The Mangalorean Bunt community, wealthy landlords originally from the Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka, has an elaborate cuisine that cherishes the use of local produce and fruits, spiced with ingredients such as Byadgi chillies.
Cooking and eating habits vary every 100km in this belt, but there are several common features. “The variety in the food of the Bunt community comes from the fact that they have always been wealthy and have had access to all sorts of ingredients and of the best quality at that,” says Naren Thimmaiah, executive chef at Gateway Hotel, Bangalore.
For instance, Byadgi chillies could be sourced from north Karnataka because the community could afford it. Pepper, Thimmaiah says, came in through the ports in this coastal area, and entered the cuisine. Now Byadgi chillies, in powder, paste or crushed form, make the essential ingredients for any seafood or meat preparation, along with turmeric powder, salt, lemon juice or tamarind pulp. The Bunt community believes these chillies enhance the taste of a dish, prolong its shelf life and add medicinal value to it.
Coconut is used in oil, milk and grated form in pretty much every dish, says Saranya Hegde, author of Mangalorean Cuisine, a recipe book that has become the go-to book for many Bunts. Coconut adds a rich texture to most of the recipes, with chillies and other spices balancing the sweetness.
The most distinct feature of the cuisine, however, is the use of tamarind as a souring agent, rather than the lemon or kodampuli used in the neighbouring state of Kerala, or the kokum used by the region’s Christian community.
“Though meat forms an important part of the meal, we do have vegetables that are used to make dry side dishes,” says Hegde, who grew up in Mangalore, spending her childhood in an ancestral home that housed close to 100 relatives. “The stress on food and the quality of food is high. I learnt most of my cooking from my mother,” she says, adding that a good meal, especially one at a wedding or any celebratory ceremony, will be largely non-vegetarian—fish and poultry—with just one or two vegetarian sides.
Also Read : Bunt cuisine | The wealthy Mangalorean
Although steamed rice figures prominently on a lunch or dinner plate, other versions of rice in the form of neer dosas or kori rotis are just as popular.
4 bandage fish (mackerel)
100g onion, chopped
5g ginger and garlic, chopped
1 sprig curry leaves
75ml cooking oil
30ml tamarind pulp
3g turmeric powder
Juice of one lemon
2 cups water
100g red chillies (Byadgi)
20g whole coriander seeds
10g cumin seeds
Roast the dry ingredients, ginger and curry leaves with a little oil, make a paste in a blender, and keep aside. Marinate the fish with turmeric powder and lime juice for 5 minutes. Heat oil in a pan. Sauté the chopped onion and garlic for 5 minutes, and then add the ground masala. Stir for 3-5 minutes. Add water, a little at a time, sauté till the masala is cooked. Add the fish, the tamarind pulp and salt and simmer till the water evaporates. Serve hot with rice or neer dosa.
Recipe courtesy Naren Thimmaiah, executive chef, Gateway Hotel, Bangalore.