While measuring out the bright red chilli powder into a bowl, Naren Thimmaiah, executive chef at The Gateway Hotel in Bangalore, smiles. The non-pungent aroma of the Byadagi chilli that permeates the air is one of the reasons he uses only this variety in his kitchen at the hotel’s Karavali Restaurant, popular for its coastal Karnataka and Kerala cuisine.
If the Andhra chilli and Assam’s bhoot jolokia are known for their tear-inducing heat and the Kashmiri chilli for its colour, the Byadagi is known for its colour and mellow taste. “Look at the colour it gives,” Thimmaiah says, pointing to a paste made from chillies soaked in water.
Identified mostly by its shrivelled skin, this long chilli is a favourite across Karnataka. Last month, the chilli grown in rain-fed conditions in the Dharwad, Haveri and Gadag districts of Karnataka got Geographical Indication (GI) status. The GI status, in simple terms, tells the buyer that the chilli has been grown under particular conditions (soil, humidity, among other things) and in a particular geographical region.
Hot favourite: The Byadagi chilli is popular for its bright red colour and mild heat; and chef Naren Thimmaiah’s Kane Fry. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury
Thimmaiah knew of the importance of the Byadagi much before it assumed its current status, and so did most housewives across the state. Whether the state’s cuisine is not as hot and spicy as that of its neighbours because of the Byadagi, or the not-so-spicy taste of the cuisine created the demand for Byadagi, is hard to conclude. But it has been, and will continue to be, the most important ingredient in bisibele bhath, the Karnataka sambar served with idlis, or the marinade in coastal fish dishes.
Applying for GI status seemed like the most logical move for Apices Board India. “GI status gives a stamp of quality and helps in marketing a product better and even allows better pricing,” says M.S. Bharath, partner at Anand and Anand, the law firm that handled the case. He elaborates: “For example, Scotland has the GI status for Scotch. No one outside can make Scotch or rather, they cannot call it Scotch,” he says. In addition to Karnataka’s favourite chillies, the law firm has also helped obtain GI status for 19 other products, including the Tirupati Laddu, Pochampalli Ikat, Uppada Jamdani and Coorg Cardamom.
Byadagi chillies are sold for extraction of oleoresin (red oil) from the pods—this is then used in cosmetics, and even wine. “Products grown locally always blend better,” says Thimmaiah. When several spices are used in a dish, the Byadagi takes a dignified back seat, and does not overpower other aromas and flavours. “This is important in Indian cooking that is a combination of several spices,” the chef says. “You may think you won’t be able to handle the spice when you look at the fiery redness.”
Thimmaiah shared a recipe with us.
KANE (LADY FISH) FRY
12 Kane (Lady fish), cooked whole
100g Byadagi chilli
Lime juice of five medium-sized lemons
5g turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Refined oil as required
Clean the fish and keep it aside. Soak the Byadagi chilli in warm water for about 20 minutes and grind to a fine paste. Mix the chilli paste, turmeric powder, lemon juice, salt and marinate the fish with this masala. Keep it aside for at least 30 minutes. Deep fry in hot oil.