Coorg. Green hills, high skies, breathtaking treks, river-rafting, elephant-spotting and coffee plantation walks — at the end of the day, you’re ravenous. Where do you go to stuff yourself silly?

Although Coorg boasts of several restaurants at luxurious hotels — including the newest Taj Vivanta and The Tamara, a beautiful coffee estate-turned-resort — the real food experience can be had much more cheaply, and perhaps, more convincingly, if one looks for nourishment in the humbler messes and canteens of Madikeri, the old capital of the former kingdom of Coorg. It’s worth remembering that Coorg is situated at the crossroads of some of the world’s finest cuisines. While you’re never too far from the culinary delights of the south Indian pure vegetarian cooking (there are thali-only eateries aplenty), you’re also a stone’s throw away from Kerala (Mappila cooking) and of course, Mangalore (seafood), not to mention the (relatively) recent Tibetan element. Then there’s the local Kodava cuisine, the soul food of the Kodagu district.

The place to sample all of this is Madikeri, the old royal capital that used to be called Mercara. It has a fort, splendid temples and old churches, the rajas’ majestic tombs, plus a delightful traditional Friday bazaar and old-style bungalows to admire (some of which take in guests). Being a tourist destination, it also has something of a restaurant scene.

Traditional cuisine is best eaten at people’s homes, and you would get to taste it if you book yourself into a homestay, such as Gowri Nivas, an old Kodava house a short walk from the Fort in Madikeri. The pleasures of home-cooking include some rather unusual vegetable dishes (such as tender bamboo shoots) and the emblematic pandi curry, cubes of pork coated in a peppery masala flavoured with the local dark vinegar, kachampuli.

Another way to get a hearty Coorg meal is to head to Folksy Food (shut on Sundays), a three-table eatery tucked away on the first floor of a building on Temple Road — you spot it down the slope, roughly opposite Town Hall. Folksy is run as a labour of food-love by the gentle Mr Lipton (who doesn’t seem to have a first name), who’ll serve you the daily vegetarian rice meal and your choice of four non-veg add-ons: pork, chicken, mutton or fish. Akki roti — a thin pancake made of rice flour — is on offer only for dinner. Everything is prepared in the local style by Lipton’s wife Leelavati. Although the menu is limited (in fact, there’s no printed menu), a superb meal for two would set you back by a mere ₹300. Coorg Cuisine opposite the Head Post Office, on the upper floor of a blue-painted building, also has a wide range of à la carte dishes, including bamboo shoot or baimbale barthadh.

Among restaurants that steer clear of pork, East End Hotel, perched on the edge of the Brahmin’s Valley, has the most popular tables (no rooms here; but you can check into the adjacent colonial-style bungalow, Daisy Bank Heritage Inn, on Thimmaiah Road). This is a carnivore’s paradise: mutton balls, hearty biryani and a unique Coorg-style chicken fry. Late afternoons and evenings are best spent here, watching dusk creeping in over a keema or egg dosa accompanied by mutton cutlets.

Madikeri has a significant Mappila and Beary population. Rasheed, a local friend of mine, took me to a no-name place on the hillside at the northern edge of town known as New Canteen, where a joint-family of Beary Muslims serve lunch and dinner at their home to labourers and autorickshaw drivers. You eat in the family’s living room at their own dining table, and the entertainment consists of chatting with the many kids who sit around doing homework — the younger generation is a well-educated lot and some children speak very good English. The tasty ₹50 meal consists of rice, mackerel curry, fried sardines and a vegetable dish. We also made an advance order for dinner one day and got mouth-watering mutton chukka, nool puttu (steamed rice noodles) and chicken stew. To find the place, you’ll have to walk uphill from the Rajas’ Tombs and ask around; it’s near the turning towards Abby Falls, and definitely worth the trouble.

The more centrally located New Paris is in an old building in bustling College Road. The kindly proprietor is happy to see new customers and your table will soon be filled with mutton chukka, fish curry, chicken fry, biryani and Kerala or Ceylon parathas at wallet-friendly rates. Outside the busy lunch hours, this is also a good place to drop by for a hearty afternoon snack, such as the juicy mutton puffs (called pups) or delicious Kerala banana roast.

If it’s Mangalorean you crave, pull up a chair at the full-fledged seafood canteen, Samudra, above the government bus terminal — the prawn curry here is superb. Around town, lots of other smaller joints toss up tasty mackerel fry, such as Greenland near the Tollgate bus stop. Another joint that specialises in seafood is the Fishland restaurant in one of the lanes opposite the Fort.

Despite a major Tibetan settlement in the foothills at Bylakuppe, where you can visit a grand monastery and sample authentic Tibetan dishes, there are very few kitchens in Madikeri that serve steaming momos. Momos do make an appearance, however, on the menu at Coorg Biryani Center on the College Road, a fast food restaurant that also experiments with ‘exotic’ fare like burgers, shawarma and kathi rolls.

Like all hill stations, Madikeri has fine bakeries for a quick bite and one of the local specialties is chicken roll — an oven-baked roll stuffed with a spicy chicken mixture. Try India Bake House in Mahadevpet opposite the Market Building or Cauvery Bakes-n-Drinks at College Road. The former also makes a local-style pizza topped with chicken and salad, while Cauvery peddles paneer rolls. Come Friday the market is bustling with people, and in certain seasons you can pick up fresh bamboo shoot and wild mushrooms.

For European-style coffee, cakes, and bakes such as quiches, head to Pause: The Unwind Café (shut on Tuesday) in the Kodava Samaj Building, opposite the Fort. It also serves a light chicken curry with appams. The expresso (sic) — rather more like an americano — comes with bone-rattling levels of caffeine; it’s best tamed by a coffee and walnut mousse. Another coffee shop, Beans-n-Brew, is located in the charming old bungalow called Raintree in a lane behind the Town Hall, next-door to Power House. It also has a multi-cuisine restaurant, which does possibly the best tandoori chicken in town, plus local specialities and Mangalorean seafood items; no pork though.

The cafés of Madikeri mostly serve the normal darshini milk coffee but with less chicory than elsewhere — here you can expect about 20 per cent dilution as against the national average of 30 to 50 per cent chicory, so you may feel a whole lot perkier after a cup. Of course, if you buy fresh coffee powder directly from a mill, you can request them to not add any chicory and get the most amazing coffee experience you’ve ever had in your life.

Lots of shops around the Main Road are geared towards tourists and sell fresh spices, pickles, coffee powder, locally made wines (try the unusual coffee wine and rice wine here) and homemade juices. For sweets and savouries and high-quality natural honey, go to Komal Stores opposite the Fort. Do also look on their shelves for fresh chikkalunde, sweety-savoury soft balls of rice flour. A good place to hunt for pickles, including a mean pork pickle, is Numbikay on the road leading up to Raja’s Seat, where they also stock clothes, books on Coorg and souvenirs.

Coffee mills are found all over town, but for fine coffees and coffee paraphernalia head to Mercara Gold, located right at the central chowk, at the corner of Mahadevpet and College Road. They have their own coffee estate. They also sell spices, and you can even pick up a bottle of kachampuli. Later this year, they plan to open a small café-cum-eatery.

So, if you’re hungry, thirsty or both, come uphill to Coorg.

(The writer is a Bangalore-based crime fiction author, who writes in English and Swedish. Mr Majestic is his latest novel)

Food Log

Where to eat

● Coorg Cuisine on the Main Road, opposite Head Post Office; 9449699864

● East End Hotel, General Thimmaiah Road; 08272-225749

● Hotel New Paris, College Road; 08272-225222

● Samudra, above the government bus terminal; 08272-220216

● Greenland, near the Tollgate bus stop; 08272-224820

● Coorg Biryani Center, College Road

● India Bake House, Mahadevpet; 08242-220137

● Cauvery Bakes-n-Drinks, College Road; 09880400308

● Pause: The Unwind Café (shut on Tuesday), Kodava Samaj Building, opposite Fort; 0934376006

● Beans-n-Brew, Raintree bungalow, behind Town Hall, next to Power House; 9677129651


● Komal Stores, opposite Fort, 08272-228890

● Numbikay, towards Raja’s Seat

● Mercara Gold, Central Chowk, at the corner of Mahadevpet and College Road; 9341380456