The land of Coorg is known for its beautiful green landscape, the unique culture of the people, and their wonderful food. Coorg cuisine is as interesting as the Kodava people who make them. Kodava culture and history have both greatly influenced their food habits.
The people of Coorg have been agriculturists from time immemorial. Their main occupation was paddy cultivation for a long time before coffee, spices and fruits were introduced. So rice forms a major part of Coorg cuisine. The people of Coorg were also hunter-gatherers. They loved hunting game for sport and food and foraged for wild produce. Long before foraging became a cool thing to do, the Kodavas went foraging for bamboo, wild mushrooms, green leafy vegetables and fruits. Coorg cuisine is made up of seasonal produce and meat that is flavoured judiciously with spices but still retains its natural flavours.
Let’s take a look at the delectable food that makes up the Kodava table.
A Taste Of Coorg Cuisine: The Food Of Coorg
Food is an integral part of the Kodava culture and it is not taken lightly. The daily meal of a Kodava family is simple fare. Breakfast in a Kodava home is incomplete without akki otti (flatbread made with rice). The akki otti is accompanied by koot curry (mixed vegetables in a coconut paste) and palya (vegetable stir fry). Sometimes the akki otti is replaced by the several puttus (steamed rice dumplings and cakes). Homemade chutneys and jams made with locally grown produce are also an integral part of breakfast.
Lunch is an equally simple meal of steamed rice with vegetable curries and stir-fried vegetables. For dinner, it is either rice or rice rotis that are eaten with the same curries and stir-fries. Earlier, meat and poultry were delicacies that were only served during celebrations and festivals. But preserved game meat and dried fish formed a major part of the diet. Now, with easier availability, meat, fish and poultry are a part of the regular diet.
Coorg cuisine is also dependent on the seasons. The colder months of monsoon and winter meant that the people needed to eat food that provided thermal warmth. So the kitchens of Coorg dished out bamboo, wild mushrooms, mud crabs and a range of chutneys. During the summer months, the people enjoyed wild mango curries, jackfruits and wild fruits.
But come festival or celebration time and the simple was replaced with extravagant. The menu was extended to include tongue-tickling spicy meat dishes, subtly flavoured rice dishes, vegetables and sweets. Even today, the food is cooked using traditional methods and is spiced judiciously, making it light but flavourful.
Kodava Food You Must Try On Your Trip To Coorg
1. Kadambuttu: Steamed Rice Dumplings
The steamed rice dumpling called kadambuttu is one of the most famous dishes in Coorg cuisine. Kadambuttu are tiny white balls of buttery deliciousness that melt in your mouth. Kadambuttu is made with broken rice called kadumbuttu thari. The thari is cooked in boiling water with a small dollop of ghee, till it becomes a thick, malleable dough. The cooked dough is kneaded till it’s smooth and rolled into small balls with a bit of butter. The rolled kadumbuttu is then steamed again till its cooked entirely. The hot kadumbuttu is served with the famous pandi curry or vegetable curry. And if you ever taste it with some shunti pajji (ginger and coconut chutney), you’ll never want anything else.
2. Pandi Curry: The Emblematic Dish Of Coorg Cuisine
If there is a dish that is emblematic of Coorg cuisine, it’s the Kodava pork curry known locally as pandi curry. The spicy and sour pandi curry owes its signature taste to the locally grown pepper and kachampuli. Kachampuli is the concentrated extract of a fruit called panapuli (Garcinia Gummi Gutta). This extract gives the pandi curry its dark colour and its signature sour taste. The rich, dark, spicy curry is worthy of all the attention it gets as one of the most famous foods in Coorg. Pandi curry goes very well with kadambuttu and akki otti.
3. Paputtu: Flat Steamed Rice And Coconut Cakes
Paputtu is another rice-based dish that shows the love that the Kodavas have towards their staple crop. Paputtu is a steamed rice and coconut cake that is coated with a generous helping of coconut flakes. The recipe for paputtu is quite simple and involves only three ingredients—broken rice, shredded coconut and milk. The three are mixed and the mixture is dolloped into greased plates.
These plates are then placed one above the other with bamboo sticks separating each plate, in a steamer or pressure cooker. The steamed paputtu is very versatile, it goes with a lot of curries. But it is best enjoyed with chicken curry or mutton curry or a simple kuru curry (bean curry). The soft paputtu also tastes heavenly with some Coorg honey and ghee.
4. Noolputtu: Steamed Rice Noodles
If you thought noodles are best at a Chinese restaurant, try the Kodava noolputtu once. We guarantee that the taste will leave you craving more. Noolputtu (string hoppers) are fine rice noodles made from a steamed dough of fine-grained broken rice and water. The dough is passed through a special noolputtu vara (a small tubular press mounted on a stand). A small plate is held underneath the press to catch the noodles. The plate is slowly turned around to ensure that the noodles have a nice circular shape.
Unlike its Malayali cousin, the idiyappam, the noolputtu is not steamed after its pressed. The hot noolputtu tastes best with keema curry (minced lamb curry) or chicken curry. For a taste of heaven, try the noolputtu with some bellath neer (a thin jaggery syrup with coconut paste).
5. Akki Otti: The Breakfast Staple In Coorg
The breakfast staple in a Kodava home is one of the stars of Coorg cuisine. Akki otti is a simple unleavened flatbread made from leftover cooked rice and rice flour. The rice is mashed with some rice flour to make a smooth malleable dough. The dough is then divided and rolled out into thin circles. The thin akki otti is carefully cooked on both sides on a hot griddle. The otti is then cooked on an open flame till it puffs up and is speckled with brown dots. Put it on your plate and serve with some pandi curry or vegetable curry or kaipuli pajji (roasted bitter lime chutney).
And if you happen to visit Coorg during the monsoon, you’re in for a treat. The tangy baimbale curry (bamboo shoot curry), the flavourful kummu curry (wild mushroom curry) and the soft therme thoppu palya (fiddlehead fern stir fry) with otti will leave your taste buds tingling.
The Seasonal Stars Of Coorg Cuisine
Limiting your experience of Coorg cuisine to the famous pandi curry and kadumbuttu only will be a sad case of many missed opportunities for your palate. The food of Coorg is enriched by seasonal produce that will surely heighten your experience. Let’s take a look at what the kitchens of Coorg dish up during the monsoons and summers.
1. Kakkada Nyend Curry: The Prized Mud Crabs Of Monsoon
The kakkada nyend is a delicacy for the people of Coorg during the cold and wet months of monsoon. Kakkada nyend are soft-shelled mud crabs found in the paddy fields during kakkada, the monsoon season. While crabs are enjoyed throughout the year, these mud crabs from the paddy fields are particularly prized during the monsoons.
The catching of said crabs itself becomes a sport for children and adults. The catch is then separated according to size. The smallest ones get roasted in a chatti (mud pot) with some spices and are then pounded into a chutney. The more robust ones have the honour of becoming a dark, spicy curry that is relished with akki otti.
2. Baimbale Curry: The Tender Bamboo Shoot Curry Of Coorg Cuisine
The monsoons in Coorg brings with it another delicacy that the people wait all year for. Baimbale, or tender bamboo shoots, are a favourite of the people of Coorg. Making the baimbale curry is an elaborate process involving several days of prep work. The tender bamboo shoots are peeled and cut into thin strips with a few chunky slices. This is then washed and soaked in cold water for three days. The baimbale is washed and the water is changed every day. On the third day, the bamboo shoots are boiled till they’re tender and cooked. A mixture of spices and ground coconut paste is added to enhance the flavour. The dish is ready after a final tempering of mustard seeds, chillies and garlic is poured over the curry. The hot curry of tangy and crunchy bamboo shoots tastes best with akki otti.
3. Kummu Curry: The Star Of The Coorg Cuisine In Monsoon, Wild Mushrooms
With the start of the monsoon season, a different, new micro-cuisine comes to life in Coorg. It’s much loved and cherished, but short-lived. So as the rains soak the earth during the monsoons in Coorg, a whole new competition starts—the race to forage for wild mushrooms, the star of the seasonal produce in Coorg. Kummu, as these wild mushrooms are called locally, dot the plantations and forests of Coorg during the monsoon.
There are several varieties of mushroom that grow here and each of them is cherished and loved. The mushrooms are cleaned, rinsed well with water and boiled with a small amount of water till they’re cooked. They are then turned into a curry with some spiced coconut paste, onions and garlic. The hot kummu curry tastes best with some fresh akki otti.
4. Maange Curry: The Best Of The Summer Produce In Coorg
Come summertime, the people of Coorg eagerly wait for kaad maange (wild mangoes). The tiny yellow mangoes are flavour bombs full of sweet and sour pulp and juice. While the children try to sneak off with the mangoes, the women of Coorg get busy making maange curry and storing the rest of the mangoes in brine.
The mango curry is a rich, dark curry that is subtly spiced and bursting with the natural flavour of the mango. Adults and children spend many a summer afternoon sucking the tiny mangoes and licking their plates clean well after lunchtime. All you need on your plate is some steamed rice, a dollop of homemade ghee and a good helping of maange curry. The sweet wild mango, the subtle hint of roasted cumin and fiery pepper and jaggery will create a symphony of unforgettable flavours in your mouth.
Desserts Of The Coorg Cuisine
The people of Coorg have a real love of sweet foods. While akki payasa, the rice pudding made with jaggery is the go-to dessert, several other traditional sweet dishes are part of Coorg cuisine. These are made from seasonal fruits. These traditional desserts can be found on a Coorg table when the fruits are in season or during celebrations.
1. Koovaleputtu: Steamed Jackfruit Cake
Koovaleputtu is a steamed cake made with jackfruit pulp or banana pulp and broken rice. The subtle cardamom-scented batter includes jackfruit or banana pulp, broken rice and coconut shavings. The batter is poured into banana leaves and steamed in a traditional saekala (steamer). The cakes, which are quite similar to the Filipino suman (sticky rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves), are served warm with a spoonful of ghee.
Koovaleputtu is always made in large batches so that there are leftovers for another day. The leftovers are unwrapped from the banana leaf and toasted in ghee. While the fresh-off-the-steamer koovaleputtu tastes good, the ghee toasted leftover tastes the best.
2. Thambuttu: The Dessert That Pays Homage To The Humble Banana
According to me, thambuttu showcases the love the Kodavas have for bananas. The sweet, heavy pudding of mashed bananas, cardamom-scented toasted rice powder, sesame seeds and coconut is a favourite dessert in Kodagu. Thambuttu is an integral part of the Kodava festival, Puthari. The festival is incomplete without everyone present eating a bite of the hearty pudding with a spoonful of molten ghee. A mouthful of thambuttu with its unique textures and flavours will leave you spellbound
Exploring The Cuisine Of Coorg
To experience a place to the fullest, you must experience its cuisine. Food tells you more about a place than any guidebook. And the food of Coorg has a lot of tales to tell. So plan your trip to the Scotland of India to experience the food that makes up the Coorg table. But don’t limit your plate to just pandi curry, kadambuttu and akki otti. Be adventurous and try the other stars of Coorg Cuisine too.
Also Read: 18 Karnataka foods you simply must try