The Characteristics of Karnataka Cuisine
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The Characteristics of Karnataka Cuisine

South Indian foods are lighter and use less pungent spices, and are usually accompanied by rice

The normal impression that people have about Indian cuisine comes from their own eating experiences in various Indian Restaurants, where the Punjabi and Mughlai food dominate.  Many people are familiar with Roti, Parathas, Naan, Chicken Tikka Masala, Tandoori chicken, Biriyani, etc.

But there is more to Indian cooking than Tandoori Chicken and Naan; there is a whole wide variety of vegetarian dishes cooked by the South Indians, that are equally or even more delicious, and fast becoming popular all over the world.  So far, however, they have not gained the same amount of popularity as the North Indian, mainly Punjabi, dishes.

From my own experience as a South Indian hailing from Karanataka, I feel that our food is generally lighter in fragrance and we use spices that are less pungent, hardly any Gharam Masala (which is a must for all North Indian dishes), and there is less use of oil, which makes the food healthier. We, in the south, tend to use a lot of fresh Coconut (it is grown extensively in all the Southern states and is freely available), which is ground with other spices like chilis, coriander, cumin and tamarind, and sometimes curry leaves to make the basic curry paste, which forms the base for most of the curries. Vegetables are either steamed or stir-fried before adding to the curry paste, and boiled together.  Finally, the curry is tempered with hot oil, mustard seeds and curry leaves. There is a mind-boggling variety of curries made in Karnataka. The most popular ones that are known to most people is the 'Sambhaar' (made with a combination of Cooked Toor Dhal, vegetables,Tamarind extract and Sambhar powder); 'Rasam,' a thin, clear soup made generally by using the extra water in which the dhal is cooked with an addition of tomatoes, pepper powder, jeera powder (cumin powder) and tamarind extract. Another dish that is equally popular is 'Majjige Huli,' which is made with ash pumpkin and a gravy made of ground coconut, green chilis, cumin and yogurt. This is a simple yet very tasty dish loved by most Kannadigas. It is a must-serve dish in most festive gatherings.

Most South Indians eat basic rice with their main meal, rather than Rotis, Naans and Parathas.

There are many varieties of rice dishes cooked in South India using spices, coconut, vegetables, greens, pulses, and dhals. Some of the very well known dishes are 'Puziogarai' (spices and tamarind-flavoured rice) and the South Indian 'Vegetable Pulao' ( a dish made with fragrant ghee rice and spiced vegetables),  and 'Bisibele Baathu,' which is a more refined form of the basic khichdi, where rice, dhal, vegetables and spices are cooked together); this is a very tasty dish that has the unique flavour of Karnataka.

In Karnataka itself , there is a wide variety of cuisine.  The Dharwad region has its own special dishes like the famous Dharwad 'Pedas,' a sweet made with milk. A typical meal in Dharwad is always comprised of 'Jholada Rotti' made of the local variety of corn flour, and accompaniments like 'Enne Badnekai ' (spicy Brinjal curry),  'Kaalina saaru' (Gravy made with lentils), 'Soppina Palya ' (greens), ' Chutney pudi ' (spiced powder), pickles and curds.

If one were to visit Mangalore or South Kanara district, the food there is totally different, with most people eating 'Boiled Rice' (a variety of rice where the husk is not removed), and--being a coastal district--a lot of fish and sea food is consumed here.  Some of the local specialities include 'Etti Ghasi' (Prawn curry), 'Kori Rotti ' (Chicken gravy with crisp rotis made of rice flour), 'Kori Aajadina' (dry chicken curry with lots of coconut and spices), ' Puli Koddel' ( A sambhaar made with a variety of vegetables), and 'Neer Tellao' ( A very soft variety of dosa made with rice flour).  One more unique dish from this region is 'Kukkuda Menaskai' (a spiced curry with ripe mangoes), which is very popular during the mango season. Most South Indian restaurants that serve Idli, Dosa and Thali meals are owned by Mangalorean Shivalli brahmins or other Mangaloreans. Hotels and food are big business in this district.

People living in Mandya and Haasan district eat a lot of Ragi, which is grown in plenty there.  Ragi flour is cooked and made into balls called mudde, and this is a very popular dish that has caught on even with the urban elite of late...mudde is dipped and eaten with kaalu saaru (lentil gravy), or Koli saaru (Chicken gravy) and other vegetable preparations such as Alasande palya (long beans, dry curry) and Kosumbari (a salad made with cucumber, onions, tomatoes and green chilis).

Coorg is another district that has its own unique Kodava culture and recipes.  Kodavas trace their ancestry to the Greeks, and Coorg cuisine presents some of the most mouthwatering delicacies and recipes that have been culled from the Greek culture, with the Greek influence mixing in with the spices and local items like coconut, ginger ,pepper and cardomom. Some of their dishes include 'Kodava kanne', a thick variety of tasty dhal with an addition of spices and ground coconut, 'Kommu curry', another tasty dish made with mushrooms and spices and the ever-popular 'Pandi curry', a special 'Coorg pork curry' and a variety of meat and chicken preparations served with 'Kadumbuttu and Paputtu', both different varieties of steamed ground rice cakes.

But for most people rice is the staple diet, eaten with Sambhaar, Rasam, Dhal and vegetables. Curds for Yogurt forms an integral part of the meal.

There is a wide variety of sweets prepared in all parts of Karnataka starting with the famous, mouth-watering 'Mysore pak', which is a dish fit for a king. This famous dish was prepared by the cooks in the Mysore palace and served during special occasions there. There is 'Holige or Obbattu', which is a flavoured sweet stuffed chappati-like pooran poli made in Maharashtra. Then there are a variety of Payasa (porridges) made from dhals, lentils, rice, soji, khus khus, and coconut with a generous amount of ghee and topped with nuts and raisins. Another popular sweet dish is the 'Kesari baat' made with fine rava, sugar and lots of ghee and nuts, a very delicious dish served with 'Kara baat ' or ' Upma' at breakfat time, or even as dessert after a meal.

One of the most widely known, mouth-watering dish is the Masala Dosa, which is a pancake made with fermented rice and black gram dhal batter and stuffed with a spicy Potato curry.

A festive meal also has another special dish that is served in most parts of Karnataka, namely 'Hannina Rasaayana,' made with mixed fruits cut into pieces and mixed with curds and sugar and flavoured cardomom powder.

There is no dearth of variety in Karanataka.

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Comments (3)

I love southern Indian cuisine! Thanks for clarifying some of the finer points. Great article!

Nicely written article

I love curried veggies, chapatis, mung dahl, pakoras(eggplant and cauliflower), the spice hing and Indian curry, really strong, and sweet balls with thick sweet sauce(i forgot the name). Nice write Kiran.