All cooks, chefs and restaurant owners swear by home kitchens nowadays more than the education they got at culinary schools. Especially memories of their own home kitchens and grandmothers. This afternoon, I felt I was in a Kodava home rather than a restaurant that is known for its Kodava cuisine. It felt more like home (though I have never been to a Kodava home) with the laid back atmosphere of ‘The Coorg Food Company’ on the 2nd floor, Masand Esquire, Hennur Road, Bangalore.
Pavith Ponnappa and Pavitha Poonacha, the Kodava couple from Coorg welcome us in like we were entering their home.
The couple, both born and brought up in families from Coorg that owned coffee plantations. After corporate stints in Delhi they then moved to Bangalore. Their combined desire to recreate the cuisine and activities around the kitchen of a Kodava home in Bangalore led to them opening ‘The Coorg Food Company’.
When I sat down with them at a long wooden table with benches on either side in the restaurant it felt as if I was sitting in a home at a dining table as Pavith gave me the lowdown on Kodava life in Coorg. Pavitha would come and go as she had to supervise the kitchen too. We noticed there were other guests in the house.
And sure enough, like homes, came the first of the Kodava family refreshments before a sit down meal. A steamy deep red rasam and buttermilk in 2 separate glasses.
The tomato based rasam, mildy spiced ‘Mallu Kani’ or pepper rasam with pepper held promise of a good lunch to follow as it was an appetizer while the buttermilk (from an old family recipe) turned refresher and balancer. As Pavith held court, he explained to me that the pepper in the rasam as well as in most Kodava dishes came from the vines grown in the home estates and sharing space in between them was where the Bird’s eye chillies grew in total symbiosis. One of the signature ingredients of Kodava cuisine was the Bird’s eye chilli. While the rest of the South of India cooks fell back on dry red chillies for heaty spice, the Kodavas went green.
Next came a Platter of Pork on a wooden platter with a handle much like a meat sizzler dish. 4 kinds of Pork on the platter. Pavith’s take on the platter was ‘ Since we offer 4 varieties of pork here, we thought a platter would be the best showcase to flavor all and then go for the main pork dishes of what you liked.’ Like a showcase of what the Kitchen could toss up with Pork.
Back in the days, pigs were culled in the plantations with licensed guns that ensured the blood of the animal was in free circulation.
At first glance, it was the ‘Fire Pork’ that got my attention. Crisply fried to perfection with Bird’s Eye Chilli. And the name fitted well; it was spicy and sautéed to the right crispiness.
Next was a juicy, well spiced pork chop and a fried large strip of Pork Fat glistening as if to remind the eater that ‘Fat is Fun’.
The next mound on the platter I got to flavor was the drier version of Kodava cuisine’s signature Pandi Curry. It was drier as it doubled as a starter dish.
The starter dish that blew me away was the ‘Chekke Cutlet’ or a cutlet made out of raw jackfruit. It sure looked and felt like a regular meat cutlet, complete with a light coating of breadcrumbs. But when you sink deeper in you get the feel of the ‘Super Fruit’ boiled and then sautéed with home roasted masalas and then fried in oil. It is no wonder then that Kerala made the humble Jackfruit the title of ‘State Fruit’.
Strange, but true. The ingredients mainly the Kachampuli, that gives Kodava cuisine its unique sourness grows in Mangalore, Kerala and Coorg. Call them Panpuli, Kodampuli or Kachampuli. Same family but different cousins.
Garcinia Cambogia and Garcinia Indica, dependent so much on the soil and climate characteristics. While Kerala and Mangalore share the same Western shore line; Fish and meat are abundant, but cooked differently. Coorg, though landlocked, has taken meat cooking seriously. Be it a Kodava wedding (I want to witness one) or funeral, you can be assured of celebration. The ancestors replace the Gods here. But celebration is the element. With the best of home cooked food and liquor to go with it. The Kodavas being a warrior tribe, the myth goes that the in a Kodava wedding the necklace is put around his neck by the mother of the bride. This is because the warrior groom may not be at home all of the time, so the kitchens and homes are overseen by the mother of the house. The Tradition continues though the current generation of Kodavas have moved to metros. But come wedding or funeral, the family is all at home and feast on home cooked food from the mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen. The laborers of the plantation are always welcomed with steaming hot coffee or kanji to energize their hardworked bodies. They keep the coffee plants, the pepper and the delicate bird’s eye chillies picked off by hand, in total symbiosis. The celebrations start at home and end there, with the food cooked and free flowing as the liquour keeps the spirits in flow.
Then we were served the Pandi Curry along with the Puttu Platter. Nool Puttu (steamed circular string hoppers), Kadambuttu (steamed rice dumplings balls) and Paalputtu (steamed rice triangles made of broken rice and garnished with grated coconut).
It was by far the best Pandi curry I have ever had. Pavith attributes the uniqueness to the meat of pork with bones and the classic spice mix ‘insynchonicity’ with the subtle flavor of Kachampuli.
The Koli Curry came next.
Chicken curry with a coriander feel and grated coconut in a thick stew like gravy. Pavith suggested hot Akki Rotis or the brilliant Ney Kulu or Ghee Rice. If you are a mallu in Bangalore, then you are aware of Kerala Ghee rice. The late night staple of the Imperials and Empires. But this Ney Kulu had a slight yellowish shade, soft and fluffy rice topped with fried, dark curls of onions.
The surprise elements were the Kodava Pilav with mutton and the Mutton Pepper Fry.
The Coorg Food Company had developed their own signature dishes after 5 years of cooking and experimenting with Kodava cuisine and these dishes had their distinct seal on them. All the rest of the Kodava food we tasted had the same distinctiveness.
With all original ingredients coming to the restaurant from Coorg. And of course the magic of Kodava home cooking with Pavitha’s eyes on all the dishes being tossed up.
A highly recommended restaurant for Kodava or Coorg cuisine!
However, it did not stop them here.
The Tender Coconut Pudding with thick cream and the flavor of tender coconut flesh felt so soft with just the right sweetness.
And the Lazy Daisy Cake; another original that dates back to the British influence in baking a basic cake topped with caramelized coconut flakes and drizzled with caramel.
As we washed down the sumptuous meal with steaming cups of Coorg Black Coffee and jaggery from the plantations, I felt so much as a guest in a Kodava Home in a Restaurant in Bangalore.
The open window at the far end of the restaurant framing live greenery adds the plantation touch.
As we leave this restaurant satiated with delicious Kodava food, folklore and celebrations, we carry home tall glass bottles of Kadu thene (unpasteurized, just sediment filtered Honey) and bottled Pork and Prawn pickles – pickled the real Kodava way with home recipes from grandmother’s kitchens!
The couple tells me they are opening another larger branch in Koramangala by the 2nd week of February. This Valentine weekend promises a visit to a larger Kodava Home in The Coorg Food Company.
All those home cooked Kodava delicacies.
The Coorg Food Company has brought Coorg home cooked cuisine to Bengaluru!
Opening Mid February
THE COORG FOOD COMPANY
104, 1st Floor,
5th Block, Vijay Jatti Building,
Same floor as ULAVACHARU Restaurant.
Landmark: Next to Empire Restaurant.
THE COORG FOOD COMPANY
Masand Esquire, Hennur Road, Bangalore.
About the Author
Monu Danesh Surendran works for a retail organization in Bangalore and heads it online and branding division. He is a foodie by passion and therefore tries his hand at stuff in his home kitchen. While not dabbling in cooking during his days off he likes his music and of course trying out food. He prefers home cooked cuisine though restaurant fare guarantees a good outing with friends.
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