Sitting quietly on the Western Ghats, from the green slopes of Coorg rises unique flavours and aromas that have come to define Kodava cuisine. Before coffee plantations blanketed the region, Kodavas cultivated paddy or hunted and gathered food for sustenance. This past life contributed to the imagination and creation of dishes that now find a place on every dining table in Coorg. No matter how different the preparation of each dish goes, the ingredients—whether meat or vegetables—used in each truly reflect the region's and its people's distinct history and geography.
Don't stay fooled by its seemingly simple look or description. Even though only two ingredients, broken rice (known as kadumbuttu thari) and ghee, are used in its making, Kadambuttu finds itself on the plate in every Kodava household. These soft, dense, buttery roundels are served with classics like pandi curry (pork curry), vegetable curry, or shunti pajji (chutney prepared with ginger and coconut).
A bit tangy and perfectly rich, pandi curry sings umami like no other dish. This pork curry is unlike anything else you may have tasted elsewhere because of just one ingredient native to the region and central to the recipe—champuli vinegar (vinegar extracted from Garcinia Gummi Gutta). Used as a souring agent, it lends the dish its signature tart flavour that cuts the richness of pork fat with a hint of acidity. This indulgent dish tastes best when eaten with kadambuttu or akki otti (roti made with cooked rice and rice flour).
As paddy cultivators, rice has made it to the ingredient list of most Kodava dishes. Paputtu is not an exception. Apart from rice, this steamed cake is prepared with shredded coconut and milk. Although it tastes divine and can elevate even a simple dish like kuru curry (bean curry), it is very easy to make—three ingredients are mixed, then pressed flat on a greased plate and steamed. Locals also like to enjoy this subtly sweet preparation with ghee and honey.
When monsoon descends on Coorg, it is a sign that the time has come to make Baimbale curry (tender bamboo shoot curry). Preparing the bamboo before it is cooked with spices and ground coconut paste takes three days. First, the bamboo shoot is peeled and cut into strips, then washed and soaked in cold water for up to three days. After that, the water is drained out, and the bamboo strips are boiled till they are tender. Once the velvety curry is ready, the final tempering of mustard seeds and garlic in sizzling coconut oil completes the dish. It is best enjoyed with akki otti.
When it comes to dessert, Kodava cuisine has many treats to take you by surprise. The most special is the Koovaleputtu, a steamed cake prepared with jackfruit or banana pulp, coconut shavings, broken rice and a touch of cardamom. These ingredients are mixed until they form a silky batter, which is poured onto banana leaves and steamed. This melt-in-the-mouth dessert is served warm with a dollop of ghee, making it the perfect way to end a grand Kodava meal.