked rice, jaggery, grated coconut) in a mixer to a fine paste.
- Pour it into a bowl. Add the haralu pudi, enough to be pliable into a ball.
- Add powdered cardamom and cloves.
- Use tender turmeric leaves and turn it over to use the underside of the leaf.
- Pat a portion of the paste like a strip along the central vein, and fold the leaf to close it.
- Place leaves in a steamer or Kadubina kalasake, as it’s called in Malnad. The same vessel is referred to as Saayakala in neighbouring Kodagu.
- The kadabu or dumpling is arranged in a flat manner, separate from each other, yet tip to tip.
- The next layer is added above it to create a star like pattern.
- Allow the kadabu to cook for 35 minutes.
- Best eaten with: Halu (milk) payasa and ghee.
Chigli or kemp iruvé chutney (fire ant chutney)
There are two kinds of fire ants — Ecophila smoragdina, found in India, and Ecophilia Langodina, in South Africa. Fire ants usually build leafy nests in mavin (mango), neralé (jamun) and halasina mara (jackfruit) trees. White larve are usually swollen. Fire ants have a peculiar sting and the ooze is pretty sour, which lends the typical sour or tangy flavour of its chutney. The dish is called Uri in Tulu and Chigli in Kannada. Considered a delicacy, it has plenty of proteins and is great for winters. It’s medicinal properties help prevent cold, cough, flu and pneumonia. It’s a traditional seasonal food item in Malnad (November to March) and constituted a perfect diet in the olden days with its natural flavours and nutrients.
- 100 gm fire ants
- 1 small onion (chopped)
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 12 garlic cloves
- 20 bird’s eye chilli
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 3 tbsp grated coconut
- Sea salt to taste
- A little water
- Chigli is collected at 5 am to 6 am near a field or forest before the sun rays hit the nest, and the ants disperse.
- Get an expert to harvest it in a basket or plastic bag.
- Pour into a heated vessel and toss around.
- Killed by the heat, the ants are cooled and cleaned of any impurities like leaves, insects etc.
- This is then sun-dried for a while and mixed with salt and chilli powder as a preserve. This mixture can be preserved for over two years. No water is added or used at all.
- To make fresh ready to use chutney, mix ingredients together with a little water and grind into a nice paste.
- Hand grinding on a mortar and pestle imparts better taste but a smoother paste can be made in a mixer.
- Best eaten with: Dollops of ghee, akki rotti and bagne shendi (toddy)!