A wave of nostalgia gripped me as I licked the last grains of the tangy rice off my greasy palm. The taste of the prasadam (offering to the God, part of which is distributed to the devotees) at the Venkateshwara swamy temple in Bangalore had not changed one bit.
The reddish-brown oleaginous rice looked and tasted exactly like it did decades ago when I frequented the temple as a happy-go-lucky 8-year-old during my summer vacations. While there were only a handful of people back then, there were swarms now and a mini scramble to stick your cupped right hand out and get your share of "puliyogare".
While most people made their way out while eating the prasad out of their hands, I chose to sit there for a while as the prasadam magically transported me back to my childhood days, of days that were fun filled and carefree.
Thus is the magic of Puliyogare (Kannada) aka Puliyodharai (Tamil) aka Pulihara (Telugu). Arguably one of the most popular dishes of South India, Puliyogare has a charm and ubiquitous appeal quite like none other.
While it is described, albeit inadequately, as tamarind rice in English, Puliyogare is actually a rich amalgamation of carefully chosen spices mixed with a thick tamarind sauce, along with an aromatic seasoning. This base or sauce which is called ‘Pulikaachal’ (Tamil) or ‘Gojju’ (Kannada) is normally prepared in advance and then mixed with rice.
A balance of savoury and tangy flavours, puliyogare is an all-time favourite whether as a temple prasadam, for picnic lunches, for school and office lunch-boxes or even for the much-awaited train journey. One of the few dishes that tastes just as fresh at room temperature, Puliyogare is often associated with convenience and ease of cooking.
Says New York-based celebrity chef Hari Nayak –
"Packed with flavour, the dish is simple to prepare and has a great shelf life, which is why it is a preferred as a travel food. It is one of those dishes that conjure fond memories and evoke the ‘soulful comfort food’ feeling."
It is traditionally believed that Puliyogare tastes better when made with rice cooked the previous day.
Says Varun M.B., Executive Chef at Novotel Hyderabad Airport –
"The best part about Pulihara is that this dish can be prepared with leftover cooked rice. To my understanding, the dish itself originated as an effective way to use leftover rice. Moreover, tamarind helps keep the body hydrated in hot conditions."Variations Galore
Puliyogare has its own variations throughout Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karantaka.
Says Vyjayanthimala Kishen who runs the famous “Puliyogare Point” in Basavanagudi, Bangalore –
"Every household has their own unique recipe, and even among Iyengars like Hebbar Iyengars, Mandyam Iyengars or Melkote Iyengars, there is a subtle difference in the taste of the ‘gojju’. The main difference is the level of sweetness that is tweaked by the amount of jaggery added to the sauce. Either way, it is a dish that not only has a lot of depth but is also wholesome and nutritious."
Most recipes involve preparing a powder of dry roasted spices – including coriander seeds, sesame seeds, fenugreek seeds, black pepper corns and red chillies. A thick paste of freshly extracted tamarind is poured into an aromatic seasoning of mustard seeds, Bengal gram (channa dal), red chillies, asafoetida and peanuts. Jaggery is added and the paste is bought to a boil.
Once cooled, the spice powder is mixed and voila! You have your delectable, pulpy magical potion ready!
While the Andhra/Telangana version has more fenugreek, the Karnataka version is sweeter in taste. In Tamil Nadu, sesame oil is the key differentiating factor. Some households add black gram (urad dal) to the spice powder while others fancy desiccated coconut in the seasoning. Well, more versions the merrier – after all, as the cliché goes, “variety is the spice of life”!
(Rashmi Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and travel-lifestyle blogger from Bangalore. She writes on travel, food and decor. A strong advocate and supporter of responsible and sustainable tourism, she blogs at http://rashminotes.com/ and tweets at @rashminotes.)
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