Food

Healthy and wholesome: nuances of North Karnataka cuisine

Known as Uttara Karnataka, the northern region of Karnataka is quite distinct from the rest of the state.  Spread close to 90,000 sq km, this part of the state is known for its hot and arid climate even though it is watered by several major rivers like the Krishna, Tungabhadra and Malaprabha.   With agriculture and manufacturing being the major occupations, this region includes the districts of Bidar, Bellary, Belagavi, Gadag, Gulbarga and Dharwad.  The main cities include Hubli, Bellary, Bijapur and Gulbarga among others.  The region is synonymous with being a centre of rich literary heritage and is known for its contribution to the art, architecture, culture and political scene of the state.  Also known for its unique customs and cuisine, the world of North Karnataka is a fascinating one to explore.

Jowar crops
Jowar crops

Kitchen staples

Given that the region is rich in black, red and laterite soil, jowar, maize, groundnuts, onions and chillies are some of the major crops grown here.  These crops thrive in the high temperatures of the region and form an essential part of the diet here.  Unlike the southern part of the state where rice is the staple food, jowar is the principal component of North Karnataka food.   A millet that is rich is protein and fibre, jowar is mainly consumed in the form of rotis that are incidentally flattened and rolled out by hand and not by using the traditional rolling pin.  Also called “jolada rotis” or “bakhri”, these sorghum flatbreads are dry with little or no oil content and are prepared in large numbers on round iron skillets.   Women folk sifting jowar outside their homes and the ‘tip-tap’ sound of their hands flattening the bakhri are some common sights and sounds that you would see on a visit to North Karnataka.

A woman sifting jowar in Hubli
A woman sifting jowar in Hubli

A signature accompaniment to these rotis is the traditional “badanekai yennegai” which is essentially a stuffed eggplant curry that is cooked in a rich paste consisting of peanuts, red chillies, sesame seeds and a host of other spices.  Apart from the brinjal curry, jolada rotis are also served with a rich helping of salad as well as peanut chutney.  “Bakhri is extremely healthy as there is no bad cholesterol in jowar and the same is excellent for diabetics.  We therefore make it every day” says Shailaja Patil who hails from Hubli.

Apart from jowar rotis, flattened rice and puffed rice also form a popular component of the cuisine.  Known as “susla”, both kinds of rice are tempered with mustard, cumin, green chillies and lemon and is commonly had for breakfast.  Jowar mixed with cucumber and onion and flattened as a ‘paratha’ is yet another common preparation.

Jowar rotis in the making
Jowar rotis in the making

Chillies and Peanuts

North Karnataka food is known for being aromatic and hot with almost a fiery and pungent flavour.  This is largely attributed to the wide use of peanuts and chillies (both green and red), both of which are almost the soul of North Karnataka cuisine.  They find a wide variety of uses in the form of seasoning, chutneys, chutney powders and pickles.  Paired with garlic and spices they add to the spice quotient of the food.

Byadgi red chillies
Byadgi red chillies

“Menthya mensinkai” or dried green chillies stuffed with roasted and powdered fenugreek and cumin is a common ingredient that is used for all seasoning including curd rice.  “We prepare at least 2 kg worth of these chillies in summer when they dry thoroughly and can be used throughout the year” says Shailaja.

In addition, the region is known for its dry powders that are prepared from peanuts, ‘agase’ (flaxseed) and ‘uchellu’ (niger seeds).  They are supplements eaten with rotis and sometimes rice.  Highly nutritious and protein rich, they are available in all condiment stores too.

Simple yet healthy

The use of sprouts and raw vegetables is abundant in North Karnataka’s cuisine.  A salad of methi leaves, tomatoes and onions as well as a simple curry of sprouts are healthy sides that are served generously with the meal.  The salad is usually mixed with curd in the evenings and had with roti.  This makes it light on the stomach and also provides a much-needed respite from the heat.

A typical meal
A typical meal

Their most famous dessert is the peanut ‘holige’ that is a sweet flatbread made from whole wheat, roasted peanut and jaggery.  Other sweet dishes include dry fruit ladoos, besan ladoos and the famous “Dharwad peda”.  “We always prefer to make sweets from what is there at home, it is not only cost effective but healthy too.  Moreover, we never use processed flour like maida in our sweets” says Rekha Kulkarni, a native of Bijapur.

The best place to sample an authentic North Karnataka meal are the typical eateries in the region that called ‘Khanavalis”.  This article was originally published in The Tribune.

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