Celebrating Coorg's Cuisine With A Return To The Basics
Image Credit: Facebook/@evolvebackcoorg

DRIVING through a coffee plantation in a canter bus, our rangers pulled up and asked us to join them for a walk. But not just yet: “We'll first check if there are any wild animals around,” one of them said. We heard them pulling something heavy out of the trunk. A weapon? We couldn’t check: “First rule of the jungle: No turning around,” warned another ranger.

A few minutes later, we were allowed to join them. We followed them through the bushes towards what looked like a watchtower, constructed of wooden planks and logs. And as we came upon the landing, the rangers were smiling at us, with a table full of delectable snacks and refreshing drinks just behind them — a scenic high tea in the heart of the plantation.

That's Evolve Back Coorg for you: A fresh surprise in store behind every bush, every smile, every adventure. Located in the Chikkana Halli Estate in Karnataka, Evolve Back Coorg invites you to do exactly what its name suggests — go back to where we came from, in the best way possible. Of course, by all means, enjoy sour-cream crostinis and mini banana pies with kothimbir vadi (deep-fried coriander fritters) and nariyal laddu (coconut sweets). Wash them down with a glass of lemonade, and also a delicious coffee wine. Of course, use plates and champagne glasses, but only while seated amid a dense, green coffee plantation.

The coffee in our wine was sourced from the very plants that we saw all around us on our way to this repast. So was the pepper in the vadi and several other ingredients. The concept of farm-to-plate or grow-what-you-eat isn't new, but it has never looked so cool and exotic. But that's pretty much the idea behind how Evolve Back has been designed and conceptualised. The Kodava culture is not only retained but also celebrated and showcased to those who visit. From bird-watching in a coracle boat through the Cauvery River to coffee-tasting sessions, all our five senses were engaged on this journey. 

Evolve Back Coorg boasts three restaurants – Granary, Plantain Leaf, and Peppercorn, a lakeside spot. My favourite was the Plantain Leaf, where we had a South Indian breakfast buffet. With growing vegetables smiling at you from the sunlit aangan (courtyard), you could pick anything from ragi idlis, upma, vadas, a range of chutneys (coconut, coriander, tomato, peanut) and a variety of gunpowder (chili, curry leaf), along with a piping hot tumbler of filter coffee. But my primary takeaway was the umpteen kinds of dosas. By that, I don't mean the “fusion” dosas served across Bengaluru or Mumbai — your jini, schezwan paneer or chili cheese dosas. They serve tamarind dosa, herbal dosa (tulsi and pudina), and spring onion dosa. The best part? The ingredients aren't splattered onto the dosa like the above hybrid types — they’re blended into the batter and fermented overnight. The taste, thus, is seamlessly integrated and doesn't stick out like an afterthought.

At Evolve Back, all roads lead to Granary, their main restaurant overlooking the swimming pool, coconut trees, and paddy fields. The offerings there are more complex, yet very localised. For non-vegetarians, there's the Karwari style friend pomfret, marinated in homegrown spices, coated with Semolina, and served with mango sauce. Another fish option is the Kollum Meen Curry with Kappa, cubes of seer fish cooked in spicy and tangy coconut curry. Then you have the slow-cooked pork ribs served with grilled pineapple and vegetables.

Vegetarians won't have anything to complain about either. Their White Magic Pepper Fry — mushroom tossed in peppery spices — is the perfect marriage of grease and masala. If you want to experiment further, there is the Coorg-style bamboo shoot fry – a curiously appetising serving. End the meal with desserts to dry for: mildly sweet and endlessly refreshing Elaneer payasam, a pudding made of tender coconut water, coconut milk, jaggery and cardamom. Or the inventive coffee rasgulla (soaked in filter coffee and dusted with almond and jaggery).

On request, Evolve Back also offers customised dining experiences, like a candlelit meal atop a wooden watchtower or a cocktail bar with a surreal lakeside view. It encourages you to take yourself — and your food — closer to nature, closer to source. It nudges you to take parts of you and your lifestyle that never seemed in need of evolution in the first place, and bring them back home.

At Karadigodu Post, Siddapur, Coorg 571 253. Call +91 (0) 82 7425 8481 or write to coorg@evolveback.com