When I had Coorg (Kodagu) on my mind, I was dying to experience and explore the Kodava cuisine. Coorg, as itself is not a place anymore. It used to be a British province and now most of that region lies in Kodagu district. I ardently believe that a cuisine of a particular place is largely influenced by the culture, traditions and history of the place. The exceptional bravery of the Kodava community gave them so much recognition. There are lots of people who join into Army every year. Kodagu district has many sportsmen and sportswoman. Of all the national hockey players in India till now, almost 50 of them are from Kodagu. Kodagu people are ethnically different from the rest of Karnataka. What makes Kodagu more interesting? Some areas here are allowed to carry guns without permits just like Nagaland.
People of Kodagu are warriors and agricultural land-lords. None of their weddings are simple. They consider weddings without non-vegetarian (read Pandi Curry because they think chicken is for chickens) and alcohol is a blasphemy. They don’t follow religious festivals and deities but they worship nature, Kaveri and weather. Because of the abundance in growth of paddy, rice became the staple food. But more than taking rice as such, they make various preparations of rice such as Kadumbuttu, Noolputtu, Paaputtu and akki rotti. Meat has always been an inclusion in almost every Kodava meal, be it Pork or chicken or fish.
Knowing this already, I was quite excited to listen to more interesting stories from the locals itself. I was in different places in 2 days and tried as many as possible but I was looking for a full-fledged Coorgi meal. My home-stay owner Shiva Kumar, readily agreed to accompany me in my quest for an authentic Kodagu meal. My quest was made easy by a restaurant, ‘The Coorg Cuisine’, which is a small home turned-into restaurant and is run by a family. Everyone that works in the restaurant belongs to same family. I had to wait a bit as they were running late on that particular day otherwise they are usually open by 7:30.
Now, why Coorg Cuisine is known for it’s Pandi Curry?
During the old times, most of them used to be warriors. They fought a lot of wars and were known for their exceptional battle skills. As the saying goes ‘An army marches on its stomach’, they used to give a lot of importance on the food they eat and wanted to have freshly cooked food. So how this ‘Pandi-Curry’ came into picture was the aftermath of the wild-boar huntings. The Coorgi women used to accompany their husbands to cook for them at great risk. And it makes sense that a wild-boar can satisfy the hunger of many men.
Also, the people here were usually vexed by wild-boars destroying their agricultural farms and that’s when the wild-boar hunting became necessary and the indigenous kodava people were clever enough to make the usage of situation and started cooking Pork using KACHAMPULI, which is a type of black vinegar native only to Coorg forests. And in the monsoons, the rains in western ghats are aggravating enough to restrict them to homes. So the dried and smoked meats used to help them in making a scrumptious and sumptuous meals at these hard times. And not only them, almost everyone who ate it eventually fell in love with their pork preparation. And they say, pork curry is best in taste, the next day of the cooking.
Being a vegetarian, I was a little disappointed to know that the recipe they use is only for pork. But Sunil, son of the restaurant owner gave me some kachampuli to taste. It was a very dark coloured thick syrup and was very sour-acidic and has a peculiar pungency added to it because it gets fermented. Some of the bottles in their home dates back to 10-12 years ago. I asked him to suggest the best of the coorg cuisine to try. He started sending in the dishes to our table.
Chorange Rasa Soda Thain is a fancy name for the concoction of Lime with the Coorg honey and salt which is topped with soda.
Kadambuttu are round rice dumplings that are steamed to cook. They were very soft but a bit crumbly that breaks when touched hard. This goes very good with Pandi-curry as they said.
Nool Puttu are similar to idiyappam, where rice is prepared into a form of noodles or string hopper. These are also steamed to be cooked. This goes great with Koot Curry.
Koot Curry: Koot Curry is a mixed vegetable curry prepared in a spicy coconut-based gravy. The spices used here are very strong as they are produced here itself and so the hotness is more and feels like over-powering to outsiders.
Baimbale Barthad: Barthad is a specific type of fry recipe and here the dices of bamboo-shoots are sauteed in a wok and the basic spices are tossed in it. But Bamboo-shoot has a bizarre smell and the sticky nature and to avoid it they have a process. Thin sliced bamboo-shoot dices are soaked in water over night. Then they are rinsed thoroughly with fresh water and then again soaked for sometime till this water taste sour. Only after that, these are considered to be usable here.
Now the famous Pandi-curry, although I did not eat, as it was described by my home-stay owner Shiva Kumar, was particularly tart with tangy flavours and has a strong aroma because of the spices. He said that the slow-cooking of the meat make it softer and absorb the flavours to a great extent.
There’s a spice mix, which is made up of cloves, cinnamon bark, peppercorn, fenugreek, cumin, coriander seeds and mustard, roasted and powdered. They pretty much use this mix to every dish. I still remember how strongly flavoured and hot, the masala puri was in the streets of Madikeri, because he added a pinch of this spice mix.
I was dying to try some Coorgi desserts such as Kuleputtu (steamed Jackfruit-rice cake) or Thambuttu (Mashed banana and roasted rice flour sweet) but unfortunately they were not available at that time. Speaking to me, the head of the family that runs restaurant conveyed his dis-comfort on how the Kodagu culture is disappearing and told me that he chose to run this restaurant instead of moving to Mangalore because he wanted to show the authentic taste of Coorg to people coming here and did not want these age old recipes getting vanished.
P.T.Bopanna researched and collected many of the Coorgi recipes under one website coorgrecipes.com. So you might want to visit this website if you would like to try something at home.
(Sources : Conversations with locals + internet )