Traditional karnataka fare can only be understood if we were to journey to the hinterland.
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.
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.