Living and working in London in the late ’80’s and ’90’s, between my husband’s friends and mine, we entertained a heady mix of successful corporate types and highbrow academics. Cosmopolitan, polyglot, with a, sometimes, formidable knowledge of the cultures and cuisines of the countries they had lived in, French, British, Brazilian, Nigerian, Chilean, they all found their way to our table. Palates were sophisticated, tastes refined. Indian cuisine was already the rage. Madhur Jaffrey, Camellia Panjabi and Ismail Merchant ruled the airwaves and bookshelves, carrying Indian food to a new level of discrimination.
Expectations were high, and with a recklessness born not a little out of desperation, I plunged into the rain-drenched memories of my Coorg background to trawl the flavours and secrets of a cuisine of a rugged mountain people, shaped over the centuries by wild forests, fields and clear mountain streams. My imagination roamed the hills of Coorg, running over the mouth watering seasonal delicacies, which appeared in such abundance year after year. Was it possible to capture the nuances of an astonishingly vast and varied cuisine by selecting just a few dishes? And which ones? Venison, wild boar, quail, imperial pigeon, crab, tender bamboo shoots and wild mushrooms all found their way onto the Coorg table®. The challenge was to present not just fabulous, unforgettable food, but to distill onto a plate the spirit of place, so to speak: the thrill of hunting wild boar through dense forests in the glittering September air; the secret lives of mushrooms; the mists, the sheets of rain and melancholy of the monsoon which brought tender shoots and leaves surging through sodden earth. Surprisingly for a cuisine so steeped in the particular landscape of Coorg, a number of modern classics emerged, which required little or no reinterpretation. Although the ingredients and flavours were unexpected after the more familiar curries, kebabs and rotis, every dish savoured at our table was a runaway success, paired with the early, seductive offerings of wine from Chile’s Maipo Valley.
For a rustic people, Coorg cuisine is astonishingly rich and extensive. But I would gladly sacrifice much of my culinary heritage for those special trophies of what Antonio Carluccio evocatively called ‘the quiet hunt’ – wild mushrooms. The fields and forests of Coorg are scattered, in season, with a range of fungi that are a mushroom hunters dream. Nethalle kumme, extravagantly large, divine roasted or curried; umbrella shaped kode kumme; tiny, peach tinted nucche kumme, their dainty caps clustered close together, waiting to melt in your mouth; mara kumme, sprouting on the barks of trees – mushrooms are a prized addition to the table. Early morning hunts yield rich rewards, dotted across expanses of grassy meadow and field; beside leaf covered, silent paths inside coffee plantations; on rich red anthills and the bark of trees. There is something entirely magical about mushrooms. Perhaps it is the way they spring up, with scarcely any warning, and disappear, fading and disintegrating almost before you can spot them. Hunting mushrooms is an art, and since they tend to flourish in the same place year after year, everyone keeps their secrets of the search. The warm, steamy fragrance that rises up from heaps of mushrooms in baskets, waiting to be cleaned, is wildly intoxicating and it’s understandable why epicures the world over pay shocking sums of money for the earthy flavours that are very much a part of our traditional fare. In Coorg, we curry, pickle, roast, and fry mushrooms. Roasted wild mushrooms, sprinkled with a tiny pinch of salt and chili and a dash of lime juice make an excellent entrée – silky, elegant, and, well, very sexy.
The dramatic thunderstorms and rains of the monsoons bring some of the most coveted delicacies that every Coorg craves. In lush green clumps, conical shoots of bamboo, sharp as pikes, emerge suddenly, shrugging aside wet earth. The green cones gathered from the riverside clumps, and the pale golden ones from deeper in the forest have a long journey to the table. The shoots are scaled and sliced, and soaked in several changes of water over 48 hours. The final result is tender chips of bamboo, tangy from the fermenting, which release their juices with a delicious crunch. Pickled, curried, preserved in brine, it is an all time classic. The golden yellow curry is eaten with akki ottis and a splash of melted ghee. Buttery kadambuttus, soft strands of noolputtu, creamy paputtu – each one unique in texture and flavour are all made from rice, sacred to life. Of all the many rice preparations, the akki otti, a rice roti, is the most versatile – it lends itself to a host of curries – bimbale, crab, pumpkin, and fresh double beans.
The landscape has more hidden delights. Wading knee-deep in clear highland streams leading to rice paddies yields another great treat – freshwater crabs. Curried or fried, spiced with roasted jeera, green chilies, ground coconut and kachampuli, tender, sweet-fleshed crabs can be quite addictive, piles of excavated shells rising to indecent heights beside each plate
Hunting and eating wild game is now a part of folklore, but succulent cubes of pork, the meat most relished, is cooked into a dark, luxurious, sultry curry. The spices are dry roasted, and fat and bone add depth to the flavours. Tart and viscous, kachampuli, the local vinegar adds the final touch as the pork simmers, soaking in the spices. The cubes of pork in their dark sauce are served with buttery white kadambuttus and a squeeze of lime. The contrast of colour, texture and taste is perfect, and the curry one to linger over, unabashedly licking your fingers. The Coorgs are an ancient people, and somehow, myths, forest-lore and old stories weave themselves into any conversation about their food. I still recall the excitement of pre-dawn forays to shoot duck, partridge and quail. Clouds of green pigeons would rise in the dewy freshness of a coffee estate, alert to the first shot fired into treetops at dawn. Heirloom recipes were very much a tradition in clan bound Coorg society, passed down the generations carefully, and these, from my mother-in-law and grandmother, are to be treasured.
Cooking for friends over the years, I discovered that these dishes lend themselves easily to a modern presentation. Menus, for instance, can include a starter of roasted mushrooms, followed by pepper-fried quail, with a side dish of stir-fried greens, and finally, pork curry. The classic Coorg puttu-curry combinations look wonderful plated, on contemporary white china. The recipes here have been served up on generously sized white plates, which have a dramatic border of the Sinhalese script in black, a sharp accent on the colours of the food. The flatware is Robbe and Berking, and the Oswald Haerdtl stemware, made by the 184 – year old Viennese glass house, Lobmeyr. The coffee cups are French, and the coffee, decidedly Coorg. Of all the many jaggery sweetened confections that do very well as dessert, over the years I have stuck to my own personal favourite – bale muruku, fritters of a local variety of banana, spiked with sesame seeds, coconut and jaggery. Crunchy on the outside, yielding and buttery on the inside, served with strong black Coorg coffee, it’s the perfect ending to a meal.
My ancestors understood perfectly Alice Waters’ beautiful phrase, ‘the edible landscape‘. Wild ferns, with softly curling tips, growing beside streams in moist clusters are gathered by the armful and cooked with just onion and green chilies into a simple, velvety textured dish that has a flavour redolent of unfamiliar herbs. Tender colocasia leaves, curried and sprinkled with lime juice, stir fries of wild greens that grow on the hillsides all add zest to the table.
Wild mango trees grow to spectacular heights and, by late April are laden with delicately rounded miniature fruit. Sweet, juicy and deliciously piquant, these are collected carefully, some curried with jaggery, and eaten with rice, and the surplus preserved in brine.
Salting, pickling, preserving, brining, smoking and drying of meats are all a part of the culinary year. Large baranis and earthen pots line the attics and storerooms of every home. Wild hog plum, taut green limes bursting with juice, tender jackfruit, and wild gooseberries all find their way into preserving jars. Everyone has a kitchen garden. Creepers trail, pumpkins burgeon, beans, gourds and fresh leafy greens abound. The hillsides are dotted with wild, sweet, berries.
Every time I cook a traditional meal, the entire landscape of my ancestors murmurs in the background. It’s a cuisine all about the freshness of seasonal ingredients, and a deep understanding of the environment, the seasons, and the best they have to offer. Hospitality and generosity are traditional, and legendary, so every meal becomes a celebration. And they have hit on a winning formula, because friends come back to our table again and again, each with requests for a special favourite – ancient, and thoroughly modern.
Coorg Modern appeared in Food Lovers Magazine, in the April/May 2009 issue.
Thank you for visiting this page. If you read something that you enjoy, or see an image that you like, please take a moment to write a response. Do look out for the recipes of all the food featured here in my upcoming cookbook.
Image Credits: Nithin Sagi
I’m a fan of the Kodava cuisine and I stumbled upon your blog. It’s absolutely fantastic. I’ve tried some of your recipes like the Onak erachi and it’s fantastic. The pictures are brilliant and I wish you all the best, please keep up the fabulous work. May I request you to post the recipe of Chilly pork, please. Thanks
Hello Saroj, I’m really happy you like The Coorg Table. We do have some fabulous food in Coorg, and I must say it was adventurous of you to have tried out the Onak Erachi, I really love it myself. Chilli Pork is very much on its way, although I cannot say exactly when I will post about it. But I promise it will be worth the wait, as it is a unique recipe. Do follow the blog on facebook too, there are more images for you to enjoy. All good wishes. Kaveri.
Please do keep me informed about your writings. lovely work.
Hi Mini, thank you for visiting this site, and I’m really glad you enjoyed the writing. You can also connect with The Coorg Table on Facebook, and we will keep you posted on all the updates on this page. All good wishes,Kaveri
Fantastic article, brings back many memories of living off the land in Coorg. Well done Kaveri. Looking forward to more of your articles in future.
Hello Bopanna, thanks for writing in, and I am so pleased the article brought back memories of Coorg – I think every one of us carries a bit of Coorg with us, no matter which part of the world we live in, or make our homes. And yes, I hope there will be more articles soon. Best, Kaveri.
Nice & Elaborated Article..
” Wherever you are ,your soul is always celebrates Coorg ” !!!
Thanks, Kino, glad you liked the article!
Wonderful article…..really brought Coorg to life and with it a flood of memories of the wonderful places and amazing cuisine. My aunt Bina Rao recommended I visit this site and I am glad I did. Hope to keep coming back and picking up some recipes especially of pandi curry! Thanks Kaveri.
Hello Sourabh, thanks for writing in, I’m glad you visited the site,too, and that it brought back memories.Do try the recipes and let me know how you do, they are all delicious.Look forward to your feedback.
I am first time visitor to this site.
Your writing style is so ‘live’ like story telling (presenter and audience) both enjoy and immediately connect!
Your knowledge of antiquity and relation with subject and participant observation brings mouthwatering recipes to the table.They strategically look good!
After reading this article I am confirmed ‘making of food’ is lot rational with feelings for family, for known and unknown and surprise them with unexplored ingredients!
I loved Mushroom and dash of lemon tip! A true good abstract painting comes in mind!
Rare information sharing with this blog is making culinary more attractive and respective!
Culinary is Sanskar (some what ethos ) applied on character of the food!
And it is retained by studied person like you! Thank You.
Santosh K Pune.
Hello Santosh, thanks for your generous appreciation, I’m delighted you liked the ‘story’ of our cuisine. Do follow the pages, and try the recipes, they are quite delicious. and they bring a bit of Coorg to your table.
This my first visit to the blog and I must confess, your writing truly dazzles. It really breathes with life! The descriptions, so evocative – almost tangible, the aromas tingled my nostrils as each dish leaped out of my screen:) By the end, I was drooling all over the keyboard! Brought back a flood of memories of my childhood in Coorg, prancing into the woods to pick baskets of mushrooms with cousins:) Ah…now, if only I get to taste all that’s being served at your table! I’ll be coming here more often, to feast my eyes on your writing… and, your love for good food.
Really commendable work you have put to bring together time-tested-tasteful recipe of Coorg. Now, as you said we could see it soon it is posted by you. Pl give a quick link which I could bookmark for click and reach recipe ! Any compilation@web as posting one or two at a time, it would take ages for us to see the breadth of your praiseworthy coverage. Any place in New Delhi that you know where such authentic Coorg food could be tried?
Hello, JK, sorry I missed this post, as I was travelling. I am rather out of touch with New Delhi, so would not be able to suggest a place for authentic Coorg food there, especially if I have not tried it myself, first.However, most Kodava Samajas sell some of the ingredients used in Coorg cuisine. I’m delighted you like the recipes and posts. Do try the recipes, they are easy to follow. And I know that coorg.com is doing everything to make them easy and quick to access, so leave your contacts and I’m sure they will respond.
Rarely have I kept down the fresh issues of Food Lovers without reading your article. It’s a blessing to know you. Devoted fan of your writing and cooking which nurtures the senses. Every article has your signature of authenticity and well researched detail. You bring Coorg alive in words and in a plate. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you very much, Heemanshu, it’s always great to know that someone has enjoyed a piece of writing. Looking forward to seeing you on these pages, which will have a lot to share, about Coorg food, and more. Enjoy reading!
Woops :….. they are mostly Blue Crabs…..
Sorry about that ….I was excited !!
What a mouthwatering description, John, enough to get us up and headed there for the crab! They sound lovely and tender.
You can tone the spice down in this curry by replacing the chili with paprika, which will give you the colour. And the ground coconut in step 2 can be left out, & coconut milk/cream can be added instead of water,later in the cooking. This will give you a lovely, mild, creamy curry.
In the United States, crab season has just begun…..from solf shell crabs in the spring to picked crab thoughout the summer and fall. They is mostly Blue Crabs which are an abundant salt water based variety known for their succulent tender white meat. The kids eat sauteed soft shell crabs in sandwiches made with super fresh white bread, lettuce and lots of mayonaise.The adults have a wide menu to which we will add your curry. The all time favorite is cold gaspatcho soup made with fresh garden vegetables and mixed with liberal helpings of crab.Summer is coming !!
evocative. reading this felt like a walk in the clouds.. and of course has me planning a trip to coorg soon and a trip to buy fresh crab today!
Yes Sonali – Coorg IS a walk in the clouds, as you say. So do visit when you can, and before that buy the crabs, and taste the curry!
Loved this piece, Kaveri — your deep emotions about the place and its culture come across with such honesty. “The edible landscape” — such a beautiful phrase, that evokes so much! Came back to the story through the pandi curry recipe — now to try that out 🙂
Thanks very much, Sumana, and after the pandi curry, a visit to Coorg?
If you’re in a hurry, try the Easy Recipe, posted below the slow cooked one for pandi curry. We had the crab for Sunday lunch – can never tire of this one!
This was a great article Kaveri. It managed to make my thoughts salivate!!! My love for crabs has been legendary but unfortunately it has been years since I tasted fresh water crabs. My first stint was at Malnad household and it was love at first bite. Articles like yours which explore some of our lesser known but heavenly cuisines always tend to bring a sense of nostalgia and and a cloud of happiness!! Thank you for giving me a good start for my day.
Hello Alka, thanks for sharing your experiences,and I am delighted the crabs spoke to you! I can imagine how wonderful your Malnad visit was. And yes, there are so many interesting cuisines around the country which are worth exploring.
Do look out for more on this site, Coorg has such a wealth of culinary traditions I am going to share here.
Your article, in many ways connects traditional science to a perpetually searched culinary satisfaction, by all food lovers. I am a weekend cook for my daughters, but my knowledge is limited to chicken in some basic variations. Now I have a lot more to offer them through your articles. I will keep looking out for more in this space. Great effort. Please keep this live.
There’s nothing more satisfying than cooking for your family, Aashish,I’m sure you know that! Please look at the new recipe posted, for Crab Curry. It’s really delicious, and you can add it to your list of weekend recipes! Enjoy, and if you have any queries, you can always ask me.
All those years of searching for the best Coorg food seem to have have paid off, because this is truly a culmination of the finest items of Kodava cuisine. Evocative and elegant as always Ma. Proud to be a Kodava and proud to be Kaveri Ponnapa’s daughter…… what’s for lunch? 🙂
onak erachi, if you approve, and akki ottis and bimbale curry ( last years, until the fresh batches come around). how does that sound ?
Just reading these is enough to gain weight! But am happy to do that for your ever elegant writing, Kaveri, the gorgeous photographs and all the fascinating information on Coorg and great food. Congratulations and keep them coming!
The rest of the recipes will follow, Saras, so do look out for them. And maybe we can discuss them over a bottle of that “good as caviar” pickle that we know about! 🙂
This is so well written. If you are a foodie of any sort… it is a must read !! Congratulations Kaveri on a delightful blog
And that you are, Nirish a real foodie, what with your Mom’s cooking. Do try these recipes, and let me know how you fare, we can exchange notes in the summer.
Superb Kaveri !!! great write up on Coorg n its cuisine .
I don’t have to give out recipes to my guests anymore , i simply ask them to visit your site 🙂 – Thankx
Thanks Muthu! Yes it would be great if they followed this site, as there are many more authentic and delicious recipes to come.
Dear Mrs. Ponappa, my heart wants what my tummy wants and reading through these recipes were an exquisite torture. I wanted to eat all of these as I was reading thro’ them but I will have to wait till I get home to try at least one 🙂 I would be thrilled if they come close to even looking like the mouth watering pics that accompany the recipes. This blog is clearly an endeavor of love and it is such a pleasure to be the recipient of such extensive and traditional wealth of information about Coorgs and their cuisine, from you.
Truly, wow!! This is really an eloquent and prolific effort. Thanks 🙂
Hello Ashwathy, it’s a joy to share whatever I know with food lover’s like you. Look out for the recipes, they are going up very soon. Every one is tried and tested, if they don’t work out, you can always ask me, and I would be happy to help.
The name Coorg exudes a mystical aura- around the land, people and the culture. It is really amazing to see Kaveri Ponnapa unfurling the subtle nuances of Coorg cuisine which is very closely interweaved as she said in ‘ the environment , the seaons and the genorosity of the people’. Her effort is a clarion call for all of us to be alive to our rich cultual heritage and preserve it. I hope every meal becomes a ‘celebaration’ of this cause. Really great effort.
This article brings out not only the delicious flavours of the food, but also the joy of a home-cooked meal. Something that needs to be enjoyed more. The writer’s passion for the food and atmosphere of her homeland is conveyed eloquently. Thanks for an enlightening read!
Madam, when I was reading this article can’t control my test bards. And I am sure without eating all this delicious food my soul will not get peace. Wonderful writing…
Were there any Ive missed in the past?? Is there a link? (Receipes)
No,Jay, you have not missed any, the recipes are going up one at a time, and the main articles will be renewed every so often,as will the images, on different themes, all related to Coorg, and it’s extraordinary food. Do look out for them!
Now she tell me.Been scanning the net,flipkart etc etc.Cant wait.All the best.Will keep an eye out.Are you on FB??? Theres like tons of your namesakes.
Thank you, do read this site, Coorgs have a very rich and delicious cuisine, which is quite easy to cook at home. All the recipes have been used hundreds of times, so don’t hesitate to try them.
the mouth waters, the heart pounds with the lovely pictures and equally evocative descriptions, what a pleasure Kaveri! it is such a pleasure being your friend, an honour really, the wealth of information in your heart and head…wow! your recipes will surely blow us all aw2ay…cant wait, and next time dear one some wild mushrooms please! love arjun
For you, most certainly Arjun – and some of them are quite extraordinary. After all these years, I’m still getting mushrooms I had never seen or tasted before. So, look forward to that.
Congrats. I never imagined Coorg had so many recipes. Truly a Great effort. Will inform family and friends. Keep them rolling. Cheers
Hi Manna, welcome! This is just a small part of the cache of recipes – thanks to all the wonderful women of Coorg – which are going to appear here. You may recognize some from your mom’s clan, due to be posted later.
Akka, Congrats! really appreciate the effort and amount of research you have done to present an over view of Coorg for all of us. It is brilliant and also helpful for a kodava like me. The foodie I am, a special thanks for all the delicious recipies. The pictures look so yum that I wanna try one right away and kudos to Sudeep Gurtu for the amazing photographs. Looking forward to seeing more so we we can all benefit:)
Binny! You have tasted many of these dishes at home, so I really value your comments. If you are too lazy to cook any of them, you are welcome home anytime! 🙂
Where can we buy your book?
It’s not out yet, Jay, but if you follow this site, there is going to be a lot coming up on Coorg food – recipes, stories,ingredients and images.
Stumbled upon this site and saw an article on Coorg and Coorg delicacies. Kaveri I must say this is a well written article on coorg and food.
Keep up the good work and looking forward to reading more.
Glad you like it, Cris. Look out for the recipes, they will come up regularly, and every one of them is authentic, and worth trying out.
Congratulations kaveri. it was a pleasure to read your article on Coorg and your delicious cuisine. i’m looking forward to your seeing your recipes every week. Lots of love. Bridget
Welcome, Bridget. I hope we can have a good exchange on recipes, I think you will love some of our Coorg dishes. I have been following your blog with much interest.
Finally an encyclopedia on Coorg & Coorg Cuisine is here!
I always follow Mrs.Kaveri Ponnappa’s articles for serious information gathering as you are sure about the research quality.
Im sure there is lot more to be read in these spaces….
Thank you very much Thimmaiah, knowing that you’re out there, I will have to keep my standards very high!