It’s no secret that we love celebrating anything to do with South India. Especially the food. Which is why we have special menus every now and then as a celebration of the smaller districts of the southern states, each with their own distinctly unique, but perhaps not widely-enough sampled cuisines.
One such place is Coorg, a rather breathtakingly beautiful district in Karnataka. There are multiple reasons why we’d recommend going to Coorg, and that list would go on and on, but for now we’ll just stick to talking about the food. Because the local Kodava cuisine, with eating traditions largely unchanged from the time of their ancestors, is definitely something to talk about.
The Kodagu (Coorg) district shares its Southern borders with Kerala, and is a place you’ve probably heard of for its scenic beauty and obvious ‘get-away’ touristy appeal. But the region, with its proud people, has its own unique language and culture, and along with that, one of the most distinctive cuisines in this part of the subcontinent. It’s a cuisine that developed in a space that is home to the merging of farms and forests, a unique landscape birthing an even more unique cuisine.
This is also why you’ll find that the farm/estate owning Kodavas would supplement their farm produce with locally available meat like wild pig, wild fowl, and bounties from the forest like wild yam, bamboo and colocasia leaves. To name just a few. Animals were rarely reared for the purpose of consumption, and hardly any vegetables needed to be farmed. It really was taking what was freely and abundantly provided by the lush surroundings, all native to the land.
Of course, with the advent of the 21st century and commercialisation, that has changed. But it is striking how organic the Kodavas’ relationship with eating and cooking continues to be. Retaining that unique flavour of its key ingredients has been the identifying factor of authentic Kodava cuisine. Practices like letting the bamboo shoots take on flavour by souring in their own water, and using fat just to temper food, all contribute to this distinct nature. As a result of taking what is available from the lands around, a lot of the Kodava cuisine is also heavily influenced by the changing seasons.
There are harvest festivals for the worship of the river goddess Kaveri, and also festivals around the plucking of a wild leaf called madd toppu (literally translating to medicinal leaf) which blooms for a very specific period in August. The water that this leaf is boiled in, is further used to cook rice. The paste derived from this leaf is also used to preserve the meat, fight cholesterol, and get rid of some of the nasty ‘poochies’ (worms) that sometimes set up home inside pigs.It’s all extremely sustainable. Which might be in vogue now, but was being done by the Kodavas seemingly for centuries.
More such close ties with seasonal, local produce reveal themselves through dishes like the kuvale putt, which is flesh of a jackfruit with broken rice, steamed in a banana leaf. Also in chutneys from the region, like one made from kaipuli(a wild, bitter orange) or even one with jackfruit seeds, boiled and mixed with coconut and lime.Speaking of fruits and going local, another unique ingredient that you will find in most Kodava households is kachampuli, extracted from the ripe fruits of the Kodambuli fruit, known to accentuate the flavour of the meat and most famously known for its use in the legendary pandi curry.
Pandi Curry is probably the first dish you associate with Kodava cuisine, and what makes this dish that much more special are the local spices added to it—pepper, coriander and cumin to name a few— that are toasted and ground, giving the dish its distinct rich flavour. The more you sample Kodava cuisine, the more you realise that the centrepiece of their cuisine is meat, supplemented by rice.(Quick trivia time: Coffee was a largely British-introduced enterprise, before which it was all about rice.)
Some of the eating habits are also explained by these earlier cultivation patterns. Since rice was huge back in the day, the paddy fields needed protection from predators like wild boars, which were often shot down and then eaten. Not for the purpose of game or just for consumption. It might have evolved into that over time, but the original idea was to protect the crops and also to consume what was killed, indicative again of a very sustainable form of consumption.
The Kodava Menu at The Permit Room is our little way of paying homage to this distinct and unique cuisine of Karnataka. You’ll find the classic Chilli Pork & Otti, and the Koli Curry, on the menu. But you’ll also see some dishes you’ve probably never tried before or even heard of, like Kummu Curry, or the Baimbele Fry. Choose from the different forms of rice we have on the menu (Paputtu, Kadambuttu, Noolputtu, or Otti!) and just tuck in.
The reason we have so many rice options is because the various ways in which rice is used in Kodava cuisine merits a dedicated menu in itself. Different textures, different shapes, different ways of consuming—whether its curry with noolputtu (steamed rice noodles) , or the delicious rice/coconut cakes paputtu (steamed rice cakes), or the classic pandi curry accompaniment kadambuttu (steamed balls of rice). Even their rotis are akki (rice)ottis. You can sample all of this in our special menu.
Also, no menu would be truly deserving of being called special without dessert. And when rice has played such an integral role in the cuisine so far, best believe there will be a dessert version of it as well. Which, in Kodava cuisine, you can sample in the form of payasa made from broken rice, coconut and jaggery. Or, like it’s called in our menu, Halbai. But our version is also served with a double-whammy of jackfruit ice-cream and cashew praline. How’s that for a Permit Room twist?
Some would say that Kodava cuisine doesn’t taste quite the same without locally sourced ingredients. We agree. Which is why for the most authentic experience you probably need to dine in a Kodava house, or be invited to a Kodava wedding or some event like that.Or maybe sample a limited-duration-only special Kodava menu at a restaurant where the Head Chef just happens to be Kodava himself!? Hmmm