Udupi fish curry

Cooking in coastal South Karnataka

Search for the words food and Udupi together in a search engine and you will quite likely come across the term “Udupi hotels” (read that as Udupi restaurants).  Even though this post uses these words numerous times, I won’t be writing about the vegetarian fare that is served in Udupi restaurants which has evolved to become such a delicious mix and match of popular south Indian snacks.  However, most people still think that these restaurants serve food exclusive or native to the Udupi region.  Well, read on…

This post took me a few months of research, photography, travel and lots of cross checking, which I was able

A coconut being cracked open with the help of a katti
A coconut being cracked open with the help of a katti

to do making use of my annual leave. Let us then have a look  at the food eaten here in Udupi; then and now by people from the Kanarese -i.e. the Kannada & Tulu speaking Protestant Christian community. This covers the  entire region of South Canara or Dakshina Kannada as it is now known.

The coconut that dominates the coastline is an important ingredient in most recipes. You can find trees in the garden of every traditional house worth its salt. If you were to flip through the pages of an old recipe book, some of the  ingredients that would fly past are,  among meats -mutton, beef, pork, chicken,  <Sea food> Fresh or dried fish (Nungel meen) and prawns (yetti); crabs (denjee); aanae, dadd’ and kesa marvai  (3 kinds of mussels/clams); kalla (limpets); ajeer (oysters) and field and sea nar-tay or snails.

A leaf from my maternal grandmother's cookbook
A leaf from my maternal grandmother’s cookbook

I heard from the older folk that there was something called Kadal Panji (literally sea pig) whose red meat was sold in the fish market when they were kids.  I suspect that it was probably dugong (sea cow). It is no longer available in the fish market and neither are snails, limpets, some kinds of mussels and oysters. The causes, without doubt  are over fishing, exports and pollution -probably extinction of some species too! The field snails disappeared after chemical fertilizers started being used in the fields. Udupi being situated on the sea coast, has its fair share of loud mouthed fishwives who come door to door selling “fresh fish” their husbands have allegedly caught. Once, limpets were struck off the rocks, pried out of their shells and filled into pots which fishwives then peddled door to door. We never got to see these things in our generation. I am indeed privileged to write about it that the generations to come may know their history.

We have some ingredients and cooking methods in common  with the other

Yashodha, one of the many fishwives who sell fish door to door
Yashodha, one of the many fishwives who sell fish door to door

coastal states of south India, viz.. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Our cuisine however is distinctive in its own way. I will in brief give you a general outline of the kinds of food preparations native to the Udupi region and its surrounding areas. I will also be discussing the traditional tools and techniques used to prepare them. Whenever possible, I will mention the modern equivalent/substitute for the same.  I will record what they are called in the Tulu & Kannada languages and try to put down an English literal translation of the words. Finally, wherever any of the items justify a separate post, I will be linking to a more detailed post on that subject as and when time permits.

Food preparations & Dishes:

A cast iron dosa griddle with its aluminium dome used to make dosas. The dosa gets fried on the underside and steamed on the top. Our dosas, unlike those available in Udupi hotels have always been thick and fluffy instead of thin and crunchy.
A cast iron dosa griddle with its aluminium dome used to make dosas. The dosa gets fried on the underside and steamed on the top. Our dosas, unlike those available in Udupi hotels have always been thick and fluffy instead of thin and crunchy.

The following are batter based preparations. The consistency of the batter goes from that which is watery and needs to be spooned to that which can be shaped by hand like dough or patted into place. Batters which need to be fermented  overnight (for about 8 hours) are marked with a (F). Often Toddy was used to kick start the fermentation, but is not  strictly necessary as air contains enough wild yeast strains to ferment the batter. You will miss out on the taste though! Some people  add baking yeast  to make the finished product softer, however this was not the traditional practice. Whenever Toddy (fermented liquid obtained from the palmyra tree -Borasus flabellifer ) was unavailable, coconut water was left to ferment overnight after adding a little sugar to it. The leavening action obtained this way is however less effective than what is obtained using toddy.

A short note on oiling the griddle for preparing dosas and appas. As far as I can remember, we had a cast iron griddle and my mum remembers the same from  her childhood. Cast iron is called eraka in Tulu. When preparing dosas, the griddle needs to be oiled with a thin film of oil which needs to be evenly spread on the surface of the griddle.  There are at least three old time ways of doing this.

  1. Where the house has a garden with plantain/banana plants (Musa balbisiana ) growing, the stalk of one of the plantain leaves is cut off diagonally (at 45 degrees) to the stalk. The other end is trimmed to leave you with  a length of stalk of about 5 cm. Click here to see how one is made.
  2. In the second method 1/4th of  an onion is cut off from its shoot end. Then the root end of the onion is speared with a fork or the handle of a spoon or even a knife tip. If the wrong end of the onion is sliced or more than a quarter of the onion is cut off, the onion will disintegrate as it is being used for greasing the griddle. After making dosas, the onion may be chopped up and used for some other recipe.
  3. On the shoot end of the coconut, there is a very soft tuft of coconut coir below which are three “eyes” (black shallow depressions). The coconut is usually sold with this tuft on to keep it from going bad. This soft tuft is peeled off from the coconut and can then be held at the tip and used as a brush.

A note here, when you use any fresh object as a brush, the flavour from it transfers to the dosa, for eg. a griddle oiled with a cut onion will have a better fragrance than one oiled with coconut coir or a modern silicone brush.

Any dosa  fried on a griddle goes through the following 5 steps.

  1. The griddle is greased using one of the above mentioned methods.
  2. The dosa batter is poured and shaped/spread  out evenly to form a round disc. [This can be done by trailing the back of the spoon on the batter and tracing an outward spiral with it or by dragging a thin metal sheet about 4″ x 3′ in size over the surface of the poured dosa.]
  3. The dosa is covered with a dome shaped lid which forms a seal with the circumference of the griddle. [This uses two cooking methods simultaneously. The bottom of the dosa is fried on the oil film, while the rest of the dosa gets steam cooked.]
  4. A crackling sound is heard which is made by the steam which has condensed on the dome and is now dripping onto the hot griddle.
  5. When the crackling stops, the dome is lifted off,  the dosa folded in half  with a spatula (optional)and taken  off the griddle. [Folding makes it easier to lift the dosa off the griddle in one piece. If you used a cast iron griddle, expect the first dosa or so to come off  the griddle scrambled.] This is true for all cast iron griddles -especially if they haven’t been used for a while or not at the optimum temperature. Temperature control is very important when making dosas on cast iron griddle.
The traditional wet grinding stone, the kadepina kall'
The traditional wet grinding stone, the kadepina kall’

If the griddle overheats, some people drizzle water on the griddle before pouring the next dosa. We don’t do this at home but commercially it is done after every dosa as they have huge gas burners which they don’t want to keep turning down every time the griddle overheats (which it does pretty often). Personally, I prefer to lower the heat as dropping cold water on a hot griddle can cause severe thermal stress in the cast iron and probably crack the griddle. Practically I have not heard of anyone’s griddle cracking… but then I have not gone out of my way to find out. If you have experienced such a fault, please leave a comment to educate the rest of us.

Dosa (F)

The finished dosa. The outward trailing motion of the back of the spoon used to spread the batter is clearly visible.
The finished dosa. The outward trailing motion of the back of the spoon used to spread the batter is clearly visible.

I suppose most readers eating at restaurants serving south Indian cuisine will be familiar with this one. Dosa becomes “do-say” in Kannada and “Ad-day” in Tulu. However Addae and dosae are now used interchangeably in Tulu. The old people kept this distinction but the current generation has borrowed words from Kannada and also Hindi. It is common to go to a shop and speak in Tulu and have the shopkeeper tell you the price in Kannada as many of them do not know numbers in Tulu. The chief difference between the dosa and idly is that dosa batter is ground fine while idly and padd’ batter is ground coarse. This is because the dosa is cooked for a very short time and  the batter will remain uncooked if ground coarsely. It was traditionally poured and spread on to pottery griddles called Vodu’s (singular Vodu or Vod which rhymes with road) which is the same word used for the pottery Mangalore tiles which are used for roofing. Now it is preferably poured onto flat cast iron griddles which  are said to be manufactured in Kerala. The current generation however seems to prefer the non stick griddles as they don’t want to go through the trouble of seasoning and maintaining cast iron.When used regularly and maintained properly, cast iron comes out on top and is my personal choice as the thick bottom spreads  and holds the heat evenly. Where dosas are prepared on a large scale, a flat sheet of iron around 5mm thick is used as a griddle. It is usually big enough to straddle two gas burners and accommodates three or more dosas at a time . Note that the top-steamed Udupi dosae is not served in any of the restaurants I’ve been to. This avoids extra work, but the steamed dosas are crisp on the underside and soft and fluffy at the same time making them a delight to eat. As shown in the photograph. The dosa is placed on a tatti kudpu woven from a creeper which helps the dosa cool down and excess steam to escape both underneath the dosa.

It must be mentioned in this section, that when there are a lot of guests, the batter is sometimes ground  coarsely like an idli  and poured into the steamer onto a banana leaf or a plate and steamed. This is also called a dosae although it is technically an  idly. Some people called this a maha (big/super) dosa. The semai adde mentioned later on in the post seems to have been classed as a dosa too although technically it is more like a pundi pressed through the screw operated  press to get something akin to rice noodles.

Finally, there was and probably still is, a different kind of  “dosa” prepared by people from the Dikka  community on special occasions. I’m not sure what it is called. It should have rightly been classed with the gendaddae (dosa prepared in live coals) described later on in this post. The batter was supposedly poured into a newly bought large pot -the kind used for drawing water from the well (clay kodapana) The top was covered/tied with banana leaves. Dried leaves were then heaped over it and sticks piled over the leaves. Then it was set alight.  The people then sat around the fire, sang songs, drank toddy,  in other words danced and partied hard while the “dosa” cooked. When the fire burned down and the pot cooled, it was broken and the “dosa” liberated from within and divided among the group.

Tellau ( Probably comes from the word telpu (Tulu) or tellu (Kannada) both of which mean thin)

Neer Tellau  or Neer dosae (Neer = water) has its batter  almost as thin as water and that is where it gets its name from. It is not fermented and the watery dough is spooned with a tablespoon onto the oiled griddle till the batter acquires the shape of a round disc. While pouring the batter,it feels similar to completing a dosa shaped jigsaw puzzle.   Sometimes an egg is added to the batter to make it easier to lift off the griddle when it is done. However this was not done traditionally. The neer tellau doubles up as a sweet when grated coconut is mixed with crushed jaggery and filled into a roll made out of the neer dosae. Nowadays sugar is often commonly substituted for jaggery. The Neer Tellau is a good quick fix for breakfast as it doesn’t need to be fermented. Unlike the other preparations (Dosa, Idli, padd etc, it is prepared out of rice only, i.e no other grains are mixed with it in any proportion)

Aapa (F)

The aapa, often called the appam in other south Indian languages
The aapa, aka appam in other south Indian languages

The aapa is a different kind of dosa. It is rice ground extra fine with coconut, toddy and coconut milk and left to ferment overnight. It is then poured onto a griddle which slopes towards the center. Traditionally it was poured in a circle and allowed to flow to the center making for a lacy dosa as streams or strings of batter flowed to the center radially before it hardened. Now especially when it is mass produced for sale, the batter is poured into the center and the griddle tipped outwards in a circular fashion so that the batter spreads outwards to make a round aapa. Since the griddle slopes inwards, the aapa is always thicker in the center and thinner at its edges. An egg white may be added to the batter to make it easier to lift off the griddle when done once again a modern practice for convenience. As mentioned  in the introduction, instead of toddy, a spoon of sugar was sometimes added to coconut water and left overnight to ferment. This was then added to the ground  batter in the morning. It is similar to the appam prepared in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka.

Battladdae (F) (Battal + Addae = Utensil (bowl or plate) + Dosa)

The battladdae batter is similar to the aapa in all respects. It differs only in the way that it is cooked. Instead of being poured on to a griddle like the aapa. It is ground thicker and poured into little molds or a large utensil and steamed like an idli or maha dosa till done

Semai da Addae/Nook Addae [Literally, Push Dosa]

Nooka adde
Nooka adde

This is a noodle like preparation traditionally made from par boiled rice.  One of the key differences between Idiappam and Semai da addae is that, in idiappam the raw noodles are steamed while for the nook addae, it is the rice balls which are steamed prior to pressing. In addition, Idiappam uses rice flour instead of cooked rice. In olden days, the end product was often dried, tied up in rice hay to make large balls (known as mudis) and then stored in the loft for lean times when food was scarce, or set aside to be given to the kids as  a snack. Rice is still available in mudis (but the practice is slowly dying) with a mudi holding 42 saers (seer’s) of rice. This is approx 39 kilos. The interesting thing is that the loft was right above the kitchen fireplace and made out of horizontal wooden beams painted with cashew nut oil (which is caustic and causes skin to peel) to keep the termites at bay. The smoke from the fireplace which burned for long hours each day, thanks in part to the large joint families of that time, kept insects and pests at bay and the stored food from going bad. Turning the handle of the nook addae press was a tough job and usually the women would fill the press and collect the addae in little bundles on a tray made from the outer layer of the trunk  (stem) of the banana plant, while one of the menfolk turned the handle. It was also called gonchhel (Lit. bunch) dosae because the noodles were collected in small bundles or bunches from under the press.

An interesting oft repeated custom or apocryphal tale goes something like this. When people travelled in the past, they had to travel long distances on foot or ox cart for many days. They therefore used this opportunity to drop in on their relatives whose houses fell on the way. It was also safer as most of the area was heavily wooded and populated by wild animals. When they stayed at a relatives place, unlike now, they understandably stayed for more than a few days. When they overstayed their welcome and became a burden to the limited resources of their host, they were usually fed the nook  (push) addae to give them a hint that it was time for them to leave. Once again, this could either be an apocryphal tale or a discreet/polite way of bidding the guests goodbye.

 Idli or Idly (F)

This, like the dosa, is very common in south Indian cooking. As mentioned before, the dough is ground

Idlis steamed and ready in a modern aluminum steamer
Idlis steamed and ready in a modern aluminum steamer

coarsely (relative to the dosa) and poured into oiled idly molds and steamed in a steamer. Kottaes and  Moodaes are similar except that they are poured into cups made out of leaves from the dattoli and the jack fruit trees respectively. I wonder if these were how idlis were made before the advent of metal cups? When the leaf moulds are used today, people use pieces from broomsticks made from the coconut leaf or strip a leaf or two from a fallen frond or more traditionally, use the long thorns of the karkate mullu shrub as pins to hold the leaf in the required shape. I have seen people making idlis in restaurants covering the idly mould with a cloth before pouring the batter instead of oiling them as we do at home. Our idlis were not traditionally shaped like the thin pressure cooker idli stand moulded idlis available today. They were much thicker  and uniform -as shown in the picture. My grandmother even used stainless steel tea cups! Personally though, I prefer the thinner restaurant style idlis.

Moodae (Moo-day) (F)

This is made from a long leaf from the dattoli ( probably from datt’ = thick and Voli = long leaf) plant after

A pair of freshly steamed moodaes
A pair of freshly steamed moodaes

stripping off its thorns. This leaf is similar in shape to the Yucca and probably belongs to the same Agavaceae family. It is however less fibrous than the Yucca. It is wrapped around itself spirally to form a longish container (about 5 to 8 cm in length on average and with a diameter of about 4 cm) into which the batter is poured. The cooked moodae  is then unwrapped, sliced and eaten just like an idly would be. Of course anything steamed in a leaf becomes more flavoursome as it absorbs the flavour of the leaf. Like idly, this is steamed in a traditional steamer which has a perforated shelf on which the filled moodae leaf moulds are positioned. Ready made moodae leaf molds are also available for sale in the market.

Gunda (Goon-da) (F)

The Gunda is a kind of an idly-gatti cross -it is fermented like an idli but the consistency of its dough and its steaming is like that of a gatti. Once again, a relatively thick dough is patted into place on a large leaf of the pongar tree.  The dough is placed on half of the leaf and the leaf folded over. It is steamed on the standard steamer which has a perforated shelf on which the filled leaves are stacked.

Kottae/Kottige (Kotti-gay) (F)

Kottige (kotti -gay) or Kottae is similar to the moodae, the only difference being that leaves from the Jack

Kottiagae or kottae
Kottiagae or kottae

fruit tree are used here.  Four leaves are pinned together to form a cup as opposed to the single dattoli leaf used for the moodae. The leaves are left in the sun to wilt and soften  for about 15 minutes or harvested and left overnight to make them pliable enough to form cups. This is necessary because fresh  leaves tear easily and the batter will  then flow out of  holes/tears in the mould. If it is not made and pinned properly, the batter will leak out as it is poured.  The cups are traditionally secured with thorns from the karkate mullu plant or from pieces broken off from the midrib of the coconut leaf. (about 1.5 cm long)

Guri Appa/Padd’ (F) (Guri = pit)

This is a dish that has probably been adopted from north Karnataka. The griddle used was made of stone ( later of cast iron & now stainless steel or aluminum alloy an even teflon non-stick griddles). It is known there as Padd’  and  as guri appa here in and around Udupi. The griddle has a number of circular  depressions or pits like the halves of a hollow sphere . These are oiled and filled with batter. Onions, chopped chillies etc… are often added to the batter. When it is done, it is pried out with the tip of a knife. If you go towards Dharwad you can still see stone griddles being sold in the weekly market.

Gatti (Lit. Hard)

A gatti wrapped in a teak leaf (This will give the gatti a reddish tint)
A gatti wrapped in a teak leaf (This will give the gatti a reddish tint)

The gatti is a semi-solid paste which is wrapped in a leaf much like you would wrap a gift in wrapping paper and then steamed in a steamer. The kinds of gatti usually either get their names from the leaf that is used to wrap the gatti or from its main ingredient. E.g Manjal da gatti is made by wrapping the dough in a manjal (turmeric) leaf while pelakai da gatti is made by adding ripe jack fruit (pelakai) to the dough which is then wrapped either in teak or banana leaves. The other fruit that is rarely used because of its smell is the gatti made from the cashew  fruit. In fact in our place, most of the cashew fruit are left to fall to the ground and rot or fed to cattle, ( I can see Goans shaking their heads sadly… so much Feni down the drain :-P ) while their nuts are treasured. (The termite resistant caustic oil in the nut shell is used to paint wood. The cashew nut sells for a high price). Like the plantain plant  (Musa balbisiana) and  tender coconut liquid, cashew juice can can stain your clothes permanently.

The leaves that are used are the Manjal (turmeric -arasina in Kannada), Mature Tekki (Teak) leaves (Gatti’s wrapped in teak  leaves take on a reddish hue), baaarae  or baare (banana – Musa balbisiana ), pela (jack fruit), Uppalige (probably Macaranga indica) and the Pongar leaf. The gatti made from turmeric leaves are usually stuffed with grated coconut and crushed jaggery. Since most of the gattis are more or less flat rectangular packages and might block the flow of steam, the female end (The shoot end) of a halved coconut shell is placed over the large central steam hole in the steamer after making a hole in the coconut shell through the soft black eye of the coconut where the shoot generally emerges from. The gattis are then placed around the shell or left leaning on it.

A Pongar leaf. If someone knows the botanical name of this plant please leave a comment. Thanks.
A Pongar leaf. If someone knows the botanical name of this plant please leave a comment. Thanks.

The Pongar leaf Gatti is also used  for medicinal purposes. Once a year in the summer, Mango seeds ( Mangifera indica ) were shelled and the endosperm (cotyledons) soaked in water for 3 days. This was then ground and used as the chief ingredient for making the Pongar Gatti. Germinated Mango seeds that had fallen from the trees and had been soaking in the rain, were also used, as the seed cover would have split open by itself. There are some differences of opinion on whether the seed cotyledons were soaked for a few days and whether the red layer on the cotyledons was scraped off. This preparation is reputed to have a cooling effect on the body. In my maternal grandmother’s house. This was mandatory to be eaten once a year during the hot mango season.

Pundi (Literal meaning: Fistful)

The name comes from the process of forming balls with a fistful of hot dough to

Pundi with chutney
Pundi with chutney

shape the pundi. Coconut, chopped green chillies, onion etc can be added to it. The dough can be seasoned with curry leaves and mustard in oil. The balls are then steamed as usual. Inserting a wet tooth pick or knife tip into the pundi lets you know when it is done. Like most of the other preparations, it can be adapted for breakfast or  for any of the meals. Since the  dough is stiff, it doesn’t need any container to hold it. pundis can also be stuffed with a mixture of grated coconut and crushed jaggery before steaming to turn it into a sweet dish.

A chilmi mould made from a leaf of the Jackfruit tree
A chilmi mould made from a leaf of the Jackfruit tree

The Chilmi

 has the exact same ingredients as that of the sweet pundi mentioned above. The only difference here is that a leaf container is made from a single jackfruit leaf which is twisted and pinned to form a cone. It is usually pinned with a small piece of stick from a broom made off coconut leaf ribs. In Delhi, this broom is called a seekh jhaadu.

Gendaddae (Literal meaning: Live coal dosa)

This is totally different from any of our preparations and must have had a European influence or have been brought here by one of the Basel Mission’s  missionaries who were of German  origin. It is in fact a recipe that a lot of people would use to bake bread, cake  or bannock when camping in the outdoors. An iron, cast iron or pottery  griddle is placed on the fireplace  or hearth which is called a dikkel in Tulu. This is lined with a a couple of centimeters of sand. The inside of a vessel/pot is greased with ghee (clarified butter) which is then placed on the sand. A single layer of banana leaves is placed in the container to prevent the dosa from sticking to it in case you choose not to brush the inside of the pot with ghee (Clarified butter) -probably a workaround for poor families. This is allowed to cook slowly. when it is just about done, the top of the gendaddae is brushed with clarified butter, the lid put back on, and sufficient coals scooped from the fireplace and placed on the lid. This was supposed to be cooked unhurriedly. My mum says that it was often left overnight in this state and eaten in the morning. This is also one of the  few recipes where baking soda is used in place of  fermented batter. This addae was on an average about 5 cm thick.

Rotti (Often called kori rotti)

Kori rotti (Chicken curry with rotti)
Kori rotti (Chicken curry with rotti)

This is a thin, flat, dry & brittle preparation sold in sheets in the market. It needs considerable expertise to spread a fine even and thin layer of  rice batter over a flat griddle. Nevertheless, in times gone by people made it at home as markets were far away and only on designated days and money scarce. This was a time when people were truly self reliant. They might not have had a lot of money, but then they didn’t have a lot of expenses either. They even made their own tooth powders and medicines and let nature deliver their babies. Kori rotti (chicken rotti) is a delicacy here. The rotti is placed on the plate and broken into manageable pieces and then chicken curry is spooned over to soften the hard rotti. Curry in Tulu is kachhpu, however some curry preparations are also called paladya and some others saar (usually thin soupy gravies).

The traditional way of making it was by using the bottom of a damaged gurkae -a huge pot any where from 1/2 to 2 meters or more in diameter which was used to heat bath water for the whole family. (The gurkae was/is placed over a fireplace and fitted in such a way that it can be fired from outside the house, while the pot can be filled and hot water used from within the bathroom -sans the smoke. They are probably no longer made from pottery, but copper (rare) and aluminium gurkaes are still around.)

A copper gurkae (Goor-kay) seated into the bathroom corne
A copper gurkae (Goor-kay) cemented into the bathroom corner

The base of the broken gurkae was placed over the fireplace and heated. No oil was used. probably the pot base was sponged with salt water between each rotti to make it non stick. What stands out here is that the ground rice has to be freshly ground. It has to be so fresh that one person must keep grinding small quantities of rice to a watery batter  while the other simultaneously pours the batter onto the griddle. By running the edge of a flat metal sheet over the batter, he/she quickly spreads it out evenly till the thickness is about that of a millimetre! The rotti comes out as a flat sheet which was traditionally stacked on a madal (A woven coconut frond that was also used to create partitions in a room, to thatch  or extend a roof or make shutters for the windows during the rains) hanging over the fireplace. this allows the heat of the fireplace to dry out the rotti completely. This rotti has a long shelf life.

There are also other rottis made from jowar, bajra and corn none of which I have eaten. These are thicker and usually patted into place on a vodu (an inward sloping griddle made from pottery).  All of the rottis were made on such clay griddles. Between the rottis, a rag was dipped in salt water and dabbed on the surface of the vodu to prevent the rotti from sticking to the vodu.

Bimbuli (Averrhoa bilimbi)
Bimbuli (Averrhoa bilimbi)

Tamarind (tamarindus indica) was also stored above the fireplace to protect it from worms. Tamarind was shelled, de-seeded and pounded in a mortar probably with salt and with a bit of water till it could be formed into a ball of the right consistency. This was then wrapped in banana leaves and tied with fibers from the same tree and then sold in the weekly market called the Santae or Sante. After purchase, a  hole of the appropriate size would be made in the ball and the required quantity of tamarind removed from it. This was then stored in the rafters above  the fireplace where the smoke kept the tamarind from getting infested with worms.

Tomatoes seem to have been introduced at a later date so tamarind (tamarindus indica) was used for imparting a sour taste to dishes. Tamarind is puli in Tulu and huli in Kannada. There are other types of souring agents also called puli which are not now so commonly used. Some of them are esal puli, budd’ puli, ambade, punare puli (kokum), bimbuli (Averrhoa bilimbi) aka the pickle tree and Jaarige (probably Garcinia gummi-gutta). It is important to remember that cast iron reacts with any thing that is sour, so after cooking, food should be immediately transferred to another container. It might also react with copper and brass, thus the practice of tin plating (kalai paadun) the inside of copper and brass cooking pots from time to time.

Exceptions here are daare puli (Literally ridged tamarind) (Averrhoa carambola), aka star fruit and ambade, both of  which are sweetish when ripe. They are probably called puli’s, because the raw fruit is sour and was probably used in cooking.

Kappa rotti, kappar rotti or Uppu dosae (Uppu = salt)

An old vodu
An old vodu

This is prepared on a clay vodu. As previously  mentioned, the vodu was swabbed with a salt water solution and the rotti poured onto the Vodu. It is more or less similar to the rotti used for kori rotti but the vodu is not more than 15 cms in diameter and the dosa is thicker. It is mandatory that this rotti be eaten hot. My aunt recollects that it was quartered and  divided among the siblings. The thickness of the dosa was about 1 cm.

Haalappa/Paeraddae (Milk Dosa)

This is the very same kappa(r) rotti mentioned above. After the kappa(r) rotti is prepared, it is dropped into a vessel containing a mixture of coconut milk, jaggery and crushed cardamom. The rotti then absorbs the liquid and swells up and is ready to eat. The kappa(r) rotti at this stage is called a haalappa. Milk is haalu is in Kannada and paer in Tulu, hence its name.


Par boiled rice (Left) and "raw" white rice
Par boiled rice (Left) and “raw” white rice

Rice is the staple here and is also grown locally as there is no dearth of water. Although many people now eat polished (white) rice commonly sold as “raw” rice to differentiate it from parboiled rice which was what people ate then. I still eat parboiled rice whenever I can’t lay my hands on organic unpolished brown/red rice. The “raw” rice is called bolantae or bolant-ari (ari = rice) in Tulu and beltige akki (akki = rice) in Kannada. The parboiled rice is called urpel ari in Tulu and kucchalu akki in Kannada. Note that both Tulu and Kannada have different names for raw and cooked rice. When cooked, ari becomes  ‘nuppu’  in Tulu and akki becomes ‘anna’ in kannada. You wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself by asking for these at a grocery shop, but only at a restaurant or at the dining table.

A wooden tool used to mash ganji before feeding it to infants. I have a feeling that we all ate this when we were a few months old -mashed by this very tool!
A wooden tool used to mash ganji before feeding it to infants. I have a feeling that we all ate this when we were a few months old -mashed by this very tool!

AFAIK, the parboiled rice is partially boiled in its husk, dried in the sun and then de-husked. This leaves reddish brown streaks on the rice. This is good as normally all the brown healthy stuff is polished off in the white rice which is available in the market. Parboiled rice needs more water  and time to cook. If white rice needs water in the ratio of 1:2, it is 1:2.5 for parboiled rice -if you are cooking the rice in a separator in a pressure cooker. However the traditional practice has always been (for parboiled rice) to add excess water to the rice and drain it off after the rice is cooked. This water was usually added to cattle feed. During sickness however or during mourning such as in case of a death in the family, the rice is served to visitors (or the patient) with its water and called ganji in this form.  I believe that this is because it is easier to prepare  and digest. It was also traditionally mashed and fed to infants. Ganji is bland with only salt added to it for taste so it is often eaten with pickle, a dry vegetable preparation or fried or dried fish. A lot of the old farm hands among others eat ganji regularly even for breakfast. The rice water ( called Teli in Tulu) has been used to starch clothes in days gone by. It is also known to have a cooling effect on the body and makes a good drink.


Note the red chilly flakes in this fish curry. This happens because a food processor chops instead of grinding
Note the red chilly flakes in this fish curry. This happens because a food processor chops instead of grinding

Curries & Gravies were usually ground using the grinding stone used for wet grinding known as the kadaepina kall’ in Tulu and Kadiva Kallu in Kannada. both of which mean “grinding stone.” It is called Kall’ in short in Tulu which simply means stone. In addition to this, there is another flat grinding stone known as the araepu kall’ (Tulu) /ariva Kallu (Kannada) which I’ve seen in many other parts of India which is generally used as a table top grinder. The curries were/are usually eaten with par boiled rice although the current generation in cities has made the unhealthy shift to polished “raw” rice. Gravies are made with chicken, mutton, beef, pork, fish,  prawns, shell fish (Mussels), vegetables and also in the form of dal  and sambar. Stews are made with chicken, mutton, green/white pumpkin cooked in coconut milk and black pepper.

Gravy preparations are very tedious. They usually have a long list of ingredients -all of which have to be dry roasted individually on an iron griddle and cooled before being ground together with coconut. It was ground in the kadepina kall’ till fine, a lengthy procedure, the rule of thumb being that the individual ingredients once ground, should be indistinguishable either by their taste, sight, feel or smell, fusing together to form a new compound called the arepu -the ground paste. This was then brought to a boil along with the other ingredients with sufficient water and cooked to form the gravy. It was common for teenage girls and girls married into the family to do the grinding work as the mother/mother-in-law walked around dropping various ingredients  into the grinding stone. The same kadepina kall’ was also used for grinding the ingredients for any kind of batter or chutney. Mixies have in part replaced this stone but mixies chop and blend instead of grind and that is  clearly visible in the end product and in the taste. In addition, a mixie or food processor needs additional added water to be added for effective wet grinding. Some of the grindstones are now electrified as they are, or commercially produced as domestic tabletop grindstones with roller shaped or cone shaped motorized stones are available in the market.

Fried Preparations

Kalkal, a deep fried sweet prepared for Christmas
Kalkal, a deep fried sweet prepared for Christmas

The first fried preparation that comes to mind is fried fish as it is a regular on the menu. Prawns are occasionally fried too. Among the other fried stuff are Podi (bhajiyas or pakoras) like gaarige (made from ripe jack fruit), fried bread fruit (Dee gujje in Tulu), sweet potato (called Kereng in Tulu),  attarasa, kaayappa, bonda (vada), bajje (bhajiyas) and ambadae . The main oil available then was coconut oil and probably palm oil from the ration shop.

Dry Preparations

Dry preparations are usually stir fried till they are dry and eaten either as an accompaniment with rice along with another dish prepared in the form of a gravy. In Tulu this cooking  process is called aajaavun and in Kannada aarisuvudu  both of which literally mean “to evaporate”. Many of the recipes under this category are stir fried with added grated coconut which makes them very tasty. Mussels, chicken, dried fish, gherkins, tapioca, beans, colocasia tubers, snake gourd, ridge gourd, cabbage and  various other vegetables and roots were/are prepared this way.


A chutney
A chutney

Chutneys and powders (podis’) are used as dips for many of the items mentioned above or can also be served with ganji to complement the taste of bland foods. Sometimes they are prepared in powder form which have a longer shelf life. Powders are mixed with a teaspoonful of cooking oil -traditonally coconut oil, to quickly turn the powder into a dip. Then there are the other chutneys prepared from dried fish or prawns which are used as accompaniments with ganji which is par boiled rice cooked with excess water, or by not draining the water in which rice was cooked; Pickles, (Uppad in Tulu and Uppinakai in Kannada. Uppu = salt) are used in the same way. Pickles have traditionally been made from mangoes which are in abundance here. One of the ‘not so common now’ pickles is the Neer uppad (water pickle) in which raw mangoes are  aged in brine. Over time, this leaves the mangoes wrinkled and was the poor mans pickle. Therefore it does not seem to be looked upon favorably today. My mum alleges that they cause bowel problems. Apart from mangoes, pickles were also made from ambadae, gherkins, bimbuli, Peja kai (Neer Uppad) and karnde. Angai pickle was prepared using baby Jack fruit (called kallige). This pickle does not last long, and is usually prepared during weddings for immediate consumption. In the case of mango pickles, mangoes were picked in either of two stages of their development -before development of the seed and after. The former was used whole and the latter was cut in half before pickling.


  1. Among the sweets, the one prepared most often was the payasa which is a sort of kheer. It was generally prepared from green gram (moong), jaggery and coconut milk. My grandmother did prepare jalebis fried in ghee (clarified butter) , but I later learned that it was used medicinally, to be eaten on an empty stomach in the morning for migraine. It seems to have cured my aunts migraine when she was a kid. Most of the other sweets and namkeens were/are prepared for Christmas, although there is no reason why they should not be prepared at other times. Here is a quick incomplete list of the preparations.

Kalkal, Nevri, Holige, Sukkul undae (undae = laddoo), Ari ta  undae (Rice laddoo), Poddol da  undae (Popped Rice laddoo), Wheat or Ragi Halwa, Laddoo, haalappa, attarasa, tukkudi, kudu ta undae (laddoos made of horse gram), Manara, Karakaddi, chakkuli and manni. Manni is prepared sometimes like a halwa or with a gelatinous porridge like consistency (probably depending on its main ingredient) and is usually made from ragi (finger millet) or arrowroot powder. You can find a recipe here.

Roasting seems to be a cost effective and easy way to prepare snacks made from rice (roasted, popped, puffed or beaten/flattened). I have heard accounts of children in the past coming to school with a handful of roasted rice given to them as snacks because that is all their parents could afford. They didn’t realize how lucky they were to get such healthy snacks to eat.

Kashayas/Herbal/medicinal preparations

DSC_9652-150x150These are fool proof, tried and tested by every generation remedies passed down by oral and later written communication within our families. They fall under the domain of Ayurveda, but I remember my maternal grandmother dispensing Biochemic and Homoeopathic medicines as well. It still works, although the ingredients are getting harder to procure now as once upon a time every thing was available in the garden. Those times seem so far away now. Worse, with the property split so many ways and a loss of  traditional knowledge, many plants are chopped and burned down as they are thought to be weeds or due to the fear of them harbouring snakes. Hope my posts change some of that. You will find some of these plants mentioned under the medicine/recipe section and others under the plants (Botany) section. Some of the medicinal recipes are forbidden to be disclosed outside our family, so I shall respect the views of my relatives although I wish everyone could freely make use of it. I believe that any skill which can help someone else should be made freely available to all. Some of the other recipes are passed down from generation to generation via the first born son.


| Mrs. Sukumari Furtado  | Mrs. Manorama Soans | Mrs.Prabhavati Kunder | Mrs. Rohini Soans | Mrs. Sunayana Walters | Mrs. Eileen Mathias | Mrs. Alice Mathias | Mrs. Usharani Joshua |Mrs. Sumana Pramodan |Mr. Benjamin Kunder |

This post has been read 2662 times

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Bot check : Please complete this simple math so we know you are human. * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.