Mangalore's traditional dish Patholi is vanishing from most kitchens because of the laborious process involved in preparing it.
You can take a Mangalorean out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of a Mangalorean. This applies aptly to Rochelle D’Souza. Every year, on the occasion of India’s Independence Day celebrations, D’Souza’s mother would unfailingly prepare — Patholi or Manjal Irre Dha Gatti.
“I love and miss the Patholis my mum would cook every year on 15 August to celebrate Independence Day and during the feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Virgin Mary,” Rochelle wistfully recalls.
“Growing up, almost everyone in our neighbourhood would make it and it was amazing to taste everyone’s version of Patholis,” she shares.
Miles away from home, the UK-based resident rues that she is unable to procure fresh turmeric leaves, which is at the heart and soul of this dish. Hence, she could never recreate her childhood memories and craves them every August.
Monsoons are a dreary affair in coastal Manglauru, with gusty winds threatening to topple the swaying coconut trees and the ocean in a froth as rains lash the region.
The one sweet spot for most denizens during these gloomy months is being able to bite into Patholi or Manjal Irre Dha Gatti.
Patholi is what the Konkani-speaking tribe from Mangaluru and Goa call this dish. The Tulu-speakers term it Manjal Irre Dha Gatti. But just like a rose with any other name smells just as sweet, this dish tastes just as swell, its nomenclature notwithstanding.
While it looks like a simple dish, Patholi has layers of complex flavours, that burst in the mouth in a symphony with every bite.
Its preparation starts by making a thick paste of soaked and ground red parboiled rice. It is then lathered on fresh turmeric leaves that have been destalked, cleaned, and pat-dried.
Next, a fistful of mixture comprising grated coconut and jaggery with a wee bit of crushed cardamom is placed at its centre. The leaf is tenderly folded so that the rice paste envelopes this filling and cushions it.
A collection of these leaves is steamed in the traditional idli steamer, akin to dumplings.
When the lid of the steamer is opened, be prepared for the unique aroma of the turmeric leaves, which will fill up the room. And when you unwrap the warm and slightly soggy leaves, this tantalising fragrance provokes your taste buds so much that only those with an iron can resist taking a bite of the plump steamed dish, ignoring the heat.
And with the bite comes the explosion of flavours — the salty sweetness from the jaggery and the crunchiness of freshly-grated coconut all wrapped up in the sticky softness of the cooked rice paste.
What elevates the simple Manjal Irre Dha Gatti is the humble turmeric leaf, which is available only during the monsoon months. But be warned, its distinctive taste takes some getting used to.
Prashant Salian from Udupi always found this scent and taste pungent in equal measures. This is why he never acquired a yen for it. And this, despite the fact that the turmeric leaves grew in abundance in the small garden abutting his family home.
His ajji (grandma) would, nonetheless, insist that he eat at least a couple of Manjal Irre Dha Gatti.
“She would pluck the turmeric leaves herself. Then, she would select the supple ones that had a delicate green colour, saying that they were the most fragrant. She maintained that these leaves had a lot of health benefits. Turmeric has antiseptic properties. It is said to help keep cold and cough during the monsoon at bay,” Prashant recalls.
Prashant’s grandma and mother are no more. Whenever monsoon rolls around, he misses the Manjal Irre Dha Gatti — the very dish that he almost abhorred growing up.
Part of this longing is the nostalgia associated with it. Seeing his grandma bent over, picking the perfect leaves, grinding the soaked rice by hand using the grinding stone. Then, watching her steam it in the soot-covered kitchens of his ancestral illu (house). Finally, lovingly feeding him, despite his protests.
It is a painstaking process, which takes a few hours if one does not use modern cooking implements. The process requires a lot of patience. And the latter attribute is something that the current generation seems to be lacking.
Rachna Gadewar feels that our forebearers were more committed to cooking these traditional, time-consuming dishes.
“The contemporary generation might have the technology that has made life simpler in the kitchen. However, they are saddled with many chores. They don’t have time to invest in preparing these creations,” she points out.
Rochelle adds that while one might think that our current generation is often termed as impatient, one also needs to understand the difference between our parents and us.
“Growing up, most of our mothers were homemakers who loved cooking no matter how tedious it was. Today, many women work full-time and then have chores and kids,” she adds.
“We really do not have the time to make Patholi as the whole point is to soak the rice, grind, steam, and make it whilst it is still warm hot for the rice to hold its shape and not crumble. It’s very difficult to find the time to keep up with traditions unless we are willing to stay up late,” she points out.
Hence, many Mangaloreans end up taking the easier way out. They either order these preparations from home chefs or lean on the benevolence of older family members and acquaintances who continue preparing these laborious dishes.
However, one can only hope that with the passage of our parents’ generation, we do not lose these culinary masterpieces and relegate it to folklore to be mentioned in cookbooks.
Here is a recipe for Manjal Irre Dha Gatti, if you are eager to retain the effervescence of this dish and not let it die out.
Turmeric leaves: 7
Rice flour: 2.5 cups
Hot water: 2 cups
Salt: 1 tsp
Coconut: 2 cups, freshly grated
Jaggery: 1 cup, grated
Cardamom powder: 1 tsp