Takeaway

The name is mudde

Zac O?Yeah | Updated on January 13, 2018
We go hand in hand Mudde and mutton korma at Ruchi Mess, Mysuru images zac o’yeah

We go hand in hand: Mudde and mutton korma at Ruchi Mess, Mysuru. Photo: Zac O'Yeah

Grainy day: Ragimudde being prepared for elephants, at a kitchen in Dubare, Karnataka. Photo: Zac O'Yeah

Grainy day: Ragimudde being prepared for elephants, at a kitchen in Dubare, Karnataka. Photo: Zac O'Yeah

Circle around: Apart from mudde, ragi can be made into dosas, idlis (above) as well as laddus

Circle around: Apart from mudde, ragi can be made into dosas, idlis (above) as well as laddus. Photo: Zac O'Yeah

Zac O’Yeah

Zac O’Yeah   -  BusinessLine

It’s a marriage made in culinary heaven when spongy and sticky boiled ragi is the perfect curry accompaniment and also the ingredient for a life healthy and happy

Confession time. I have this one obsessive love affair outside my marriage. It isn’t with another woman, not even another human or animal, but with the food item known as mudde. If you don’t live in Karnataka, the word may not mean much to you. But to my wife it is a constant source of amusement.

Outsiders refer to mudde (or ‘lumpy glob’, as the word roughly means when translated from Kannada), as finger millet balls. It is also known as ragimudde and, like with many other regional delicacies of India, it is perhaps best had at some family’s table, but one can also try any low-cost ‘mess’. At home people eat mudde with bassaru or sambar or some other similar vegetarian curry, while non-veg is in if you eat out — a chicken gravy, mutton korma or pork masala might be dunked down on the canteen table. The going rate for mudde (one piece) is typically ₹10, making it, perhaps, the best value meal in the world. If you opt for mutton and enough mudde to stuff your tummy, it will rarely cost above ₹175.

The mudde itself is an approximately tennis ball-sized chunk of boiled ragi, a plant botanically known as Eleusine coracana. A pinch of salt and a drop of oil can be added, while fancier canteens also mix grains of rice into the dough. Whatever the case, the texture of the cooked mudde is out of this world — it is spongy, sticky, and almost juicy — but practically devoid of flavour.

This means that mudde is the perfect vehicle for eating any curry, be it veg or non, and nothing will make your food taste better, not even MSG. Don’t chew, mudde experts will tell you, because it’ll just stick to your teeth. Instead, you snip off a tiny piece, soak it in the gravy until it is fully coated, and then slide it down your throat. It is a thoroughly sensual food experience one step removed from eating fresh oysters in an Italian harbour town.

Now perhaps you can appreciate my passion for the dish. After years of mudde love, I felt vindicated when I read in my local newspaper, Coffeeland News, a lengthy article on the wonder that is ragi, which set me off doing further research.

Apparently the sturdy grass consumes a fraction of soil nutrients and water that rice does, while carrying forward most of those nutrients to the consumer. It happily survives droughts, and after harvest it can be stored for almost a decade without going bad. It has for such obvious reasons been cultivated in India since time immemorial. Although the exact date and place of ragimudde’s origin is not known, the earliest archaeologically datable traces of cooked ragi are upwards of 3,165 years old. Harappan site Surkotada in Kutch has yielded grains of ragi — so an even earlier arrival date of around BC 2000 seems not unlikely, opines KT Achaya in The Story of Our Food.

Kings loved it in the hoary days of yore. For example, the illustrious Hyder Ali ate ragi when he had important matters to attend to, such as fighting the British colonisers. Despite his well-known fondness for European weaponry and the fact that he would have been exposed to French cuisine thanks to his French supporters (he once spent a month in Pondicherry, where a lavish ball was held in his honour in the French governor’s mansion), whenever Hyder got busy with hands-on war, he powered himself with ragi, ‘with which he appeared well contented’, says a book called The History of Hydyr Naik, Otherwise Styled Shums Ul Moolk, Ameer Ud Dowla, Nawaub Hydyr Ali Khan Bahadoor, Hydyr Jung; Nawaub of the Karnatic Balaghaut, written by Meer Hussein Ali Khan Kirmani in the early 1800s. But Hyder’s son was more into French cuisine, so much so that PhD theses were written on the Indo-French cuisine of the court of Tipu Sultan. And just like that, we too have lately been forgetting ragi in favour of finger chips (or French fries, as they are also called).

Why should we care about such out-of-fashion foods? Well, there are good reasons not to forget the wonder that is ragi. Because ragi hardly needs pesticides or preservatives, it is naturally organic — insects simply don’t take to it as they find it bothersome to eat. Poorly prepared mudde may result in diarrhoea; cooking it requires skill and insects, incidentally, lack that skill.

It is rich in everything that is good for us: it has more antioxidants, calcium, fibre, iron, potassium, protein and vitamins than almost any other cereal (or rice). More importantly, it is low-fat and gluten-free and has nothing in it that can harm us. From a medical point of view, says the Coffeeland News and various online sources I’ve consulted, ragi protects against anaemia, blood pressure, brittle bones, cholesterol, constipation, diabetes, fatty liver, salmonella, stroke, throat cancer, and, if that isn’t enough, it is a natural relaxant that relieves stress and anxiety, cures depression, headaches, insomnia and migraine, aids weight loss, plus it reverses ageing, which is why south Indian mudde gourmets appear youthful even at 80. I have googled and found all of this to be true.

Yet most urban people remain, like insects, blissfully unaware of this miracle food except for some food bloggers who call it the ‘latest superfood’ and academics who term it a ‘super cereal’ which could save the world. Speaking of which, I’ve watched elephants gobble down mudde with relish — which only goes to show that they have better sense than the rest of us. If more of us ate mudde, many of our health problems might be fixed and farmers’ lives would improve as they could shift to a crop that is more suitable to the land than newfangled, resource-intensive crops.

Mudde apart, other popular ragi eatables include ragi dosa, ragi idli, and ragi laddu. Clever entrepreneurs have also tried to introduce pasta, bread and cookies of ragi. But due to low customer demand, these items aren’t as readily available as they ought to be. Ragi can also be turned into both wholesome baby food and beer. Hence, you can’t do better than coming to the Mysuru region of Karnataka, as the State accounts for some 50-60 per cent of India’s ragi cultivation, and mudde itself was invented somewhere near Mysuru.

To conclude this story let me tell you about the best muddes that I’ve eaten:

Ruchi Mess, Mysuru, isn’t written about in guidebooks and barely has any Web presence except a once-in-a-year updated Facebook page — but it’s a bright canteen serving Mysuru-style home cooking, hidden in the mohallas off the old Shivarampet bazaar; kind of behind Shanghai and not far from the iconic India Milk Bar. As far as I understand, the owners are strictly against the use of food colouring and artificial additives. The mudde, which has a slightly grainy texture, goes well with the mutton korma and, trust me, it is going to change your entire view of what good food is about. Expect to pay about ₹100 for a superb meal. Other delicacies here include nati koli palav (a sort of rustic chicken biryani), head mutton and leg soup.

Kodagu Retails Liquor Shop, Madikeri — totally ungoogleable, so just go there according to the following directions: Watch out for an average boozer in Temple Road, you’ll pass it in the blink of an eye as you walk from the quaint art deco Town Hall to the big Omkareshwar temple, but downstairs, the owner has a slightly inebriating canteen, which is the only place that I know of where you enjoy mudde with a glass of red wine. It goes perfectly with the local staple pork masala. Mudde, pork and a small bottle of wine will cost you less than ₹200.

Any pushcart (100 per cent offline) that you spot on the roadside in Bengaluru with a decent crowd around it — unless they are rioting — would be a very authentic way to enjoy mudde: Al fresco, served picnic-style on plates hygienically covered in thin plastic sheets. Mudde with veg gravy costs ₹8-₹15. If roadside is too unrefined for you, try popular ‘messes’ such as Chandu’s in Malleswaram, Nagashree in Shantinagar, or Ranganna in Jayanagar; although a single piece of mudde is a little costly (₹20-30) at these, it’ll still be good value for your money.

Zac O’Yeah is a part-time travel writer and part-time detective novelist; zacnet@email.com

Published on February 17, 2017

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