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Culmination of cuisines

Photo: V.V. Ganesan

Photo: V.V. Ganesan

Think coconut and curry leaves for Kerala cuisine. Idlis are intrinsically Tamil, while kosambari is Udipi. Add a good dose of seafood to the mix. Drawing from the influence of these strong cuisines and the communities — Bunt, Brahmin, Poojary, Jain, Catholic, Protestant and Beary — that surround this port town in coastal Karnataka, you have the mouthwatering taste of Mangalorean cuisine. Madras, the South Indian speciality restaurant at The Raintree, Anna Salai, is showcasing the cuisine in a food festival that is currently on.

According to Shireen Sequeira, a Mangalorean who chronicles recipes from her native cuisine on her blog >Ruchik Randhap (Delicious Cooking) , the ingredients that are used in Mangalorean cuisine are mostly seasonal and local. This includes coconut in all its forms, spices such as fresh and dried chillies, pepper, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and tamarind or sol (called Monkey Jack, a dried fruit similar to kokum) as souring agents.

Executive sous chef at The Raintree, Litwin Shanjit, adds that it is quite a fiery cuisine, with the heat of byadge chillies.   

“Mangalorean cuisine on the whole is largely influenced by South Indian cuisine. We share our food habits with other South Indians as the ingredients we use are the same,” explains Shireen (see box).

However, the cuisine also has some unique combinations, such as mushrooms and drumstick in a saaru (rasam). “What seems like unique combinations to the rest of the world is actually very regular to us Mangaloreans, as most of these combinations were created by housewives who were required to stretch the rupee to sustain a large families that were usually supported by sole breadwinners,” says Shireen.

And so there are several popular combinations like prawn and breadfruit curry, dried fish and raw mango curry, bafat style pork with yam, raw banana, sweet potato or radish, steamed colocasia leaf cakes (pathrade) dunked in mutton curry, winter melon with mutton. Vegetarian options include spinach curry with black eyed peas or dal, ridge gourd peel and coconut chutney and raw jackfruit and black channa sukka.

Chef Litwin says that it is the seafood that is typically Mangalorean, while the vegetarian options are bolstered with some Udupi dishes. The manji tawa fry — masala pomfret cooked on a hot griddle — is covered in a fiery red paste and is tender and flavourful. Cauliflower florets and boneless pieces of chicken, coated in a Mangalorean chilli marinade and fried to crispy perfection; it’s served with a smattering of golden cashews. The signature chicken curry, kori gassi, is served with paratha, Mangalorean rice wafers (kori rotti) and a tomato dosa that is delicious with the small serving of pineapple raitha that comes with it. The sweetness and acidity of the fruit cuts across the spiciness of the other dishes, including the mutton sukka, and lady fish gravy.

It’s a type of cooking that’s well-known, but cannot be termed as popular as the ones it has evolved from. Shireen agrees that Mangalorean food is not mainstream, but is popular  if you go by what Udipi cuisine has given the world, as both were part of the same district till a few years ago. However, she says, “Since most people perceive coastal cuisine to be limited to seafood, restaurants also market the cuisine with that in mind. Mangalorean cuisine is so much more than that. It is a conglomeration of so many sub cuisines that we have so much more to offer than just seafood. Our cuisine can promise to tickle taste buds with the kind of variety we offer.”

The Mangalore Spice Junction festival will be on at Madras, The Raintree, Anna Salai, till June 28.


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Printable version | May 20, 2022 2:02:25 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/culmination-of-cuisines/article7333334.ece