Spectrum: Aromas of the coast

A dash of goodness From mending dry leaves into flavoured bases to making tasty ‘goli bajes’ from sour curd, the cuisine of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts is inventive, mouth-watering, nutritious and ecological

Introduced as a humble dish on the temple streets of Udupi,Masala Dosa is now an ‘international celebrity’ among South Indian dishes, and has even gained a place in the Oxford dictionaries. This is an indicator of the popularity of dishes prepared in the Tulu districts of Dakshina Kannada (DK) and Udupi. Neer dosa, goli baje, Mangaluru buns, dalithoy, pathrode…there is much more to these simple dishes of the coast than one’s taste buds meet. While unique taste forms the basis of their distinctiveness, other aspects that distinguish them are that they are cooked efficiently, correspond with climate and seasons, and are based on nutritional ecology.

From plant to plate

Advai Savitha S Bhat, a culinary expert from Vitla, lays a tasty list of vegetarian dishes from the region, which includes chakkuli, halwa, mango and amtekai pickle, papad, chips and balaka from a variety of tubers and vegetables, and several preparations from local produce. She says, “Like any other rural household here, I have a self-sustaining garden where I grow fresh vegetables and fruits including gulla (a special brinjal variety), jackfruit, breadfruit (jee-gujve), banana, sweet potato, mango, greens, kidney beans etc., from which a wide variety of dishes are prepared.”

The two coastal districts revel in mango and jackfruit in summer with a sinfully delicious variety of dishes including ice cream. Savitha informs that each tree of mango and jackfruit is unique and fruits from certain plants are suitable for certain dishes. Chips, palya, undluka, dosa, kadubu (sweet idli steamed in teakwood or banana leaves, also known as patholi or gatti), palya, sambar, payasam, papad etc are traditionally made from jackfruit. Mango and jackfruit are preserved for years through brining. Mambala and hambala, sundried pulp of ripe mango and jackfruit respectively, are traditional techniques of preserving the fruit pulp. In the same way, kokum rind, vegetables and spices are also dried and stored for future use. 

Seasonal delicacies

During summer, recipes that balance the body temperature such as basale (Malabar spinach) tambli, spiced buttermilk, mango rasam and kokum juice and rasam are prepared. Similarly, spice-based curries like pepper rasam and ginger tambli, sweet potato dishes, amaranth leaf curry etc., fall under the rainy season specialities. While the Tulu month of aati is considered inauspicious in the region and no important work is initiated during this month, it’s the favourite season of food lovers. Each community organises an elaborate feast during this month. The usually cold season is warmed up by various kinds of dishes, which include moode (a type of idli prepared in kedige or screw pine leaf), chutneys, bamboo side dish, bamboo gasi and numerous delicacies prepared from jackfruit and breadfruit. “Pathrode is the highlight of the season. It is prepared not just from colocasia leaves but also from bamboo shoot. A variety of dishes are prepared from breadfruit during this season,” explains Savitha.

Other irresistible dishes of the region include kotte kadubu (steamed rice idli steamed in jackfruit or banana leaf), idlies, a variety of dosas, ottu shavige (rice noodles), rotti, etc. The leaves have to be meticulously stitched together using fresh coconut leaf sticks and the corresponding leaf bases render unique flavours to the idlies. While each house in DK and Udupi were familiar with the art of stitching these leaves in the past, now they are available in stores. While boiled rice is the staple of the region, the districts are known for a wide range of steamed dishes.

Conventionally, these recipes have been passed down through generations. Nevertheless, they are now easily made available on the Internet. An online portal and Facebook page, ‘Hebbar’s Kitchen’ has been documenting traditional recipes. Archana of ‘Hebbar’s Kitchen’ briefs on the main ingredients used in these traditional recipes, “The preparations are healthy and nutritious as they do not use much oil. Typically, most of the dishes contain fresh coconut. Also, they contain locally grown ingredients, which are not just fresh but have also adapted to the local ecosystem. This makes the food healthier and ecological. In addition, some of the common breakfast recipes are prepared in banana leaves, jackfruit leaves and even teakwood leaves, which make them healthy, economical and eco-friendly!” Kokum, raw mango and bilimbi replace tamarind in certain preparations.

Use of flowers, leaves and vegetables grown in the wild is also common in the region. Unique combination of vegetables like tondekai-channa or tender cashew nut palya, cucumber-tondekai majjige huli, mixed vegetable curry, mango-bittergourd menaskai is also popular in these districts. Vinaya Prabhu, another food expert who manages the site ‘Vinaya’s culinary delights’, adds, “The use of coconut and coconut oil is predominant here as coconut is grown across Dakshina Kannada and Udupi. Healthy stir fries called upkari and a variety of coconut based gravies seasoned either with onion, garlic or mustard and curries leaves, rule the local cuisine. Additions like gojju and different types of chutneys are traditionally prepared in every kitchen. Coastal cuisine makes use of the peel, flower, root and tender shoots of vegetables and fruits to make delicious and healthy dishes.”

The vegetarian delights that are exclusive to this region include dalithoy (exclusive Konkani daal), Malabar spinach curry, biscuit rotti, patholi (sweet rice dumplings laced with jaggery and coconut, and steamed in turmeric leaves), mango curry (staple summer delight), soornali (a kind of dosa). 

Seafood specialities

While DK and Udupi cuisines are exceedingly vegetarian, the region does not fail to entice the taste buds of non-vegetarians either. Konkani, Christian and Muslim style Mangalurean food is a perfect brew of regional vegetarian and non-vegetarian delights. Ghee roast chicken, fish fry, koli rotti (roti with chicken curry), anjal masala fry, rava fry, chicken dum biryani and bangude curry are just a few non-
vegetarian delicacies of the region.

‘Aayi’s recipe’, an exclusive Konkani culinary site managed by food enthusiast Shilpa, has a collection of all the traditional Konkani dishes and has an archive filled with fish recipes. Nagli ambat (ladyfish gravy), grilled salmon, bhobshe (dried fish gravy), grilled spinach salmon and mori (shark gravy) are some of the Konkani specialties that are exclusive to the coastal districts. However, Shilpa explains, “Konkani food is so much more than just seafood. Most of the Konkanis are vegetarians and we make many vegetarian dishes on a daily basis with fresh vegetables.”

There is another community that contributes to the richness of coastal cuisine — the Christians. Renee Lobo, a homemaker, explains, “The coastal region is known as a seafood paradise. Fish curry (with coconut as the main ingredient) and rice are the staple food of non-vegetarians in the region.” She briefs on a variety of Christian preparations that is exclusive to the coastal districts, which include jeerem meerem (cumin and pepper fish curry), lasun meerem (garlic and pepper fish curry), and ambot tik (a shark delicacy). She adds, “During the harvest festival in September, we prepare an odd number of vegetarian dishes that are served on banana leaf. They include cucumber karam (cucumber seasoned with vinegar and coconut), kulta kaat (horse gram and field pumpkin curry), tendli moi and ambate curry (hog plum in sweet curry).” Christmas delicacies of the region include roast chicken with bread stuffing, pork, and sweet pulao served with date and plum chutney.

What adds to the uniqueness of coastal food is that it makes the best use of home-grown produce and correlates with the seasons.

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Spectrum: Aromas of the coast

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