What’s Cooking In The Udipi Kitchen? Much More Than Dosas!

Posted: June 29, 2015

Mother-daughter duo, Malati Srinivasan and Geetha Rao, authors of The Udupi Kitchen shine a light on lesser-known recipes from the popular Udupi cuisine.

Globally, Udupi is best known for hotels, which churn out ‘South Indian food’, are super efficient and easy on the pocket! Little do people know that Udupi cuisine has a vast variety and is not limited to tiffins or snacks.

Laying out the geographical expanse and scientific logic to the vegetarian food habits of their region and community, Malati Srinivasan and Geetha Rao showcase the hitherto unknown recipes from Udupi, a coastal town in Karnataka where the Krishna temple acts as a pivot in people’s lives in their book The Udipi Kitchen.

Malati Srinivasan is a well-known culinary expert and her recipes have been published in magazines like Bangalore Food Lovers and Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook, Taste of India. Malati was featured on Loving Spoonfuls, a Canadian cooking show, which profiled the favourite recipes of grandmothers from across the world.

Geetha Rao is the Chairperson of the Crafts Council of Karnataka and also heads Arts Umbrella, which provides consulting services in the art and cultural sectors. She has held key managerial positions in Air India and has three decades of experience in the travel and tourism business. She writes regularly on arts and crafts and is credited with the research and text for the crafts map of Karnataka, part of the Dastakari Haat Samiti series.

Malati learnt to cook secretly by observing her aunt who rustled up elaborate meals everyday, while for Geetha cooking became a necessity to satisfy her yearning for Udupi food away from home. The authors therefore brilliantly straddle the traditional and modern and list what was once easily cooked in Udupi households – spice powders, salads and chutneys, savoury snacks, desserts – and painstakingly elaborate on several recipes which are all-time favourites like Bisibelehulianna, Saaru, Masal Dose, Modaka etc.

Split into 12 sections, The Udupi Kitchen celebrates with aplomb vegetarian food from a town where food is religion as well as a complete mouth-watering experience.

In a candid chat with me, Malati Srinivasan (with inputs from Geetha Rao) shared the recipe for Success in the Udipi Kitchen!

Not much is known about Udipi cuisine apart from its well-known tiffins and snacks. How challenging was it to find main course recipes to incorporate in the book?

Malati Srinivasan: I was raised in a traditional joint family in Bangalore. We belong to the Madhwa Brahmin Community and this is the food that we eat every day. What was required was first identifying the different categories of the cuisine like rice, dals, vegetables, desserts etc. and within that, selecting the most representative and popular recipes, and placing them in the appropriate section of the book.

Earlier, documentation had not been done and very few books on Madhwa Cuisine were available. The sale of The Udupi Kitchen in the last few months is a testimony of how popular Udupi cuisine is.

What is your take on traditional recipes and tweaking them to suit a modern day kitchen?

Malati Srinivasan: I think it is OK to tweak traditional recipes a little to suit contemporary tastes. For example, I use onions in certain dishes to enhance the taste. However the authenticity of the recipe should not be altered.

What is useful is the use of modern day kitchen equipment, that takes away the drudgery of cooking processes and makes it quicker and more efficient.

What would you say is the unique quality of Udupi cuisine?

Malati Srinivasan: Udupi Cuisine combines wholesome, nutritious food – a balanced, combination of cereals, pulses, vegetables and spices. Ingredients used are vegetables, fruits, cereals, pulses and spices that are grown in and around the Udupi region. Yams, gourds, bananas, jackfruit mangoes and coconuts are plentiful. Sweet, sour and spicy are predominant spice combinations in a menu.

Which recipes from Udupi cuisine are your home staples?

Malati Srinivasan: Bisibelehulianna, a mélange of rice, dal, vegetables and spices –a one dish meal, is very popular. Gojjus– sweet, sour and spicy gravies, cooked with vegetables and fruits are distinct to Udupi cuisine and served as palate cleansers, in between meals.

With more and more men taking to the kitchen and cooking, what tips would you like to give them especially for Udupi cuisine?

Malati Srinivasan: My advice would be, for day to day cooking, to try and make one-dish preparations like kootu – a dal cooked with a mélange of vegetables, peanuts and spices, with rice accompanied by, say a pumpkin raitha.

Could you comment on the flexibility of Udupi cuisine in so far as blending with other cuisines is concerned, let’s say for a party menu?

Malati Srinivasan: Udupi Cuisine can be easily blended into a party menu. Vangi Bhat, a spicy rice dish cooked with green long brinjals, or chopped coloured bell peppers, makes for a delicious dish, served with a sweet potato raitha, or appe payasa, a milk pudding with deep fried semolina crisps, can be part of an array of desserts served at the end of a meal.

If you believed that Udupi food was all about dosas and sambar, based on what’s served in many restaurants, this chat with Malati Srinivasan and Geetha Rao should encourage you to try out dishes from an Udupi kitchen in your own kitchen!

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