Traveller’s Fare

by Kaveri Ponnapa

Whenever we went on a picnic, there was always mor kool, wrapped up in wilted banana leaves. Never mind the more exotic, rich, dry-fried meats and other delicacies that were part of our picnic, but there was always mor kool -curd rice. Tiny flecks of green from a chopped chilli; refreshingly crunchy, fresh ginger and the odd curry leaf or two, and dark dots of mustard seeds against the white of the rice. It was cool and soothing on the hot, North Indian summer nights which is when we usually set out on large, community picnics.It turned up on long car journeys too, slightly messy, but always welcome.

Decades later, when summer temperatures in Coorg began to soar higher than we ever thought they would, my mother-in-law and I would sometimes eat a comfortable helping of just mor kool and pickle for lunch. I have forgotten how many times I have made a solitary, deeply satisfying meal of mor kool with a generous scoop of dark, bittersweet kaipuli chutte pajji, the charred flavours of this quintessential Coorg bitter orange chutney melding perfectly with the seasoned rice and curd.

It took many years more to link this ultimate comfort food to journeys across Coorg, when mor kool was carried in a small package, wrapped in a double layer of softened banana leaf, flavoured with just ginger and turmeric. Koopadi – wrapped and parceled food –filled with remembered tastes, carries so many subtle differences of occasion and emotion, it would not be possible to express all of them at one time. A series of images emerged from shared stories: of schoolchildren with a banana leaf parcel wrapped over again, carefully, in a handkerchief, a chunk or two of lime pickle wedged beside the moist rice to last them the walk to school and then back again. Of men setting out to graze cattle with the comfort of a weighty package to be eaten in solitude, in some wilderness, silence all around.

It is easy to imagine these scenes, during this summer that never seems to end, and wish oneself on a hillside in Coorg with just a package of mor kool and pickle for company -although it is not always possible to travel back to places we have left behind.

All Food Styling: Kaveri Ponnapa
Photo Credits: A.G.P Sathyaprakash

Do look out for the recipes of all the food featured here in my upcoming cookbook.

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