THE MAGIC OF COORG PULAO AND PUTTUS
Rice plays a very important role in the lives of the Kodavas (Coorgs)! One of their most important festivals ‘Huthri’, celebrates the harvest in the paddy fields. In the olden days, a Coorg man’s wealth was estimated by the paddy fields he owned and not by the extent of his coffee estate.
Rice is also a staple food in Coorg, and is served in different forms. You wake in the morning, perhaps to a breakfast of hot “akki vottis” (rice phulkas) eaten with a sesame chutney (yellu pajji) or with freshly churned butter, honey or ghee. The ‘rice vottis’ made with cooked rice and rice flour, are sometimes eaten with a ‘spicy pumpkin curry’ (kumbla curry). I still have fond memories of my childhood, sitting around the wood fire and eating ‘vottis’ as they came off the hot coals!
Rice is also hand pounded into “thari” or broken rice to be made into the fascinating “puttus” that we Kodavas consume so regularly. The larger broken rice grains are made into “paputtu” (mixed with milk, water, cardamom, a little salt and sugar and steamed). This is usually eaten with chicken curry. The finer grains are mixed with water and ghee and cooked to a thick mass – while it is hot, a small amount is taken into the palm of ones hand and rolled into almost perfect rounds to resemble a ping pong ball. In the old days, during weddings, women would get together and roll rounds of “Kadambuttu” (rice dumplings) as they gossiped or exchanged news. The “Kadambuttu” is eaten with Coorg’s famous “pandhi” or pork curry. The same base as the “Kadambuttu” but rolled larger and steamed before being pressed through a sieve onto a plate is the “noolputtu”, similar to the “sevai” made in Tamil Nadu. That does not end the list of “puttus”. There is the marvelous “thaliaputtu” (plate idli), but ground with cooked rice. It can also be sweetened with jaggery for a change in taste.
During Huthri festival time or on occasions, Kodavas look forward to “Thambuttu” which is freshly mashed bananas with roasted rice flour, sesame, coconut and ghee. The “Kuvaleputtu” also uses broken rice with banana or jackfruit and is steamed in a banana leaf! And then we have the fragrant “neikoolu” or ghee rice, the “neerdosai” which is a paper thin dosai like a soft handkerchief which melts in the mouth. Rice is very much a part of ritual in Coorg. At Kodava weddings, family and friends bless the bride and groom with rice, to ensure plenty for the couple in future. On all important occasions when the “bolcha” (lamp) is lit in a Coorg home, family members sprinkle rice on the “bolcha” and pray for the success of the task ahead. Kodavas grow a special rice called “jeerige sanna” which has a fragrance that even Basmati rice cannot match. Sadly very few continue to grow it today. In fact, most of us buy rice, paddy fields lie fallow, since the cost of cultivation does not make it feasible.
Kodavas have a special fondness for their “pulao” and “payasa” (sweet dish made with rice, raisins, nuts and milk) and wherever they might be in the world, they will continue to make their “puttus” and “vottis”. Over the years the tradition has carried on, even if we now buy our “thari” from the store!