Chikmagalur is charming and riddled with little joys. Located at the foothills of the Mullayanagiri range in the Indian state of Karnataka, this hidden gem is steeped in tradition. As exemplified by it’s culinary skills and local delicacies; which were demonstrated at the Skreem Experiential Bloggers Retreat hosted by The Serai Chikmagalur. I for one always thought that Karnataka was known for churning out 3 very popular cuisines i.e. Uttara Karnataka, Mangalorean & Kodagu. However, Malnad/Malenadu cuisine, rooted in the Indian ideal of ‘living off land’, is set to make Chikmagalur the new culinary hotbed to rivals Mangalore & Coorg. Let me tell you why.
The region receives very heavy rainfall, thus giving it the name ‘Malenadu’ meaning ‘The Land of the Rain’ in Kannada. The rural landscape is all lush farmlands, gently rolling hills and leafy forests, making it a source for some of the most interesting ingredients and produce this region has to offer. Hence, this bucolic town, offers food that is just as pristine and refreshingly free of fads; where farm-to-table is more than just a trendy catchphrase.
Not your average breakfast
The people of this region believe that all happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast that’s fit for a king. So besides sipping on their indigenous coffee, the day begins with a power packed breakfast. This commonly comprises of Benne Kadubu (Butter Rice Dumplings) and Tengina Kayi Chutney (Coconut Chutney). Showcasing the ingredients, the recipes till today use age old methods of steaming and stone grinding, says Ms. Kanchana Raghunath (Senior Manager – Food Innovation for The Serai Group of Resorts). If you’d like to try your hand at making these dishes, check out Vidyascooking (fellow blogger) for the full recipe.
Putting on a culinary show
It’s no secret that food is an integral part of any gathering, especially when it’s prepared live. So off we proceeded to Odyssey – The Traveller’s Restaurant at The Serai Chikamaglur, to participate in a live cooking demonstration. Koli Saaru (Malnad style Chicken Curry) and Neer Dosa (Rice & Coconut Crepe) were the dishes of the hour. The technique and ingredients used in these dishes caught our attention, making this a rich and informative experience. For most us, watching Chef Chandrasekhar in his element was quite mesmerizing, as he tossed and turned the gravy in mid-air!
It’s all in the details
Rick Bayless, renowned American chef and cookbook author, once said: ‘Great food, like all art, enhances and reflects a community’s vitality, growth and solidarity. Yet history bears witness that great cuisines spring only from healthy local agriculture.”
Nowhere has this been truer than in Chikmagalur, thanks to the gracious involvement of the local women folk. The Serai Chikmagalur brought together 8 gastronomical experts from the region to celebrate and host an authentic Malnad feast. Most of all, a feast for the eyes and soul which was put together under the patronage of Mrs. Vasanthi Hegde (Mother of Mr. V. G. Siddhartha, Chairman and MD of Cafe Coffee Day).
Mrs. Vasanthi Hegde presented the Malnad delicacies, with an aesthetic appeal by placing it on a banana leaf. Call us old-fashioned but Prashanth and I prefer eating our meal served on a banana leaf. Furthermore, the significance of eating on a banana leaf is simply hygienic and medicinal. Hot food served on this leaf produces enzymes, which on being consumed elevates taste buds and helps in digestion.
The round of service began with ‘Course One’ being served on the top half of the banana leaf in a systematic row. Almost all of us, dumbstruck by the goodness and authenticity of each dish wondered if it could get any better than this. But to our luck, dishes served as part of ‘Course Two’ simply made us weak in the knees, asking for more!
Art of Delight
We savoured each delicious mouthful of these 18 Malnad delicacies:
- Harlikai Gojju – Made from local Pomelos marinated and aged with care
- Kosumbari – Soaked Urad Dal with fresh cucumber and coconut tempered in South Indian style
- Kalule Palya – A dry sabzi made from seasonal and locally procured fresh Bamboo shoot
- Halsinkai – A dry sabzi made from seasonal raw jackfruit
- Bendekai Gojju – Tender Okra fried in South India masala or gravy
- Hurlisaru – Horse gram curry
- Kaima Unde – Pan sauteed Mutton balls cooked in local spices
- Eery Fry – Mutton liver cooked in freshly ground black pepper masala
- Kesa – A dry sabzi made from healthy and iron rich Colocasia leaves
10. Holige & Thupa – Sweetened and light Dal stuffed pancakes served with ghee
11. Kadubu – Rice dumplings served with a local chicken or vegetable curry
12. Gangalada Dosa with Meenu Masala – Local ‘Oul’ River Fish served with pan steamed and tawa roasted Dosa
13. Mavinhanina Gojju – Mini Mangoes cooked in a sweet yoghurt masala with tadka
14. Steamed rice with Rasam – A peppery broth, flavored with tomatoes, onion and garlic
15. Mamsa Dry Fry – Succulent pieces of Mutton seared with fresh red chilli powder and spices
16. Curd rice – Soft rice with fresh yoghurt, chopped green chillies and cilantro tempered in South Indian style
17. Halagana Hittu – A traditional light sweet made with milk and flour
18. Kukus Payasa – Roasted poppy seeds, ground and slowly simmered in a sweetened milky concoction
Food for thought
Good food matters. But what matters most is the nutritional value it provides our bodies. As a result, Malnad food offers just that. A wholesome cuisine, where handmade dishes like Kaima Unde, Mavinhanina Gojju, Kesa and Halagana Hittu captured our hearts and created fond food memories. Hence, we ended our meal with gratitude by folding our banana leaves inwards, showing a sign of respect and gratefulness to the host, for the bounty we received.
Have you ever travelled for food? Tell us about your fondest food memory 🙂