Fancy muddé and bas saru?
Ranee Vijaya Kuttaiah's book on Karnataka cuisine is refreshingly non-snooty
IF CUISINES decided nationalities, North Karnataka and interior Malnad should be two different countries. And many religious, caste and sub-caste groups within these regions should be waging their own battles for secession!
So you are a bit intrigued when someone writes a book on "Karnataka cuisine". Ranee Vijaya Kuttaiah, who has earlier authored books on cuisines from Kodagu and Tamil Nadu, gets around this tricky issue in her Karnataka Cuisine (Sterling, Rs. 75) by dividing it into sections based on communities. The book has Lingayat, Gowda, Bunt, and Madhwa cuisines, besides a special section on sweets commonly cooked all over Karnataka.
The minuscule book doesn't cover all cuisines of Karnataka. The communities that don't figure in the book are too numerous to even name. And it doesn't take into account factors such as the Madhwa cuisine in Udupi being radically different from the same community's cuisine in Dharwad.
But it should be said to the book's credit that it includes recipes that are really indigenous and rarely ever get entry into cookbooks. How many food writers, for instance, would consider ragi muddé, bas saru, madké saru, appi payasa, or hayagriva worthy of being included in their books? Karnataka Cuisine doesn't look particularly appetising (spoilt as we are by all those glossies) and has many bloomers (imagine calling the good old bisibelebhath bisebelli bhat!). But you do tend to overlook these things simply because it is a non-snooty cookbook.
Ranee Vijaya Kuttaiah: `I try every recipe I write about.'
This book is also likely to be friendlier to the non-gourmet types because of little details such as giving measures in teaspoons, tablespoons and glasses instead of grams and litres. "Which housewife is going to measure things in grams?" asks Ranee.
The way she went about collecting recipes is also quite unusual. She says that while she got some recipes from "ordinary housewives" in Bangalore, she travelled into villages to find others, especially for the Gowda cuisine. (The doughty Gowda women apparently had a hearty laugh: "Is there such a thing as a book for cooking?!")
When Ranee ended up with many variants of one recipe, she tested them in her own kitchen and put in what she thought was the best. "In fact, I try every recipe I write about. That's why they don't go wrong," says a confident Ranee. And she would never dream of writing about foods she knows little about. "That's why my Tamil Nadu cuisine book features only Thevar and Nadar food."
But what does Ranee herself enjoy cooking in her kitchen? Her college-going granddaughter, Niharika Kaveri Devaya, enthusiastically chips in: "She likes cooking what I like eating!" Niharika is all admiration as she talks of how her grandmother can turn out mouth-watering fare in a jiffy. "She has all the four burners going at the same time and nothing ever gets burnt!"
Ranee says with an indulgent laugh: "I am really not someone who goes into ecstasy over cooking. But it comes easy to me." She, in fact, started out as a food stylist for others' cookbooks and later took to writing her own. So, would she next be writing one on cuisines from other communities in Karnataka? Her publisher wants her to write books on Andhra and Kerala cuisines. But she has said a firm "no". Putting together a cookbook is a lot of hard work and returns don't even cover the travel expenses, she says.
Her next project is something completely off the cooking track on the tradition of courtesans. This interest, perhaps, dates back to the years she spent learning Bharatanatya at Madras Kalakshetra, in the late Forties. That's a place she fondly remembers as what was then "Brahminical and yet very secular". Ranee wants to approach the project in a non-judgmental way: "Who are we to be moral keepers? Didn't our gods have many mistresses whom they sent out to entice other men?"
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