Karnataka’s pudi tradition - a lifeline in times of climate change

From the pudi idlis of Bengaluru to the uchelu and agase pudis of North Karnataka, these pudis play a crucial role in local cuisine and stand as guardians of food security amid the changing climate scenario

Updated - September 07, 2023 03:40 pm IST

Published - September 06, 2023 12:26 pm IST

Pudi idli

Pudi idli | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“I’m concerned that tatte idli is slowly taking over normal idli,” reads a post under the title ‘breakfast scenes-changing’ on r/bangalore’s Reddit community. Another comment adds, “Those idlis are also buried in a kilo of pudi/podi and drowned in a litre of ghee.”

While these concerns have their validity, the past couple of years have ushered in a delightful change for lovers of all things pudi (also referred to as podi) and ghee. Thanks to a burgeoning community of local food bloggers, your social media feeds now brim with slow-motion shots of pudi sprinkled over piping-hot thatteyidlis and generously bathed in Nandini ghee straight from the packet.

Ajit Bhaskar who hosts darshini (vegetarian quick service restaurants) food walks in the city, notes that this concept isn’t entirely new. Old eateries in Nagarathpete and other pete market areas in the city have been serving ghee-laden idlis for years, catering to labourers seeking energy-rich meals since the 60s.

Pudis of north Karnataka on plate with roti and palya

Pudis of north Karnataka on plate with roti and palya | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“Narayan dose camp in Nagarathpete was the first one to have these ghee pudi idlis in the city. They even serve lemon rice tossed in pudi. This pudi culture was then taken to the urban city areas by IDC Kitchen and then later on adopted by other cafes,” notes Kunal BS, a food blogger in the city.

The trend really caught on social media in 2021, with Rameshwaram Cafe opening its outlets in Bengaluru and inviting bloggers to capture their pudi idli makings. “You would see some 20 bloggers posting the same thing at the same time and that is when it all turned,” says Kunal.

In places like Dose Manjana in Jayanagar, you’ll find variations like the Salem idli, a pudi idli fried in ghee with onion garnish. Lakshmi Natraj Refreshments in Nagarathpete too have been serving pudi idlis for for ages.

Bengaluru stands apart from other South Indian cities due to its unique darshini culture, characterised by self-service. While Brahmin’s Coffee Bar is a classic example, recent years have witnessed the emergence of new darshinis such as IDC Kitchen and Rameshwaram Cafe . Here, the absence of traditional service allows them to channel their resources into delivering exceptional quality.

At these darshinis, while you wait for your food, you can watch it being prepared at the counter itself.

A part of the experience when you order your ghee pudi idli at a Rameshwaram Café is definitely seeing your thattey idlis coming off the steamer piping hot and then getting immediately sprinked with pudi and doused in ghee. “That visual appeal is a big draw,” adds Ajit.

Beyond pudi idlis

Pudis of Karnataka
Northern Karnataka Pudis:
Uchellu pudi: Made from niger seeds, it has a mild pungency and pairs well with salads or as a condiment.
Shenga or kadlekai pudi: Comprising roasted peanuts, Kashmiri red chili, garlic, and tamarind, it offers a bright red colour and is typically served with jowar roti. Hand-ground peanuts add a unique clumpy texture.
Agase beeja pudi: Crafted from flax seeds, Kashmiri chili powder, jaggery, shahi jeera, and garlic, it is had with curd.
Puttani pudi: Created using roasted chana dal, this pudi comes in variations with tamarind or dried red chili. Also known as methkut in Maharashtra, it often has a smoother texture.
Southern Karnataka Pudis:
Garlic pudi (belluli chutney pudi): Commonly found in the Mangaluru belt, Udupi, Mysuru, and Bengaluru, it adds a garlic-infused punch to dishes.
Methkut/Menthe Kittu: Made of fenugreek seeds, it serves as a versatile seasoning, enhancing various snacks and dishes.
Source: Oota, PODI life

The rise in pudi popularity has also prompted more people to incorporate them into their daily meals. As Abhiram Sridhar (called “Podi nan maga,” on Insta), who sells pudis at vegan markets and events in the city, aptly puts it, “All you need is steaming hot rice, a dollop of ghee, and some pudi to make a meal.” The name of the brand is a take on Bengaluru slang “kal nan maga”.

While established condiment houses such as Vasavi Condiments and Subamma Stores in Basavanagudi continue to be popular sources for pudis, Abhiram represents a younger generation of pudi aficionados. “I run it from my own kitchen with my Preethi mixie grinder — a gift from my sister Shwetha,” says Abhiram, who prefers selling his pudis face-to-face rather than using an e-commerce website to carry out his business.

Abhiram Sridhar of Podi nan maga

Abhiram Sridhar of Podi nan maga | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

At Bengaluru’s Oota, a restaurant that brings the diverse subcuisines of Karnataka under one roof, pudis play an essential role in elevating the dining experience. According to chef Mandaar Sukhtankar, “It plays the role of a condiment in a Karnataka thali. It makes your food interesting because you get to mix different flavours. Like chili garlic oil or soy sauce in a Chinese restaurant, it lifts and enhances your food.”

Oota serves uchellu pudi, shenga pudi, and agase pudi as accompaniments to their meals. Mandaar, who is originally from Belgavi, notes, “They are quite popular among our guests, and we go through kilos of these pudis in a month.”

In northern Karnataka regions, such as Dharwad-Hubballi and Bellary, one discovers a quintessential farmer’s meal — ragi or jolladu (millet) rottis paired with uchellu, shenga, or agase pudi. This combination not only boasts a prolonged shelf life but also delivers a burst of regional flavours.

“Some of these pudis are unique to Karnataka; I have never seen a flax seed pudi anywhere else,” notes Mandaar.

Alak Nanda, founder of PODI life, explains, “These pudis can even take on a sweet note when blended with locally harvested jaggery.” Alak, in collaboration with her mother, offers a range of pudis, including crunchy peanut pudi, spicy coconut pudi, and more through PODI life.

Alak Nanda, founder of PODI life

Alak Nanda, founder of PODI life | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

While Karnataka’s pudis exhibit unique characteristics, they also share similarities with pudis from other South Indian regions. Alak emphasises, “An overarching thing to remember about pudis is that they are a beautiful reflection of what is grown in the area. Their main purpose is to make ingredients long-lasting. They are a result of many centuries of indigenous ingenuity in putting ingredients to the best use to create long-lasting, flavourful, easy-to-use pantry staple condiments.”

Puttani pudi

Puttani pudi | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Puttani pudi sprinkled with avalakki on curd 

Puttani pudi sprinkled with avalakki on curd  | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Speaking to the distinct uchellu pudi, Amrutha Palla, a pudi aficionado and a member of the PODI life community, notes, “Uchellu pudi has a very strange texture, almost tastes like grass, to be honest, but it is very tasty. The seeds are actually used as cattle feed because they have high fibre and protein.”

In southern Karnataka, spanning the Mangaluru belt, Udupi, Mysuru, and Bengaluru, garlic pudi (belluli chutney pudi) and methkut/menthe kittu (made from fenugreek seeds) are prominent. Alak further adds, “Menthya/menthi hittu is also used as a seasoning when making snacks; it just needs to be mixed with poha/flattened rice and some oil.”

There is also chutney pudi, found across Karnataka, made from chana, urad dals, and spices. It pairs wonderfully with idli, dosa, and akki rotti. “This pudi is the closest to paruppu podi in Tamil Nadu and pappula podi in Telugu speaking regions,” notes Alak.

Uchellu pudi

Uchellu pudi | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Agasi pudi

Agasi pudi | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Seasons also lend their influence to the consumption of pudis. “During monsoon, pudis are eaten with congee. There is also a jackfruit seed pudi that is made in Karnataka when these seeds are available,” says Alak.

Exploring further, you will find niche pudis made from the skin of gourds, roasted bitter gourd, amla (gooseberries), sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds, among others. These unique pudis, however, come with a shorter shelf life and are produced in small quantities seasonally, coinciding with the availability of their respective ingredients. Byadagi chillies, when accessible, contribute their distinctive flavour to these pudis.

Guardians of food security

Beyond their rich flavours, these pudis stand as a testament to the indigenous vegetation that thrives across Karnataka. They show the ingenious practices of local communities, who have devised methods to extend the shelf life of their food. Through roasting and powdering a variety of produce and infusing them with different flavours, these communities have developed a culinary tradition that doubles up as a survival strategy

In an era characterised by the unpredictable impact of climate change, the importance of such practices cannot be overstated. Karnataka, like many regions worldwide, faces the challenges posed by shifting climate patterns, which can disrupt traditional agricultural cycles and compromise food security. In this context, the art of making these pudis takes on a newfound significance.

These condiments, with their ability to preserve the essence of locally grown ingredients, offer a lifeline during times of scarcity. By turning perishable goods into long-lasting, flavourful pantry staples, pudis serve as a buffer against food insecurities arising from climate-related disruptions.

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