By Subin Paul
As one travels from Virjapet to Gonikoppa, somewhere near the Harthur junction emerges a hillock on the right side; this hillock is known as Kunda Betta or Kundath Bottu in local parlance. I saw this hill for the first time from the window of a state-transport bus, when I was travelling to a friend’s place in Coorg, the smallest district of Karnataka.
During the sojourn at my friend’s place, I got ample time to savour the views of Kundath Bottu, sometimes partly hidden in the morning mist, and sometimes clear enough to create a sense of nearness. Nonetheless, I decided to trek this hill.
Kundath Bottu is not a huge or steep hill. I realised this once I reached the summit. In fact, at the end of the trek I wondered what made it a ‘hillock’ for so it appeared from the bus-window or my friend’s homestead. But perhaps, this is the case with all the other hillocks too - I am not very sure.
A large portion of the Kundath Bottu was used for growing coffee and cardamom. These terraced plantations extended almost all the way to the top before they were replaced by huge bamboos growing so densely that they eclipsed the sunlight. A bunch of bamboos on one side was in the process of flowering. Some of the flowers that sprouted were oblong, white, and bore a faint smell. Interestingly, flowering in bamboo is a rare phenomenon. Bamboos have an almost cometic lifecycle, typically flowering once in 50 years!
New shoots come out from those bamboos which don’t flower. And it is from these shoots that bamboo shoot curry, a local delicacy in Coorg, is made. Yeravas, a small tribal community living on the foothills of Kundath Bottu are experts in dealing with bamboo which is also known as “poor man's timber”.
Yeravas are precisely aware which types of bamboo reeds make good timber. For culinary purposes, these are the stunted shoots, which are not likely to produce good quality bamboo for use in construction.
The bamboo shoots are cut and sliced into 45-60 cm-long shoots with sickles. Next, their sheaths are removed. Since raw bamboo shoots are poisonous, they are immersed in large water containers for about two days after the end of which they are washed thoroughly. Yeravas then hawk the washed bamboo shoots on the roadsides and from there it comes to the kitchens.
My friend’s mother was generous enough to make bamboo shoot curry for her guest from Bangalore. Of course, there exist several recipes for the bamboo shoot curry. The one that follows is what is mostly followed by Coorgs.
½ kg sliced bamboo shoot
2 tablespoon rice flour
2 sliced onions
6-8 garlic flakes cut-up
1 tablespoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon jeera powder
2-3 tablespoon ground coconut
2 red chillies
¼ teaspoon mustard seed
3-4 curry leaves
2-3 tablespoon cooking oil
Heat oil in a deep pan.
Put mustard seeds and curry leaves to splutter in hot oil.
Add garlic and red chillies.
Add onions and keep frying.
Put the rice flour and mix with the rest of the masala in oil.
Fry the masala for a little longer on medium heat before.
Add the bamboo shoots.
Add the ground coconut and mix well.
Add 1-2 glasses of water, mix and cover for few minutes.
Remove the cover and cook for a little longer, till the gravy is slightly thick.
Check for salt and pungency.
The tradition in Coorg is to eat bamboo shoot curry with Kadamputtu or steamed rice balls. Though the curry doesn’t smell all that great, it goes well with rice, otti and bread, but is best eaten with Kadamputtu. Bamboo shoot curry is a seasonal dish as the shoots are available only during the pre-monsoon period. The curry is prepared on a regular basis in Coorg as well as on specific occasions such as housewarming ceremonies and marriages.
A year later, I had another chance to eat bamboo shoot curry. This time, the setting was a grand restaurant in Bangalore which served the curry as part of its much-touted ‘Malnad Week’ celebrations. Apart from the bamboo shoot curry, there were other dishes too: conical kadubus, akki roti, benne dosa, medu dosa, neer dosa and various kinds of chutneys. But bamboo shoot curry was at the centre of the menu. Amidst the growing fanfare of the presumptuous city-foodies, I tasted a mouthful of curry with akki roti, and quite understandably, it turned out to be a far cry from the real thing.