A melange of cuisines

A melange of cuisines

Belagavi - food

Belagavi city draws the nickname 'Kunda Nagari’ from its signature sweet kunda. But little do outsiders know that the city is known for many other unique and traditional dishes like the mandige. In fact, the food culture in Belagavi is quite different from other north Karnataka districts owing to its geographical location and growth of the city.

“The food culture in Belagavi is a fusion of three States and can be defined as ‘KOKAM’ (a type of fruit) where Ko refers to Konkan or the coast, Ka refers to Karnataka and M for Maharashtra. Post independence, as people from those regions began settling here, they brought in their culinary treasures with them. Slowly, all the linguistic communities began adopting the varied cooking styles and cuisines giving rise to a distinct food culture”, explains Prof Manisha Nesarkar of Rani Channamma University who has worked extensively on tracing Belagavi culture.

While a normal day in every home in the city begins with dishes like avalakki, sabudana kichdi (soaked sago cooked with potatoes), sabuvada (soaked sago fashioned into small patties with potatoes, chilli, coriander and fried), chapathis, upma, sheera, poori-bhaji and idli-dosa, the lunch includes chapathis, phulka, jowar rotti (also known as bhakri locally), thalipeeth (made of an assortment of flours), rice, variety of vegetables (grown abundantly in the region), jhunka and side dishes. All these dishes are a mix of food from three states. Also, potatoes are extensively used in the dishes here and a special type of vegetable is cooked using baby potatoes.

In the non-veg category, Belagavi Biryani made from Belagavi Basmati rice, which is grown in Yellur and nearby villages around Belagavi is most sought after. “Kabab curries and Belagavi Biryani are quite famous here. Also, people of the city prefer a little bland food in vegetarian section whereas spicier food in non-veg dishes,” said Pramesh Nag, a chef in Belagavi.

The seafood is generally cooked in Goan, Malwan, Karwar or Maharashtra Konkan style. “Fishes like kingfish, mackerel, prawns and crabs sourced from the Konkan region are used. “While we use grated coconut in Karwari food, coconut milk is used for Goan style,” said Bhakthi Pai Patel who caters to the seafood lovers of the city.

For those with sweet tooth

It is said that the word Belagavi comes from two words - bella (jaggery) and gavi (village) meaning a jaggery village due to the vast production of sugarcane and jaggery (or sugar) in the area. Also, the nearby areas are traditionally rich in the production of milk and other dairy products and both these factors make it an ideal place for sweets. Traditional sweets like hoorana holige (known as pooran poli in Marathi), kadabu (dumplings fried with a variety of sweet fillings), ladagi laddu, groundnut holige, shrikhand (made of hung curds), amrakhand (mango-flavoured shrikhand), variety of fried and steamed modaks with different filling (prepared during Ganesh Chaturthi) are prepared during special occasions in both Kannada and Marathi communities.

Apart from these home-made sweets, there are delicacies such as kunda, mandige and kardant (originally from Gokak in Belagavi district) which can be prepared only by chefs. Making Mandige involves a time-consuming and tedious process. Firstly, specially ground wheat flour, rava (semolina) and are mixed with water to make a hard dough. After keeping it aside for some time, this dough is rubbed with hands to smoothen it. It is then covered with a wet thin white cloth and again kept aside. After two to three hours, a finely rubbed and fluffy mixture of pure ghee and sugar are filled in it and rolled. After that, it is tossed in the air like a Roomali Roti and baked.

During weddings, large unfolded mandige (usually 20 to 24 inch in size) is served on a huge plantain leaf to the groom, bride and other special people. However, during other times, the mandige is folded like a dosa to make it easy to carry. “Perfection is a must while preparing mandige as we cannot rework with the dough if it is not done properly. Also, we have to be particular about the timing of preparing mandige. Too hot, cold or moist weather is not suitable for making it. So, we generally make it in the mornings or early evenings,” said Vijaykumar Saralaya whose family is into making mandige for the past 50 years. Mandige from Belagavi not only caters to the local people but also to people from other states, particularly south Maharashtra, who purchase it from Belagavi chefs in huge quantities.

Vijaykumar also narrates a legend associated with mandige. “When God appeared before a Brahmin who was involved in tapas, he had nothing to offer. So, he rolled some dough, sugar and ghee and baked it with the heat of his tapas. Thus, the mandige was born.”

The taste of chaats

Belagavi city is also known for its unique snack called the alipaak. It is prepared using puffed rice, groundnuts, black salt, coconut, green chilli, lime juice, parched rice and a spice called pade lavan which is a good digestive and gives that special taste to it. Unlike other chaats, it does not have onion or garlic and is generally had with sugarcane juice. “We cater to nearly 1,000 customers every day by preparing alipaak using 10 to 15 kg groundnut and a bag full of puffed rice which are sourced locally. Now, we also have sugarcane juice flavoured with pineapple, mint, etc,” said Nilesh Patil of Sheetal Rasvanti Gruha, a food joint, which has been making alipaak since 1976.

Apart from this, Belagavi people are known for their love for chaats too. Though chaats are not indigenous cuisines, they came with the immigrants from Gujarat and Rajasthan in the 1980s and became an innate part of the food culture here. Today, hundreds of chaat-makers line numerous streets of the city with their mobile carts and their 7 pm fan club. Each cart offers a unique blend of aromatic, sweet and tangy chaats like bhelpuri, sev puri, pani puri, ragada patties etc. “Our older generation came to Belagavi from Chittoor district in Rajasthan and began selling chaats here and expanded the base. Till today, our aim has been providing quality and authentic chaats,” said Kailash Patel of the popular Ambika Chaat centre.

While these chaats came from Rajasthan, other foods like paav bhaaji, vada-paav, usal/misal paa percolated from Mumbai. Paav (bun baked after cutting into four pieces) was introduced to Indians by the Portuguese. It initially was popular as a takeaway snack among the cotton mill labourers in Mumbai who relished the paav with the Indian version of bhaaji (vegetable), which was stomach-filling and healthy. As Belagavi and its industries had close proximity to Mumbai, paav bhaaji entered the food circles of the city quite early. Today, hot paav bhaaji and vada-paav with hundreds of variants (potato vada sandwiched between the paav and smeared with layers of chutneys), misal/usal paav (vegetable of fresh lentils cooked with spices and sometimes topped with sev and chivda and eaten with paav) are all quite popular. Another snack, katchi dabeli (paav stuffed with spicy potato mixture, pomegranates and tangy, sweet, spicy chutneys) which was introduced from Gujarat has also tickled the tastebuds of Belagavi foodies.

To top these cuisines, there are drinks like the solkadi (made using kokum, amsol and coconut milk which helps in digestion after a heavy meal), vala (made using dried roots of khus or vetiver, a fragrant grass with woody aroma) and kokum juice. All these have been influenced by the Konkan region.

Though all these foods are influenced by the neighbouring states, these dishes have an identity of their own because they mainly use local produce and cater to the local palate.