On the Highway to Kongunadu ~ Local Delights at Mangala Vilas

I must sheepishly admit that for a long time, I was ignorant about the culinary delights from the southern state of Tamil Nadu beyond the stand Idly-Dosa-Sambhar fare. I did have the opportunity to sample Chettinad ( district within Tamil Nadu) cuisine specially the non vegetarian fare which made me believe that was it !! When I came across an event in a foodie group in Bangalore celebrating a non vegetarian fare in Tamil Nadu (Salem and Erode) beyond the usual Chettinad kinds, I was tempted.

Travelling for food is not alien to me but this one was special; it was a 12 hour round trip from Bangalore totalling 600 kms all for a breakfast and lunch which held a lot of promise. A quick net search before the trip was simply enlightening; we were apparently visiting Kongunadu famous for its distinct cuisine and cooking style but overshadowed by its immensely popular cousin Chettinadu. As Celebrity Chef and culinary historian Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni puts it, Kongunadu comprises nearly 50 towns including Coimbatore, Salem, Erode, Namakkal, Tirupur is largely urban, industrialized and an education hub holding the key to prosperity within the state.

After getting past the din of Bangalore traffic, NH 7 is smooth as silk. The grass seems to get greener as we cross into Tamil Nadu and the rock faces on the left and intermittent ponds and lakes on the right made a pretty picture. Close to the 180 kms mark, we stopped at Mangala Vilas just before the Omalur Gate leading to Salem. It was a breakfast stop and all my mental resolve to eat less and preserve hunger until lunch soon dissolved as one delicious dish after another was served on the table. MangalaVilas_Omalur_Gate_Salem

We started off with servings of Idly and Mutta Dosa (Egg Dosa) which were to be had with the Mutton/ Chicken gravy served along side. The gravy was peppery but the aroma of chillies and fried onions ground to paste was pretty apparent.MangalaVilas_Mutta_Dosa

Pichu Potta Kozhi is stir fried shredded chicken cooked in loads of pepper and curry leaves. The chicken was soft and melted in the mouth and far from chewy as you would expect from stir fries. The chicken is boiled in water with fresh ginger and pepper and subsequently shredded and fried which explained the softness. MangalaVilas_PichiPota_Chicken

Just as I was mulling how much to indulge with the chicken, the localized version of egg poaches were served – Mutta Kalaki and Mutta Karandi. They looked pretty much same but with very distinct taste. The swishy soft Mutta Kalaki a semi cooked omelette was prepared on the pan with a dash of chicken gravy and folded in from all sides. Mutta Karandi (egg in a ladle) as the name suggests was prepared like a poach in a ladle containing very hot oil. What sets them apart is the flavor and texture. Both are must haves !!

The Veechu Paratha was served with the brain fry and a delicious gravy prepared from the liver, kidney of the goat. Egg was folded in within the Veechu Paratha making it all the more tasty. For the uninitiated Veechu Paratha is made from stretchy dough rolled into a rectangle and then folded in like an envelope to give it the layered flaky feel.MangalaVilas_Brain_Fry

The brain fry was perfectly balanced with onions and loads of pepper and curry leaves to add that flavour. Unlike in most places where the brain dis-integrates completely in the process of frying, they managed to keep chunks of it intact. The soft chunks of brain just melted on the tongue.  MangalaVilas_Brain_StirFry

The delicious liver kidney curry had a richness in colour taste and aroma which was not only about pepper. After a few small helpings and it seemed that the spices (turmeric, ginger etc) were probably roasted and ground before using it in the curry and some copra thrown into the mix for thickening the gravy. MangalaVilas_Mutton_Liver_Kidney_Curry

The best part in Mangala Vilas is the way the boys serve; they smile and coax you into having their preparations. Left to them, we would have perhaps spent the entire afternoon sampling the delicacies from their kitchen. The princely breakfast at Rs 250/- per head was well worth everything. MangalaVilas_Staff

Kongunadu Culinary Style:

As we drove ahead for a lunch experience in a humble home another 100 kms away; I pondered over the food we just had and how culinary styles emerge from the areas of we live in, the constraints and abundances that give it a unique touch. I experienced the aspects that Chef Jacob Sahaya highlights as typical to Kongunadu culinary style…

  • Since it is an hot area largely river fed, the luxury of marination is non existent. None of the meat and poultry preparations were marinated.
  • A piece of dry coconut shell is often used to tenderize meat during cooking. That quite explains why everything we had was soft.
  • The gravies have a distinct colour and texture which is from the use of spices like turmeric, ginger, pepper, copra which are roasted and then ground
  • Unlike neighbouring Kerala; copra or dried coconut is used in these dishes
  • Food is served on plantain leaves since they grow abundantly in the area

The trip was possible due to Devesh Agarwal and Girish Ramanathan of the FoodiesinBangalore group in Facebook who opened up the door to a new cuisine. Its absolutely worth every penny and every minute to make this culinary trip. On a cloudy monsoon day, head out of Bangalore on a long drive and come back well fed !! They are open 11am to 11pm and incase you want to drop in earlier; place a special request with the manager at 96777-82782

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