The cuisine of Karnataka is a wonder. Shaped over long centuries by time and weather, each region of this ancient land has its own unique and exciting way of cooking. Distinct flavours and fashions mark the experience of every regional cuisine, and every cuisine marks the experience of its inventors – the daily traffic of theirs lives, their history, their joys and celebrations.
From the earthy flavours of Northern Karnataka to the traditional fare of the South, from the zesty food of the Mangalorean coast to the unique preparations of Kodugu, Kannadiga cuisine presents a remarkable continuum. Each cuisine is distinctive, characterised by ingredients that grow naturally in the region, and yet, there are foods that a typical Kannadiga meal must include.
Served on a banana leaf, the meal begins once everyone’s been customarily served with ghee. Small mouthfuls of rice are eaten with a lentil-and-vegetable salad called Kosambari, aromatically spiced vegetable dishes or Palya, and a preparation of creamy and spiced lentils laced with ghee called Thovve. The rice, mixed subtly with the ghee, is then eaten with the Huli, cooked vegetables with coconut, curry leaves, and a number of pungent spices and a sweet, tangy and spicy stew called Gojju.
The main course, Saaru, then follows: a thin and spicy lentil extract, like rasam made from pepper, turmeric and other spices, or a broth made from lentils and spring beans, or spinach. The dessert comes next, either rice-pudding like paysaa or confections like Mysore pak or jilebis, followed finally by curd-rice or buttermilk to soothe the palate and settle your stomach.
Regional cuisine, of course, tends to vary, and remarkably so. The cuisine of Northern Karnataka is much drier than the others, with rotis and chutneys marking this cuisine. Rotis in the region are made from a wide range of cereals and herbs – like wheat, sorghum, bajra, and even rice-flour – making mouth-watering jolada rottis, khadak rottis, sajja rottis and thali peets. And complementing these griddle breads is an exquisite range of chutneys made from raw mango, limes, coconut and pulses mixed with pudina, mustard, chillies, tamarind and curry leaves among so many herbs and spices.
In contrast, preparations of flavoured rice and fish curries are heartfelt favourites in Mangalore. Kori rotti, made from dry rice flakes dipped in gravy, Bangude Pulimunchi or silver-grey mackerels, and the lacy rice crepes called Neer dosa are characteristic of Mangalorean cooking, and indeed of Kannadiga cuisine. And, the Catholic and Muslim influences on the cuisine of Mangalore saw the creation of Sanna Dukra Maas or pork idlis, Pork Bafat, Sorpotel and Mutton Biryani.
Since Mangalore is a coastal town, fish forms the staple diet of most people, but in the town of Udupi, no meat is consumed, not even onions and garlic. Indeed, South Indian vegetarian fare takes its name and sensibilities greatly from Udupi. Developed by Shivalli Madhwa Brahmins who cook food for the Krishna Matha temple in Udupi, pumpkins and gourds are the foremost ingredients in Udupi cooking, and rasam is an essential part of the menu, as are jackfruit, colocasia leaves, raw green bananas, mango pickle, and red chillies.
Kodugu cuisine is as distinctive as are the attire, customs and festivals of the region. Whereas most of Karnataka is vegetarian, the most sought after foods of the Kodavas include a number of meat preparations. Pandi curry, or pork curry, and kadumbuttu, rice dumplings, are perhaps the most appetizing dishes in the Kodugu menu. Koli curry, or chicken curry, rice noodles called nool puttu, and bembla curry, or bamboo shoot curry present a culinary identity that stands apart in Karnataka, and yet can belong to no other place.
Take a moment and immerse yourself in the breathtaking variety of Kannadiga cooking, and allow yourself the diverse pleasures of a singular culture