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A taste of Kodagu

Express News Service

MADIKERI: Udiyanda Subbaiah, a 90-year-old resident of K Nidugane in Madikeri, is always busy during the rainy season. While most of the residents stay indoors due to the wet and chilly weather, Subbaiah (aka thaatha) goes out early in the morning and begins his search for the Malabar tamarind fruit – scientifically called  Garcinia gummi-gutta.

With his feet buried in slush, Subbaiah walks miles to collect the ripened fruits. He rushes back home with a basketful and sits down to remove loads of bloodsucking leeches that have crept all over him. He later sets up a make-shift tent and begins the tedious job of brewing vinegar from the fruit – popularly known as Kodagu’s ‘kachampuli’.

Kodagu district is known for its exclusive traditional culinary and the ‘pandi’ (pork) curry tops the table. And adding the special tang to these traditional non-vegetarian dishes is ‘kachampuli’ or ‘pulineer’ (puli in Kodava language means sour). Commonly known as black vinegar, ‘kachampuli’ is indigenous to the district and is prepared by the locals during the rainy season.

 “The ‘kachampuli’ fruits start to ripen following the first rain in the monsoon season. Every day, we collect the ripened fruits that are mostly fallen on the ground. We take the fruits home and separate the seeds. Next, we put the fruits on a handmade wooden grill, which is fixed atop wood fire. The fruits have to be dried at high temperature continuously for nearly two days. The dried fruits are then put in boiling water (measured in proper proportion) and kept in a container for over a day.

The pulp gets separated from the fruit in the boiling water and the water is strained, which is then heated constantly on wood fire for nearly two days…the water must be heated until it gets thick and starts foaming. It might take more than two days sometimes,” explains K A Vedavathi, a resident of Galibeedu, about this sour extract. She has been brewing ‘kachampuli’ for nearly 25 years now. 

While there are various methods of making ‘kachampuli’, Subbaiah follows the simplest one. “Until the extracted vinegar is thick and filled with flavour, the method used to brew it will not make much of a difference,” he opines. Subbaiah collects the ripe fruits, squeezes the pulp and brings the liquid to perfect blend by constantly heating it – sometimes for two days straight.

Kodengada Sumithra Nanaiah of Kiruguru village has been brewing ‘kachampuli’ in the most authentic way for 25 years now.  “A funnel-like structure is raised using wooden logs and this structure is called ‘bhalley’ in Kodava language. Banana leaves are used to cover the funnel and the ‘bhalley’ is filled with the ripened fruits. The structure is covered to prevent rainwater entering it and a container is placed under the filter. Once the fruits start to ferment, the juice drops down into the container. The liquid collected is then heated on wood fire and the thickened extract is ‘kachampuli’ or ‘pulineer’,” explains Anju Thimmaiah, daughter-in-law of Sumithra.

The popularity of this black vinegar is reaching worldwide even as Michelin Star Chef Gordon Ramsay was introduced to its authentic taste during his recent visit to Kodagu. ‘Kachampuli’ is usually bought from the locals who prepare it without adulteration. The numerous spices shops that have opened across the district have become good marketers for the product and the vinegar is reaching all across the country. “We sell the thickened vinegar at Rs 700 to Rs 800 per 750 ml bottle. The same is sold at a higher price in retail shops, but the product at retail shops is prone to adulteration and is usually watery,” explains Ramyashree, daughter of Vedavathi.

The Ponnampet Forestry College has now started an initiative to rejuvenate the Garcinia gummi-gutta trees.  They have started a nursery where grafts of the plant are sold to farmers. The college administration is also promoting the traditional art of brewing ‘kachampuli’ as the Garcinia gummi-gutta fruits are collected in large numbers from the farmers and the students of the college are involved in brewing the traditional vinegar.

PULI POINTS

  • ‘Kachampuli’ is locally brewed by many residents and this earns the local families an annual income
  • This vinegar has a shelf-life of nearly three years
  • Malabar tamarind trees are not cultivated but are found naturally across the terrains of the district

Mother-daughter duo Vedavathi and Ramyashree at work. Nonagenarian Subbaiah brewing Kachampuli. Inset: Garcinia gummi-gutta fruit | Express

VARIOUS USES

Nothing goes waste while preparing ‘pulineer’. There is great demand for the dried pulp in neighbouring Kerala. It is sold between Rs 75 and Rs 100 per kg

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