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On the famous neikarrapatti gola urandai

The traditional meat dishes of Tamil Nadu are an explosion on the taste buds. The mutton ball is a popular Sunday lunch dish or a party snack. Different communities in and around Coimbatore have their own version of the recipe. It is one treat that is devoured as fast as it is cooked.

There are mutton balls and there are mega mutton balls, as I discovered one Sunday soon after I got married. That’s when I first saw and tasted the famous neikarrapatti gola urandai. On first sight, it looks like a ball of mince tied together in an organised pattern with natural fibre. Unravelling it without allowing it to fall apart takes practice, as I soon discovered. It is tied at the top with a strong knot. Once yanked gently at the tip, the wrapping collapses in a heap on your plate and the exposed succulent round of spiced meat can then be attacked with gusto.

This delicious dish became popular in the hamlet of Neikarrapatti, close to the Palani hills. Thulasidharan’s family has kept the tedious process of making this dish alive. Being a passionate foodie, he is the self-designated quality controller and has taken it upon himself to hone the taste of the dish.

The origin of the gola urandai is fascinating. The story goes that it was originally a Maratha dish and was brought to Thanjavur due to the liaisons between the royal families of Maharashtra and Thanjavur. This delicacy was apparently made especially when the royal sons-in-law of the family came on visits.

The Maharaja of Thanjavur would visit Neikarrapatti for hunting and other sport and cooks were part of the royal retinue. Thulasidharan’s grandfather, Kullama Naicker, was the samasthanam of Neikkarapatti. He requested that the cook be left behind to teach his family the recipes. To this day, the family makes the delicious gola urandai in precisely the same manner.

Thulasidharan’s wife, Anandhi, is a vegetarian but, as she talks about the special tools used to pound the meat, I realise why the meat is different. It isn’t minced at all. It is, in fact, chunks of meat devoid of any bone, gristle or cartilage.

Only the best cuts are chosen and the meat is boiled well and fried until it is tender and gets a crisp coating. This is then painstakingly pounded by hand until the fibres are tenderised to such an extent that they resemble fine strands of cotton fluff. The pounding is done with a traditional ulakkai (a large stone mortar with a wooden pestle) so that the meat still holds its texture and doesn’t become pasty.

The other ingredients like onion, green chillies, garlic and coconut are fried. A flat inverted knife blade with a wooden handle, which has its own wooden box, is used to coarsely grind the cooked onion mixture. Ghee is another ingredient that is used generously. The urandai is unapologetically deep-fried to near char perfection.

Since Anandhi has not familiarised herself with the actual ingredients or the cooking process, the task has been handed over to the capable hands of their daughter-in-law Sowmya. She is the one who knows the exact ingredients that go into the dry spice blend that flavours the meat.

By spending hours in the kitchen, Sowmya has even learnt how to secure the meat with the long strands of banana fibre. The fibre is picked from the farms and never bought. She says it takes her a just couple of seconds. According to her, the whole process of cooking one kg of meat takes 4-5 hours with three cooks at the helm. Earlier, one kg made 22 meat balls but they have now stretched it to make 35. I was delighted to learn that not only has she methodically documented the various procedures but also started a blog in honour of the Neikarapatti cuisine. She has plans to go public with it soon. You can access it at http://neikkarapatti.weebly.com

Read more about food at Shanthini’s blog www.pinklemontreerecipes.com

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 10:42:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/on-the-famous-neikarrapatti-gola-urandai/article7818380.ece

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