Karnataka is blessed with a rich culinary heritage. Regional food habits differ vastly depending on locally available ingredients; the result is a richly varied spread. Karnatakas cuisine is characterised by distinct textures, flavors and tastes. The states vast culinary repertoire encompasses the earthy flavors of North Karnataka, the traditional fare of South Karnataka, the spicy dishes of the coastal region and the distinctive Kodava cuisine.
Order of a Meal
Broadly speaking, the South has a common order, and the arrangement of food items on the banana leaf used for eating is similar in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
In Karnataka, after the rice is served, tiny mouthfuls of it are tasted mixed with the Kosamri, vegetables (palya, cooked in many ways) and tovve ( yellow, almost unseasoned dhal) already in position on the plate. Then the body of the rice on which ghee has been poured, is eaten with huli (sambhar in Tamil nadu, pappu-pulusu in Andhra Pradesh) and other mixed vegetables (gojju, kootu, morkozhambu, kura), followed by more rice eaten with a spicy thin dhal extract (saaru, rasam, chaaru, pulusu). In Karnataka, substitutes for rice and huli could be one of several pre-spiced rice dishes like chitrana (lime rice) or bisibele-huli-anna (in Tamil- sambha sadam). Now comes the sweet, which could be a payasam, or kesaribath (a sweet flavoured wheat or rice), or a solid sweet like Mysore-pak or jilebi. Meanwhile, bits will be pinched off the salty snacks, vade, bonda or even idli, and munched. And finally to soothe the plate will come rice with curds or buttermilk served either separately or sometimes as a pre-mixed preparation (mosaru-anna, thayirsadham).
Spicy fish delicacies like kane fry (ladyfish), rice-based preparations and a wide variety of fruits are perennial favourites on the Mangalorean menu. Epicures believe that fresh coconut, chillies and the Mangalorean mind together create culinary magic. Mangaloreans love rice in all forms - red grain rice, sannas (idli fluffed with toddy or yeast), pancakes, rice rottis, kori rotti (a dry, crisp, almost wafer-thin rice rotti which is served with chicken curry as a delicacy), and neer dosa. Patrode, a special dish prepared by steaming stuffed colocasia leaves, is a delicacy not to be missed. Akki rotti, or rice rotti, is a favourite not only in Mangalore but also in Malnad and Kodagu.
Malnad cuisine is fusion of Coorgi and Mangalorean fare. Key preparations include the midigayi pickle (small raw mango), sandige, avalakki (beaten rice), and talipittu (akki rotti made of rice flour).
The ubiquitous masala dosa has its origins in Udupi and a whole school of South Indian vegetarian cuisine takes its name from this town. This is pure vegetarian food, sans onions or garlic. Pumpkins and gourds are the main ingredients, while sambar is prepared with ground coconut and coconut oil as its base. Rasam, a spicy pepper water, is an essential part of the menu and so are jackfruit, colocasia leaves, raw green bananas, mango pickle, red chillies and salt. Adyes (dumplings), ajadinas (dry curries), and chutneys, including one made of the skin of the ridge gourd, are specialities.
Kodava cuisine is very distinctive, as are the costumes, customs and festivals of the Kodavas. Pandi curry (pork curry) and kadumbuttu (rice dumplings) are arguably the most delectable dishes in the Kodava repertoire. The succulent koli curry (chicken curry), nool puttu (rice noodles), votti (rice rotti), and bembla curry (bamboo shoot curry) are also worth trying.
The people of North Karnataka have a taste for wheat and jowar rottis (unleavened bread made of millet), a delicacy best savored with a variety of chutnies or spicy curries. Apart from the jowar rottis and the trademark yenne badanekayi (brinjal curry), North Karnataka fare boasts a wide range of rottis to choose from: Jolada rotti, safe peet, khadak rotti and sajja rotti (bajra rotti). These rottis are accompanied by side dishes like yenne badanekayi, kaalu palya, soppu palya, usli (made from spicy sprouted gram) and jholka (made from channa dal flour). The best North Karnataka sweets are Dharwad peda, Gokak khardantu, Belgaum khunda, shenga holige and yellu holige, besides the local hoornada holige.
As far as standard breakfast eats are concerned, you can choose from the popular uppittu (roasted semolina laced with chillies, coriander leaves, mustard and cumin seed), idli-sambar (steamed rice cakes and curry), thatte idlis (flat idlis), masala dosa (pancake with curried potato filling), set dosa, rava dosa, puri palya, uthapam, vada sambar or kesari bhath (a sweet made of semolina and sugar laced with saffron) and lots more.
The traditional culinary fare of Karnataka is a sumptuous spread that includes several essential menu items. These include protein-rich cereal salads like kosambri, safet (warm vegetable salads made out of parboiled vegetables chopped fine and tossed with desiccated coconut, green chillies, curry leaves and mustard seasoning), gojju (a vegetable cooked in tamarind juice with chilli powder in it), tovve (cooked dal without too much seasoning), huli (a thick broth of lentils and vegetables cooked together with ground, including chitranna (rice with lime juice, green chilli, turmeric powder sprinkled with fried coconut, spices, tamarind and chilli powder) and pappad.
A complete range of rice-based dishes groundnuts and coriander leaves), vangibhath (spiced rice with eggplant), and pulliyogare (rice flavoured with tamarind juice and spiced with groundnuts) form an integral part of the traditional repertoire. The most distinctive Karnataka dish, however, is the celebrated bisibelebhath, a unique combination of rice, dal, tamarind, chilli powder and a dash of cinnamon. In rural areas, ragi (steam-cooked finger millet rolled into large balls) served either with mutton curry or soppina saaru forms the staple diet.
To end your meal, you may wish to indulge in sweets like chiroti (a light flaky pastry sprinkled with granulated sugar and soaked in almond milk). Mysore pak, obbattu or holige (a flat, thin, wafer-like chappati filled with a mixture of jaggery, coconut or copra and sugar and fried gently on a skillet) and shavige payasa (made of milk, vermicelli, sugar and cardamom pods).