Noshtalgia | Food

Pathrade: The dish that stalked me

Pathrade, Mangalurean style.

Pathrade, Mangalurean style.   | Photo Credit: Ruth Dsouza Prabhu

The Mangalurean speciality is a laborious dish that is worth every minute that goes into making it

I was stalked by a dish! Let me tell you the story. I was the quintessential ‘Gulfie’ kid, born and brought up in Kuwait, till the age of 11. Coming to my hometown of Mangaluru every year on vacation was, for me, like coming to a veritable Disneyland of rustic adventure. Cows roamed freely on the streets, auto drivers channelled their inner Schumacher, it rained copious amounts, and I was allowed to play in the rain! My grandmother’s home was my version of Mowgli’s jungle, filled with mango, tamarind, coconut and chikoo trees and so many beautiful flowers. The well beside the washing stone was my place to perch, listening to the sounds of nature.

Of course, through all this, eating was the main agenda of each day. Pathrade, a Mangalurean dish, popular during the monsoons was always on the cards. This is a laborious dish made with shredded colocasia leaves (called alwache kolay in Konkani, arbi in Hindi, alu in Marathi, and sempu in Tamil) and a rice and black gram paste that is mixed together, patted on to teak tree leaves in a thick one-inch layer, packed and tied tightly, and then steamed. The resultant rice cakes are then sliced, coated with a chilli-salt-vinegar paste called meet-mirsang that you will find in every Mangalurean kitchen, and fried. Alternatively, you can add it to meat gravies making it a one-pot meal.

Leafy treat

The first time I heard of pathrade, I did what every tween would likely do — screwed up my nose and went yuck. Till my mother coaxed me to put one of the fried slices in my mouth. It was as if a window to a new flavour flew open in my head. I loved it and devoured it by the plateful. It took me a while to develop a taste for the curried version, but I did so soon.

What I loved about pathrade was being a part of the entire half-day process. My favourite task was to pick the leaves that grew randomly in the large compound during the rains. The instructions were clear — pick the medium-sized leaves (the larger ones result in an itchy throat) and pick ones without any tears. The task meant stepping into puddles of rainwater. I would stomp through them much to the chagrin of our help, who had been put in charge of ‘little missy’. Armed with the leaves, we would march back, and I would watch my mother and the other women of the family divide the work among themselves, under the watchful eyes of my grandmother.

This was an annual ritual, which continued even after we moved to India for good, with my mother now sending me out to pick the leaves in our own garden. The sights and sounds of mom’s kitchen at pathrade time always made me smile — the swish of the knife as it peeled the thick stalks of the colocasia leaves, the rat-a-tat sounds while shredding them on a wooden board, the rhythmic notes of stone against stone while grinding the soaked rice and gram, and the joy of opening the steaming packets, in anticipation of good things to come.

And now to the part of the dish stalking me. Growing up, with a Parsi best friend, I soon discovered that her family made a version of pathrade too. This one did not use rice; instead spiced chickpea flour paste was applied generously to the colocasia leaves. These were then layered (our job if we were caught loafing around) and rolled into tight bundles. Into the steamer, these jam-roll like bundles went, then they were sliced, pan-fried and served with chai.

Many, many versions

School and college went by and I moved to a hostel in Manipal for my postgraduate studies. It was a time of newfound freedom. But there were times, especially rainy days, when homesickness would wrap around me like a cold, wet blanket. One such evening, a Gujarati classmate who had just come back from home, came to my room with a box of homemade goodies. In the box was patra, the Gujarati version of pathrade. This one was made with a paste of chickpea flour, asafoetida, chilli powder, pounded jaggery, and some tamarind. It followed the same principles of preparation of layering, rolling and steaming, but was such a different melange of flavours. The world was now a better place.

In Mumbai, at a classmate’s home, en route to Delhi for my internship, her mother treated us to the family special — alu vadi aka pathrade — and as I would soon learn, rikwach (in U.P.), and patode (in some parts of North India). While the Marathi version is quite like the Gujarati one, it has the additional nuance of a mustard-sesame seed tempering and a handful of freshly grated coconut to finish it off. Seeing my enthusiasm, aunty was kind enough to pack a dabba for us to take on the train to Delhi.

Years after graduation, work often took me around the country. I found myself back in Delhi and at a Bihari friend’s home. She told me that the special for the evening was patode. The interesting thing about her version was that the chickpea flour paste was made with curd as the base, along with carom seeds, bringing in a completely different flavour profile. I was now convinced that the dish was stalking me.

And just as life has a way of coming full circle, so did pathrade. I met my husband, who is from Kochi, and of course, pathrade was an integral part of their cuisine. In his home too, it was a dish made community style (remember what I said about the women of the house dividing the work under the searing gaze of my grandmother?). It took a while for the women in my in-laws’ home to open up their circle and welcome me in. But in the swish of the knife on the stalks, the rhythmic grinding of paste on stone, and the aromatic smells from the steamer, I was finally brought into the family 15 years ago.


Pathrade (Mangalurean style)

Pathrade, Mangalurean style.

Pathrade, Mangalurean style.   | Photo Credit: Ruth Dsouza Prabhu


12 medium sized colocasia leaves

5-6 teak tree leaves to steam pathrade (banana leaves may be substituted)

2 cups raw rice

½ cup stripped black gram

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 heaped tsp cumin seeds

6 dried red chillies

1 tbsp tamarind pulp

¼ tsp turmeric powder

Salt to taste


1. Soak the rice and black gram overnight.

2. Wash both sets of leaves and let them dry.

3. Drain the rice and gram and blend it along with coriander seeds, cumin seeds, chillies, tamarind pulp, and the turmeric powder and salt.

4. Use very little water while blending to ensure you have a coarse mix that is not watery.

5. Finely shred the colocasia leaves.

6. Mix the rice-gram mix with the shredded colocasia leaves.

7. Take one teak tree leaf and place it with the coarse side facing you. Scoop a ladleful of the mixture in the centre and pat down to a slab of 1 inch thickness.

8. Fold the outer edges in on all sides to form a firm packet and turn the pack right side up.

9. Do this with all the leaves and the mixture.

10. Place in a steamer for an hour.

11. Wait till it has cooled to room temperature before peeling off the leaf cover and slicing it.

12. Coat the slices with some meet mirsang (salt-chilli paste) and shallow fry till crisp.

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Printable version | Mar 26, 2020 3:15:05 AM |

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