Introduction to Mangalorean cuisine

Despite the fact that Mangalorean cuisine may not be quite as in vogue as Keralan cuisine here in the UK, for those Indian food aficionados who can’t resist the mouth-watering fruits of the sea, it is a culinary tradition that shouldn’t be over-looked.

In fact, this extensive repertoire of recipes offers a wide variety of delicious dishes that encompass the cuisines of the various communities that inhabit the Indian region of Tulu Nadu. The influences are inherently South Indian – the similarities with Keralan cuisine are not to be denied – with a focus on  creamy coconut flavours, succulent seafood offerings and an assortment of spices to bring dishes to life.

Due to Tulu Nadu’s proximity to the coast, it goes without saying that this cuisine depends on the sea for some of its speciality dishes. This living larder, teeming with fish and crustaceans, provides the backbone of many meals in the Mangalorean kitchen. Fish curries are extremely popular, usually seasoned with fresh coconut, curry leaves, ginger, chilli and garlic, whilst the sour tones of tamarind are often used to add bite to a dish of mackerel.

Rice is the staple grain of Mangalorean cuisine, making an ideal accompaniment to the spicy main dishes on the table. The fluffy rice cakes known as idli are consumed widely as a snack or breakfast meal and are delicious when served with a variety of Mangalorean pickles such as sandige, puli munchi and happala. Alternatively, sanna, idli made fluffy with palm toddy, are also appreciated. Rice also forms the key ingredient of the dosa, a fermented rice pancake which experiences great popularity amongst South Indian foodies here in the UK, is a Mangalorean favourite, particularly the neer dosa with its distinctive look resembling an edible lace doily.

A key feature of Mangalorean cuisine is the experimental inclusion of fruits in a wide variety of recipes. Raw banana, mango, breadfruit and jackfruit are some of the most popular choices that add flavour to Mangalorean dishes, offering a vegetarian selection that would turn the head of a diner tucking into a meal at one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants.

However, this isn’t to say that non-vegetarians will go wanting when faced with a Mangalorean feast. Pork is favoured by the Mangalorean Catholic population with dukra maas, bafat and sorpotel commonly enjoyed throughout the region. In addition, the Mangalorean Muslims bring the aromatic flavours of the mutton biryani to the table, the delicate layers of spiced rice and slow-cooked meat presenting a mouth-watering option for those of a more carnivorous inclination.

Of course, Mangalorean cuisine could not call itself truly Indian were it not to sport some form of deliciously tempting dessert. Palm jaggery is utilised in a variety of dishes (both sweet and savoury) and the quintessential rice pudding, payasam, is greatly enjoyed in Mangalorean culture.

One of the most popular desserts associated with this cuisine is the soft sweet, halwa – a selection of which can be counted on to appear at any time of celebration. However, the most impressive array of desserts appears at Christmas in Mangalore when kuswar, a term which describes a whole collection of sweet-toothed recipes from crispy treacle treats to colourful macaroons, are created and distributed throughout the festive week.

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