Across India, there are many eateries that will dish up a quick dosa and vada—which everyone associates with south India—for you. But each of the southern states has its own distinct version, not just of these renowned dishes but so many more. Today, dishes from nearly 10 variations of Karnataka cuisines have made their way onto menus across in India and become favourites of diners.
Recently, The Bombay Canteen, Mumbai, had a Canteen Karnataka Feast in association with the Bengaluru Oota Company. Ask Chef-Partner Thomas Zacharias how much people are aware about the diversity of cuisines in Karnataka and he says, “People tend to have a blanket opinion that all the food from the four southern states in India is pretty much the same, and that it’s spicy and cooked with a lot of coconut. However, Karnataka as a state has a lot of diverse influences in its cuisine, whether through the Konkan coastline or the various communities like Catholics and Gowdas who have made it their home. This means that Kannadiga cuisine has a lot of unique nuances in flavours, ingredients, and styles of cooking.”
So what makes the food from Karnataka unique? “Mangalorean food uses a lot of coconut in various forms (like grated, milk, oil) along with red chillies—Badege chilli, individually roasted spices that are mixed together, etc. Gowda food has extensive usage of coriander in all forms, garlic and coconut ground in the masala and primarily green chillies. Kodava food uses kachimpuli, etc,” explains Divya Prabhakar of the Bengaluru Oota Company.
Being one-fourth Mangalorean is a matter of immense happiness for Cordon Bleu Chef Devika Manjrekar because Mangalorean food is also her favourite Indian cuisine. “The seafood is so fresh, the preparations are so subtle and just all around delicious. There is something about south Indian food that seems simple and healthy and clean,” she says.
Karnataka cuisine consists of pure vegetarian food (Udupi) on one of the spectrum to totally non-vegetarian delights (Kudla, Kodava) at the other end. You’ll find vegetarian Udupi restaurants in nearly every metro in India like Mathsya and New Woodlands in Chennai; Guruprasad Udupi Restaurant and Karnataka Food Centre in New Delhi; Udipi Home and Rao’s Udipi Home in Kolkata. Step into Mumbai’s Matunga and there are numerous popular Udupi restaurants like Sharda Bhavan, which dates back to the 1950s, and Café Mysore that was set up in 1934.
Divya Prabhakar elaborates on this trend stating, “Some of the more popular cuisines are Mangalorean and Udupi cuisine and some Kodava and North Karnataka dishes. The Mangalorean and Udupi communities are very enterprising as a business community and have set up restaurants across the country which make them very accessible and popular.”
But the non-vegetarian fare from Karnataka is much sought-after too. Sous Chef Sukesh Kanchan of Sana-di-ge (Delhi), which is known for its Kudla fare, says that Chicken Sukka, Mutton Sukka, Chicken Ghee Roast, Prawn Ghee Roast, Jumbo Naked Crab and Seafood Platter are very popular among their patrons. The Pandi Curry (pork curry), Prawns / Yetti Ghee Roast, Kane Fry, Marwai, Crab / Prawns Sukka, Pork Bafat and Kori Gassi are also delicious non-veg fare.
Given that diners today are open to experimentation and want to try new flavours, the previously unknown dishes of Karnataka are being discovered. In fact, at the Canteen Karnataka Feast, diners could not get enough of the Goli Baje (bhaji made with flour and curd), Jeegujje Fry (Breadfruit coated in chiroti rava and fried); Gowda-style Maamsa Saaru (mutton curry); Curd Rice and Pineapple Mensakkai (sweet and sour pineapple); and the Chiroti with Ghasghase Payasa (flaky pastry with poppy seed
In this scenario, when you ask Chef S Sivaraj Chef de Cuisine, Tuskers, Sofitel Mumbai BKC, what Karnataka specialities he would recommend, he quickly lists out the Majjiage (Buttermilk), Mysore Rasam, Udupi Sambar, Mysore Bonda, Maddur Vada, Paneer Gassi, Dhawan Keri Dosa, Ragi Dosa and Neer Dosa. Devika chips in adding Ghee Roast—of any kind, Chicken Sukka, Idli with Mutton Stew, Pulli Munchi and Payasam. Of course, one must not forget the rice varieties like the Bisi Bele Bhath (Sambar Rice), Vangi Bhath (Eggplant Rice), Avalakki (Baked flat rice) and Maavinkaayi chitranna (Raw Mango Rice).
One interesting aspect of food from this state is the extensive use of millets like ragi and jola (jowhar). While many of us have just discovered how healthy millets are, these have been part of the Kannadiga’s diet for centuries. The Ragi Mudde, Ragi Roti, Ragi Dosa and Ragi Laddu are still consumed extensively alongside the Jowhar Roti.
Chef Thomas Zacharias says, “Many of our traditional Indian cuisines including that of Karnataka are rooted in the ancient science of Ayurveda and centuries of intelligent evolution keeping in mind the basic principles of provenance, seasonality and how it affects our body and mind. Recipes that are based on these traditions are bound to be healthy by those ancient parameters.”
Given the stunning variety in both veg and non-veg dishes, it is no longer surprising that people are not just keen on taking up jobs in Bengaluru but even seeking actively out Karnataka cuisine across the country.