An Introduction to Coorg Cuisine

PAGE 1   I    PAGE 2

Cartoons by Nadikerianda Subbayya Ponnappa, one of India’s leading cartoonists

Coorg house-wives take pride in their ability to make jams,jellies, marmalades and juices. Some unusual varieties are made from tomato, papaya, Gummate (a small wild tomato sheathed in loose Chinese lantern like cover), and guava. Juices of Nellikai, Kaipuli, and Passion fruit are particular favourites with the Coorgs. The abundance of fuits in Coorg has led to a number of cottage and small scale industries for preserving and processing fruit.

No feast or ceremony in Coorg is considered complete unless liquor is served. Coorg men who once swore by the heady Kall, toddy made from rice, have now switched to fashionable hard liquors – whiskey, rum, gin etc. Drinking is socially acceptable for both men and women. Coorg women who also like their Kudi, generally prefer sweet wines which they make at home. They are experts at making wine from a variety of locally grown fruit, such as orange, orange peel, gooseberry, sapota, grape, plum, peach as well as from paddy (rice with its husk). A curiously named wine which is a favourite is OT wine,which – guess? – stands for “Other Things” i.e., the ingredients are all kinds of spices, including chillies!

As in all cuisines, a Coorg meal finishes with a dessert. Their desserts are similar to those of their neighbours- although some Coorgs claim, tongue in cheek, that their sweets are so good that it is their neighbours who have aped them! The Coorgs’ ego?! They make burfis, hulvas, chirotis, laddus, payasa and holige. Old favourites are Kajjaya (made from rice flour and jaggery), potato hulva, banana hulva, Baale muruku (fritters made of ripe bananas mashed with flour) and chikkulunde (balls of powdered puffed rice, jaggery and coconut, dipped in a batter and fried). The only distinctive Coorg sweets are perhaps Koovale Puttu and Thambuttu. I’m sure many Coorgs will jump up in indignation and correct me on this! Being Westernized in many respects, Coorg women are also good at cakes, pastries and even marsh mallows! After a heavy Coorg meal, chewing Kodiyale-Adike (paan) is a must, they say, to aid digestion. And why not? Betel leaves and areca nuts are also used in many of their ceremonies.

Different dishes are made at different times of the year and at different festivals, dictated by the availability of the ingredients in that season and their medicinal properties. For example, Madd leaf (Madd means medicine) is used in a variety of dishes in the Kakkada (monsoon) season. Thambuttu and Puthari Kalanji (a kind of yam available around harvest time) are special for Puthari, while Kadambuttu and Pandi curry are a must for Keil Poludu, the festival of weapons. At Kaveri Sankramana, a festival influenced by Brahmins, the special dishes are all vegetarian and not indigenous to Coorg – dosa and pumpkin curry, for example.

Coorgs are well known for their hospitality. Traditionally, guests (whether invited or not) are greeted on arrival with a small brass pot full of water to wash their weary and dusty feet on the stone steps that lead up to the house. They are then welcomed to join the family at its meal.

Get yourself invited to a Coorg home, festival or wedding and enjoy their hospitality and food. Or try one of the restaurants in town that serve Coorg dishes. And note how, according to Coorg tradition, before you start to eat a formal meal, the host asks all those at the table “Ellaarku Ethichaa?” (Has everyone been served?) . And when you have finished your meal, do not leave the table until the host asks “Kai Bai Othathaa? ” (Have your hands and mouths agreed that they are content?) and everybody nods to say “Yes” with a satiated look!

The contents for this article has been provided by Boverianda Nanjamma Chinnappa, co-author of the English translation of the Pattole Palame.