Pietro Della Valle, a renowned traveller and historian of the 16th century, seems to have been fascinated by her. Her militant nature aroused his interest and he made several attempts to meet her. His efforts finally met with success when he accidentally came across her in the bazaar. His foreign mein and dress elicited her interest and with the aid of an interpreter, courtesies were exchanged and an invitation issued to visit the royal palace.
Della Valle was enamoured of “her perfect dignity, handsome feature and exemplary assiduity. Active and vigorous in actions of war and weighty affairs. Even at night she was not free to take rest but dispensed justice to her people.” His description of her is at once romantic and realistic. He puts her age down at 40, dark complexioned and with elegant figure. At another instance, he says she could be mistaken for a common kitchen wench, but for her graceful and judicious speech. Her scanty clothing of only a loincloth may have created this impression. He seems highly impressed with her administrative qualities and doesn’t give much credence to the rumours of her having poisoned her elder two sons, who were aspiring to the throne.
Della Valle seems quite disappointed with the cultural and unaesthetic value of the prevailing buildings. He didn’t entirely approve of the square-shaped temples built to “the evil one”. Strangely even today the Bootha Temples remain plain square shaped structures.
The only vestige of this vivacious and courageous queen remains in the ruins of the Abbakkarani temple. A Jain temple with a statue of Lokeshwar in the inner sanctum, it has a dilapidated and forlorn appearance. Further to the south is a deep moat which legend has it as part of Abbakkarani’s palace that is now non-existent. Overrun by slender casuarina trees, one can imagine the brave spirit of the queen hovering over Ullal.
Today Ullal remains a vibrant fishing village. It is fast developing into a satellite town of Mangalore. It is put on the tourist map of the world by the location of the Summer sands beach resort which is to the south of the fishing village, popularly known as Chotamangalore. Tourists from all parts of the world come to enjoy the balmy air and few return without paying homage at the shrine of this legendary queen.
BY ROSEMARY ALBUQUERQUE PAI
Manglorean Catholics primary claim to culinary expertise was through the legendary figure of ‘Balthazaar Chutney’
Balthazaar was taken prisoner by Tippu Sultan during the siege of Mangalore. Unable to stomach the indifferent camp food, He offered to make a chutney as an accompaniment, to tickle the royal palette. And tickle it did for the chutney found favour with the Sultan and Balthazaar earned the appendage of ‘Balthazaar Chutney’ for the rest of his days, along with a comfortable living.
The Catholics of Mangalore migrated from Goa. They crossed the Kali river at Karwar and settled down south, moving closer to Mangalore and surrounding areas.
History has it that they were converts mostly from the Brahmin communities and held on assiduously to their pagan culture, inspite of embracing Catholicism. Unable to bear the thumbscrew and the stock of Portuguese inquisition for their way–wardness, they escaped to the Kanara coast and were welcomed by the Ikkeri Kings to take up the agricultural operations.
They seemed adept at this and acquired vast tracts of land and became fairly wealthy and prosperous, till Tippu decided otherwise. With his siege of Mangalore the Christians were worst hit. Their lands were taken away from them and they were forced to trudge the 150 odd miles to Srirangapatanam therefore the rather pleasant account of Balthazaar chutney, while in captivity at Tippu’s court present a somewhat mellower aspect of the bigoted Tiger of Mysore.
Mangolrean Christian cuisine has distinct Portuguese influence as can be seen in the ‘Laitao’, the famous roast crackling served as the ‘Piece de Resistance’ at wedding dinners, or the ‘Pork Sorpotel’ with slight variations, the more barbaric dishes like ‘Cabidella’, where fresh blood is stirred into the pork delicacy has not found a place on a Konkan menu. One of the reasons Mangalore Catholics were banished from Goa was because of their attachment to Pagan marriage ceremonies. And even till today the Pre marriage ceremony called the ‘Roce’ is still celebrated.
It is a ceremony lauded over by the ladies, celebrating the last day of the virginity of the bride and bridegroom. The virgin bride is blessed with coconut milk and a cross is inscribed on her forehead with coconut oil, while the matrons of the families sing ‘voyos’ tracing the family history, sometimes sneaking in a opportunity to settle old scores. But mostly the songs are good natured ribbing of the bridal pair. In my grandmothers time the likes of caterers were never seen or heard. Fabled cooks like Davidam or Alicebai were called in to help with the repast. A good month in advance, condiments were brought, dried in the sun, pounded and stored in large glass jars. Green mangoes were sliced into ‘Fode’ choked in salt , squeezed dry and laid out to dry in “Thodpies”. Anxious eyes cast to the sky for a vagrant shower. Water can never be at the periphery of pickled activity.
The Mainstay of the Roce dinner is Pork Buffat – the Manglorean Christians were a bit fastidious of the use of blood and other spare parts in this most exquisite pork dish. The Goan variations with these extras is called Sorpotel. However Mangloreans with their thrifty ways did use ever part of the animal and innards were used to make a separate dish called ‘Kalleze un Kiti’ which when literally translated means ‘Heart and Intestines’. Apparently they lacked the French flare of finding pleasant titles for offensive ingredients.
The pork Bafat was moped up with a large sized freshly baked bun. This was followed by the traditional “Rosachi kadi’, a fish curry made with coconut juice and the piquant bafat powder. While these first two dishes had memories of Goa, the vegetarian fare had strong leanings to the Brahmin and Bunt culture. The ‘Pollu’ an ash-goud type of Sambar with a sinful dash of powered dried fish either “Galmbi” which is shrimp or ‘Kambulmas’ ( Dried Tuna). Black gram is soaked overnight and then cooked with freshly ground vegetable masala powders, seasoned generously with bay leaf, crushed garlic and tempered with Jaggery, grated coconut and Ghee. In more affluent homes a second vegetable dish , most often green banana is offered.
Nutritious red boiled rice is always served and Basmati or other fine rice never make it to the wedding table.
The meal is finished off with a kheer made of bottle gourd, dhal, coconut milk, jaggery and cardamom with tiny tiny rice dumplings.
Guests are made to sit on long narrow grass mats and food is served on ‘Shiroti’ or Banana leaves. However sadly with the onslaught of caterers, buffet table and the like , all the quaint charm of squatting on a mandri and chasing Kheer with the flat of your palm on a shiroti has been lost forever.
The wedding dinner, the next day boasted a fabulous concoction, called plainly, wedding stew made with succulent bits of mutton and garnished with carrots , potatoes and broad beans. The ingredients include generous helpings of green chilly, onion, ginger, tamarind, pepper, cloves, mint and coriander leaves all finely ground by hand, tempered with ghee and golden brown onion. Pork baffat is again served with this meal along with two or three vegetables such as gerkins either cooked with raw cashewnuts or stirred gently on a slow fire with caramel sugar and a good helping of pepper and ghee. A simple Dhal Sar with red boiled rice and a traditional ‘Fode’ Mangalore pickle finishes of the meal. A wheat based Kheer is offered as a desert.
The suckling pig is the main dish for the 3rd day’s festivities called the “Vole Thedi Jovan”. Held at the bridegrooms place in honour of the bride and the bridesmaid ( the matron who shares the nuptial bed and generally supervises the events of the 1st night). The suckling pig still remains a delicacy which can be afforded only by the affluent.
A young pigling of 2 or 3 months is chosen with care. After cleaning the innards a special stuffing of bread, plums, nuts with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, green chillies and pepper and mint is prepared and stuffed into the stomach cavity and baked in a slow oven for 2 or 3 hours till the top of the suckling is crisp and that’s how it gets the name of “crackling”.
It is generally served with a sweet mustard sauce and a fragrant sweet Pulauv made with fine white rice, plums and cashewnuts and laced with crisp fried onions. The Pulauv is accompanied by a chutney made with dates, mint, green chillies, ginger and plums – it’s a hot sweet chutney excellent with the pullauv.
The Manglorean Catholics though agriculturists were not very good with vegetables. They had a rather indifferent dish called “ Thail Piao” which meant literally vegetables dumped with oil and onions and left to boil on the fire wood. However their Hindu compatriots added some verve and dash to the vegetarian fare. The brinjal salad, fine slices of Brinjal fried in oil, seasoned with delicate rings of onion and green chillies and sprinkled with delicious coconut sauce. The origin of this classic salad beats me whether Goan Portuguese or asli Canara?
However keeping in mind the secondary position of vegetables on the menu, the harvest festival of September 8th which coincides with the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, is one day when vegetables reign supreme. The harvest festival begins with the sharing of the Sanna, a rice bread fermented with Toddy and steamed. It is usually eaten with a sauce of coconut, Jaggery and Cardamom to which a few grains of the freshly harvested and blessed paddy are added. Generally 9 vegetables are prepared, sometimes less but the number has always to be odd. A traditional meal would consist of a cucumber salad called “Karamb” made with a dressing of ground coconut and mustard and garnished with green chillies, ginger and onions. It has a sharp flavour and is a good starter. This is followed by several vegetables such as a string bean Upkari, sprouted moong and bamboo shoot, a kerala balchow, ridge gourd sliced very fine and crisply cooked with grated coconut, the humble bottle gourd simple cooked ‘Thail Piao’ style also finds a place in the menu. Lady’s finger the local large variety is another speciality and gerkins believed to make one a dullard are combined with tender cashewnuts, called ‘Foka’. The curry is prepared from the stems of the black Alocacia along with juicy hog plums, locally called ‘Ambade’. The tangy taste of the hog plum is delicately balanced with a prodigious amount of palm jaggery
However what the Konkans are wizards are at the extra-ordinary range of their ice breads. From the lacy delicate Appam, to the familiar ‘Panpole’ which can be made in a jiffy, needing just a cupful of soaked raw rice, water and salt and a pair of willing hands to grind. The art is in getting the fine soft dosai leis in the right consistency of batter. The ‘Thath Bakri’ is made with ground red boiled rice mixed with raw scraped coconut and roasted on a tawa on a banana leaf. This wonderful flavoured bakri goes ever so well with Pork Bafath or chicken Indaz- another traditional dish with distinct Goan origins. The Pathal Bakri or Kori Roti has been borrowed from the Bunt neighbours but is a popular part of the repast especially in the village. It is almost papad like consistency and crispiness and has to be soaked in delicious meat gravies to be savoured correctly.
The ‘Sheveo Roce’,. now woe begone if your host prepares this dish for you- a clear indication that you have overstayed your welcome and must pack your bags and leave. However ignore all these inundeos, take a seat and dig into this wonderful of rice preparations. The popular name for this dish is string hoppas, appropriate to the fine noodle like consistency. It is eaten either with a sweet saude or a spicy chicken gravy called Kori Kachpu
The Manglorean Catholic Mitais are another delight, with ‘Mani’ a kind of marble textured halwa made from rice, coconut, jaggery, nuts , plums and spices. Mandas, a cross between cake and pudding has strangely a cucumber base. Most of the sweets are made of jaggery because it was healthy and there is such a wide selection from the disc shaped palm jaggery to the pyramidiaal shaped ‘Ushae’ t the spiced flavoured ‘Pitae’. In the moonsoon their kitchen are a buzz of activity. Onions hang in festoons and ripe golden moges swayed jauntily in coconut satchels. While in stone jars reclining quietly on the kitchen shelves are salted meat dried into ‘Padas’. Bereft of their fresh fish for nearly 4 months in a year, the resourceful Canara –Wala is adept at finding replacements. His fertile imagination has come up with such rare and distinctive flavoured dishes as salted pork with mogae, chutney of coconut and dried fish, padas which require 100 red chillies to be ground in vinegar. Pathrade is a delicacy which makes one yearn for the monsoon. The Christian version of this steamed delicacy is a slight variation on the Hindu recipe. More spicy, it is fried in ‘Meet Mirsang’ a red chilli masala which no self respecting Christian will do without in his kitchen
Christmas time is when the Canara Christian comes into his own preparing Kushwar, the goodies that are made at Christmas time as part of goodwill to all men. Neuries are mince puffs stuffed with plums, nuts, and fried theel and sugar. Kukkuls are curly concoctions dipped in sugar treacle, pathekas are savoury of green nandarkai bananas, thil laddus and jaw snapping ‘Golios’. Macaroons is what Manglore is famous for and the subtle flavoured rose cookies are a hot favourite. But it is the Rich Plum Cake which takes the better part of a week to make. Candied fruit, plums, currents, raisins are dexterously cut and soaked in rum. Flour sieved and gently warmed in the sun. Nuts pealed and chopped and the whole family comes together to make the cake. Jobs are allotted, one to whip up the eggs, while another creams the butter and sugar, cake tins are lined, and a strong pair of arms requisitioned to do the final mixing and stirring.
So while Baltazaar earned laurels for the Canara Catholics with his delectable chutneys, in the last two hundred odd years the Christians have woven a rich and varied cuisine combining Portuguese, Goan, Brahmin and Bunt influences along with their own ingenious skills to make it a cuisine worth visiting the Canara coast.