Malenadu's Tangy Tambuli: Karnataka's Summer Staple
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Nestled amidst the slopes of the Western Ghats in Karnataka lies the region of Malenadu, characterised by dense forests, majestic mountains, winding rivulets, and cascading waterfalls. Despite its proximity to the coastal belt, Malenadu remains distinct, experiencing heavy annual rainfall. Encompassing the districts of Shivamogga, Chikmagalur, Uttara Kannada, Kodagu, and Hassan, this region boasts a rich culinary tradition known as Malnad cuisine.

While rice serves as the staple diet, Malnad cuisine offers an abundance of local vegetables, produce, and meat. With its roots deeply entrenched in tradition, Malnad cuisine features unique and lesser-known dishes that have captivated the palates of locals for generations. While you may be familiar with dishes like moru curry from Kerala or majjige huli, a yoghurt-based curry from Mysore, have you had the pleasure of tasting Malenadu's tambuli?

People are now moving to cities for education and jobs, and with increased tourism in the Malnad region itself, some Malnad delicacies like kadubu, rotti, chicken curry, nool putt, etc. have become popular. But when summer arrives, tambuli is a yoghurt or buttermilk broth that is prepared in almost every household from locally sourced or home-grown produce and ingredients like water spinach, mango ginger, ginger, brahmi leaves, and more.

This light and runny broth is paired with rice during meals or simply served as a drink as a coolant, especially during the hot and humid summers. Tambuli gets its name from blending two Kannada words: 'thampu' meaning cool and 'huli' meaning 'sour'broth'. The cool and sour broth or curry made from thimmare or Brahmi leaves is popular for all seasons. It is believed to have medicinal properties and is best consumed during the summer and sometimes between the changing seasons, when illnesses are in the air.

Food vloggers and bloggers Manohar Bhat and his twin brother Sudarshan Bhat have displayed many of the Malnad recipes on their Youtube channel, which features various tambuli recipes, including those of fenugreek, thimmare leaves, Indian gooseberries, cucumber, and more.

With women mostly being the master chefs of the malnad households, they plan their daily menu by stepping out into their backyards to fetch some home-grown produce like vegetables, herbs, fruits and more. And then they decide on meal plans like kadubu with colacasia leaves chutney, rice with Mangalore cucumber curry, etc. In addition to these, one variety of tambuli is almost mandatory on a daily basis in a Malnad household.

A typical house in Malnad usually has a back yard or a green patch, where the women folk make their kitchen garden as they grow veggies like different kinds of beans, basale soppu or water spinach, Mangalore cucumber, pumpkin, bird's eye chillies, mint leaves, coriander, curry leaves, jackfruit, mangoes, guavava, and more. They even breed chickens and usually have a cowshed with just enough cattle to sustain the household requirements. Thus, the availability of freshly churned buttermilk for tambuli also makes this broth a staple. Should there be a small pond close to the house, you might even catch some freshwater fish as well. Some vegetables and leafy greens, like anne soppu, fiddlehead fern, etc., that they grow are rare and almost unknown to city dwellers.

Apart from people taking to social media platforms to promote Malnad cuisine and the traditional recipes, a small eatery has been started in Bengaluru's JP Nagar called Tambuli Mane that serves 10 different varieties of tambuli every day. Karthik, who is the co-owner of this outlet, is from the Malnad region. He quit his IT job to start Tambuli Mane, where he sources the leafy greens and other ingredients from his home town and prepares different kinds of tambuli recipes, which are passed on from his grandmother.

He says that Tambuli Mane started to provide its patrons with unadulterated foods and something different at that. He claims that most people who visit Tambuli Mane have no idea what Tambuli is in the first place. While tambuli is kept cool in earthen pots at the eatery, it is served in glasses as a drink at this outlet. One can also get a tambuli rice bowl to try this light meal. Apart from the 10 varieties of tambuli that keep changing every day, a sprout salad and whole grain sandwiches are available to pair with the glass of tambuli. Some of the unusual and popular varieties of tambuli available here are:

Sandal Wood Leaves Tambuli:

Sandal tree's leaves are difficult to source, but the tambuli made from them is believed to be good for the eyes, nose and ears when consumed regularly. The leaves are sauteed and ground to be blended with buttermilk to make this tambuli. A tempering made from ghee, mustard seeds, cumin, red chilli, asoefetida, and curry leaves is also added to almost all the varieties of tambuli.

Mango Ginger Tambuli: 

This root ginger, which exudes the aroma and flavour of mango, is used to make this tambuli. The mango ginger is also called ambe shunti in Kannada, and it is usually used to make pickles. But the tambuli made by grinding this ginger and pairing it with buttermilk with a hint of salt and tempering is a refreshing, savoury drink to enjoy during the summer.

Brahmi Leaves Tambuli:

"Our grandparents used to let us eat brahmi leaves first thing in the morning, as it is believed to help with memory, reduce anxiety, and keep us happy. My ganny used to prepare a tambuli from ondu elaga, which was eaten with rice as the first thing at lunch during summers," says Amrutha Shastry, a CA professional whose roots are from Puttur in the Malnad region. The fresh brahmi leaves are sautéed and ground to be mixed with buttermilk or yoghurt if a thicker curry consistency is required to make this tambuli. The teampering made from ghee, mustard seeds, cumin, red chilli, asoefetida, and curry leaves is also added for extra flavour.

Banana Stem Tambuli:

Banana stem is known to be healthy and is believed to help cure people with kidney stones. While tambuli is one thing that is a bestseller at Tambuli Mane, they also serve a salad made from banana stems that is fast-moving as well.

Appe Tambuli:

The tiny raw mango tambuli is a summer season hit as it is almost similar to the raw mango panna or juice. The blanched raw mangoes are ground and strained with water, followed by tempering and salting to taste. This tambuli does not contain buttermilk and is instead replaced with water, which makes it like a runny rasam that can be paired with rice and papad or can be chilled and enjoyed as a drink. The sour appe tambuli is a refreshing drink that aids digestion and is believed to drive away bad breath too.

Tambuli is a simple recipe that can be made with almost any ingredient. While most recipes contain yoghurt or buttermilk, tambuli can be made with water as well, like appe tambuli, nimbe tambuli, kokum tambuli, and more. Right from ajwain and jeera to banana stem, ash gourd, moringa, spinach and sandal leaves, tambuli can be prepared in one way or another to beat the summer heat, include varieties of local produce in your meals and consume a balanced diet. That's not all. When tambuli is consumed regularly as part of a balanced diet, you might experience the healing properties and health benefits of the ingredients in tambuli and can continue to live a fitter lifestyle.