Puliyogre tamarind rice: journey from temple prasad to the main dish at a Bengaluru eatery

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A key component in this puliyogare is gojju, made with tamarind pulp and spices. (Photo: Jayanthi Madhukar)

Dark, fiery, and with a hint of sweetness – this is quite a bland way to describe the taste of ‘puliyogre’, a tamarind rice preparation from South India.

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Put a spoonful in the mouth and know that it as an explosion of flavours: the tanginess of tamarind, the zest of spices and asafoetida, the gentle sweetness of jaggery and the freshness of curry leaves combined in the perfect ratio.

But it’s not all about flavours. There is the texture as well. Soft-cooked rice coated with peanut oil, firm gratings of dry coconut and crisply fried peanuts are what makes the dish par excellence.

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Puliyogre itself is associated with Iyengars (pronounced: eye/yen/gaars), a community of Vaishnavite brahmins, which spread to neighbouring states as the community travelled across the region under the patronage of the Hoysala rulers.

There is the puliyodharai of Tamil Nadu, the pulihora of Andhra Pradesh but the most popular version, Melukote puliyogre, is the domain of the Iyengars belonging to the village and is coveted as ‘prasad’.

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“The puliyogre served here is exactly like the prasad served in the Melukote temples,” said Kishore, a customer waiting for takeaway at Melukote Puliyogre House in Jayanagar, a south Bengaluru neighbourhood.

Vinod K. is the owner of this unpretentious eatery. His wife, Priyanka, belongs to a family from Melukote. “I was a graphic designer and a theatre artiste,” Vinod said. “When the pandemic hit, I lost my job and theatre assignments also stopped.” Priyanka suggested on opening a small eatery where they could sell puliyogre.

Surprisingly, although the dish itself is well-known in the south, there isn’t as much appeal for it as, say, biryani, which has hundreds of restaurants and hole-in-the-wall eateries devoted to serving variations of it. Literally, all neighbourhoods and almost every road in Bengaluru has a biryani outlet.

“It’s surprising, at least to me, that puliyogre doesn’t have such popularity in the city,” Vinod said. Two years back, when he started, it was a struggle to keep things together. But he credits his theatrical background for patience. “Most of my well-wishers, including my mother and brother, urged me to close down the eatery. No one felt that puliyogre alone could pull in the crowds. But I have the patience to wait. After all, in theatre, it takes 30 days of rehearsals for staging one show. It’s a patience game.”

Not only patience for the word-of-mouth referrals to work but the preparation itself is time-consuming. The essential component of puliyogre, as made by the Iyengars, is called gojju. It takes time and effort to make it. “It’s an eight-hour process from start to finish, and we spend most of our Sunday doing it,” Vinod said.

For the gojju, deseeded tamarind is cooked and the pulp is squeezed out completely. The thick pulp is seasoned with spices and simmered on low heat. It needs constant stirring and close supervision. Anyone, including this writer, who has attempted making gojju at home will be all too familiar with the cleaning up after the preparation is over. There’s a lot of mess as the pulp constantly splutters and splashes all over the kadai and counter.

Even after all these years, there are just a handful of restaurants in Bengaluru which offer puliyogre although very few get the authentic taste correct. Puliyogre Point in Basavangudi, an old neighbourhood in South Bangalore, is as authentic as it gets; it has a branch on the Mysuru-Bengaluru highway at Channapatna called Kadamabam. But restaurants which have puliyogre as the main offering are rare.

“I had no idea of business when I opened my eatery,” Vinod said. All he relied upon was the magic of his wife’s recipe. “During my theatre days, I used to take puliyogre for my co-actors and other artistes once in a while. They would love it. Sometimes, we would get small orders for catering as well, but never more than 30 plates, which my wife and I would prepare in our small kitchen.” Even today, the majority of the prep work and cooking is done at home. The demand is increasing steadily, Vinod said. From just 4 kilos of puliyogre in the first few months of the business, Vinod now makes about 100 kilos on “veg days” viz Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. The family now makes 65-75 kilos of gojju weekly. “It’s a lot of hard work…”

Coming to taste, there is a way of mixing the rice which, according to Vinod, is the key to good puliyogre. “If it is not done correctly and in a proper sequence, the taste is compromised,” he said. “You will never get the traditional taste then.”

Food sociologists have opined about the connection between food and cultural heritage. Food is intricately connected with memories. For Sujatha Iyengar, puliyogre reminds her of temple trips with extended families when the ladies would prepare big containers of the tamarind rice to be served in donnes (cups made of dried palm leaves). “I recreate that taste for my grandchildren whenever we visit them in the USA,” she said. “Now they know enough to point out if there are less peanuts in it. After all, puliyogre without peanuts is like dahi vadas without the vadas.”

#Bengaluru, #food, #food memories, #iyengar tradition, #puliyogre, #recipes, #tamarind rice
Melukote Puliyogare House owner Vinod K (right) with film producer Chandru.

Recipe for Puliyogre

Although Vinod politely declined to reveal the secret of his puliyogre, this writer evoked several oral traditions to create a composite recipe.

For the gojju

1 kg deseeded tamarind, pressure-cooked in water.

5 tbsp of rasam powder

1 cup of jaggery powder

Asafoetida, according to taste

½ cup peanut oil (preferably cold pressed oil)

1 tsp mustard seeds

Squeeze out the tamarind pulp. Take a big wok  or kadai and place it on medium heat. Heat the oil in it and add the mustard seeds and asafoetida. Once the seeds crackle, add the tamarind pulp and simmer it with rasam powder and jaggery. Keep stirring the mixture until you get a nice aroma and the colour changes.

For the puliyogre

2 cups cooked rice

½ cup peanuts

½ cup curry leaves

1 tsp rasam powder

Asafoetida, as per taste

2 tbsp of peanut or sesame oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

2-3 dry red chillies

2 tbsp gojju

2 tbsp grated dry coconut (copra)

Spread the cooked rice on a large flat plate. At the centre, make a small well and put the rasam powder in it. Now, heat up a pan with oil and add the red chillies, mustard seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida. Once the mustard seeds splutter, add the peanuts and fry till they turn golden brown. When the peanuts turn golden, add the copra and pour the hot oil mixture on the rice, right over the rasam powder. Wait till the oil cools down and mix it lightly with a wooden spoon. Add more gojju if required.

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