Towards the end of my meal at the Bengaluru Oota Company (BOC), I am served an Ammani Jamoon. Ammani jamoon roughly translates into ‘grandmother’s jamoon’, and its recipe is handed down only to the daughters in a Gowda family.
“You will be hard-pressed trying to get a recipe for this jamoon. Even if you do, it is such a well-kept secret that I can guarantee you a couple of key ingredients will be missing, or the proportions will be wrong,” says Divya Prabhakar.
Prabhakar, 41, is one half — the Gowda half — of the two-month-old and enormously popular BOC (Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is a big fan). Her partner in the venture is close friend Vishal Shetty, a Manglorean, and BOC is among the very few places in Bangalore that serves Gowda cuisine along with more well-known Mangalorean dishes.
It helps that both Prabhakar and Shetty, 49, are familiar with the hospitality business. Prabhakar has worked for 18 years in the hospitality industry in sales and marketing, while Shetty’s father ran 14 canteens and two restaurants in Mumbai, and was also the man behind Udayan, one of the earliest drive-in restaurants in Bangalore.
“I have been keen on a regional cuisine format for a long time, because I saw a huge gap in Bangalore where there were no such places where I could go to,” says Prabhakar. She soon found herself cooking for her friends at home, but began to struggle her fare grew popular.
“BOC was initially created for the catering market. The Tasting Room was born when we found the current location, and the space was larger than what we required for the catering kitchen. And the location (on Cambridge Layout) was awesome,” says Shetty.
The duo’s focus with the Tasting Room at BOC was to make it an experiential journey with curated menus. It consists of two large rooms that serve as the seating areas, done up in shades of white, aquamarine, yellow and red. The menus are curated based on the preferences/allergies of the group, and courses are paired with a mix of Gowda and Mangalorean dishes that complement each other (if you are vegetarian, you’d be glad to know that BOC also curates vegetarian meals).
Gowda food is served only in certain messes in the city, and the common perception is that the cuisine is meat-laden and rich in oil and spices. “Gowdas were primarily farmers and they ate whatever they grew — be it grains, vegetables, livestock, etc,” says Prabhakar. “We use a lot of onion, garlic, ginger, dhaniya in most of our dishes — in fact all recipes start with these ingredients.”
A traditional home-cooked Gowda lunch would comprise ragi mudde ((steamed balls made of ragi) with a Saaru — Mutton/Chicken/Basaru (a greens curry made with the drained water after cooking the dal) — Mosappu (mashed greens with dal)), a palya (dry vegetable), rice, rasam, curd and maybe a sweet (Gowda desserts are predominantly jaggery-based.)
The Beegara Oota is another important aspect of Gowda cuisine. It is a meal that is hosted by the bridegroom’s family after they take the bride to their home, and the whole village is invited to meet the bride. This feast features meat of different kinds, mudde, pulav, etc, and this tradition is continued even today.
My meal started with a cooling glass of majjige (buttermilk tempered with spices). And then Prabhakar and Shetty, brought out, one after another, dishes that blended taste and finesse, revealing much about a hitherto unfamiliar cuisine. The cooling majjige was followed by three appetisers — kosambari (a traditional dish of soaked lentils, with spices and coconut, hailing from Udipi in Karnataka), Goli Baje (a typical Mangalorean bonda) served with a delectable coconut chutney and my favourite, the mutton cutlet, a typical Gowda family recipe of lusciously soft mutton, delicately spiced.
The main course pays homage to the full range of Gowda and Mangalorean cuisine. There is Kori Gassi, a spicy Manglorean chicken curry, served with neer dosa and rotti, crisp, with a dosa-like tinge to it, that is crumbled and mixed with the gravy. And other stars of Mangalorean cuisine: Pork Bafat, seer fish fry, Mutton Sukka and Manoli (tendli mixed with cashew nuts).
Gowda cuisine was represented by two of its most iconic dishes. First up was ragi mudde served with mamsa saaru (a spicy, watery meat curry). “In the olden days ragi mudde was a staple dish because it was full of fibre, did not get spoilt once cooked and gave a lot of energy for everyone working in the fields,” says Prabhakar. “Now it is making a comeback as a health food.”
Traditionally one ragi mudde is the size of a cricket ball or even larger, and the adhesive consistency of the mudde requires it to be swallowed rather than chewed after it is soaked in the gravy. At BOC, the mudde is served in cocktail-sized balls, making it easier to swallow for the uninitiated. While the mudde is bland, the spicy mutton curry is the perfect accompaniment, its gravy incorporating a wide range of spices like dhaniya, garlic, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and red chillies. In many households, the mamsa saaru is often only cooked with the head meat. Personally, I am not a fan of ragi mudde, but the cocktail-sized servings did help in surmounting my bias.
The other dish was the Bannur Mamsa Pulav served with pachadi (raita), pudhina chutney and boiled egg. The rice was aromatic and flavourful, generously spiced with ground green chillies, but it is the mutton that elevates the dish. BOC sources its sheep meat, which has a unique taste and is tender, due to the higher fat content, from Bannur on the banks of the Cauvery.
After the flurry of spices and textures, calmness is restored with a glass of traditional tangy Gowda rasam, followed by the all-time favourite – mosaru anna (curd rice) served with a flavourful Mangalorean accompaniment of mango mensakai (a sweet and spicy mango curry). And then came the Ammani Jamoon, post the ingesting of which I was ready to doze off like a certain former prime minister of our country.
Mutton Chops (Medium Gravy, Gowda dish)
1/2 kg- Chop cut mutton
Quarter size grated- Dry coconut
2 medium size onions
1 ripe small size tomato
125g- Green peas
Fresh Methi- Loose fistful
Fresh Coriander- Loose fistful
1 tbsp- Ginger garlic paste
4 nos- Green chillies
1 tbsp- Black pepper
1/2 tbsp- Dhaniya powder
1/2 inch- Cinnamon
4 nos- Cloves
Salt to taste
*Grind the coconut, coriander, ginger garlic paste, green chillies, black pepper, dhaniya powder, cinnamon & cloves to a fine paste.
*Slice the onions and fry in a pan. Add the chopped methi when the onions are transparent and continue to fry till the onions become golden brown.
*Add the ground masala and fry till the masala is cooked.
*Add the chops, peas, big cubes of tomato, salt to taste along with water and cook over a medium flame till the meat is cooked.
*Best served with ragi mudde, chapatis, akki roti.