Meet Mattu Gulla, A Unique Native Vegetable From Karnataka
Image Credit: Mattu Gulla, Jayashree Prasad @Twitter

For the unversed, this vegetable may appear as brinjal or even a distant cousin of tinda or Indian round gourd or perhaps a cross between two vegetables. But wait before you jump to conclusions; upgrade your culinary vocabulary by adding Mattu Gulla. This exotic vegetable is native to Karnataka and grown primarily in the village of Mattu, roughly 10 kilometres from the temple town of Udupi. It acquired the Geographical Indication or GI tag in 2011. Because of its proximity to the sea, the soil imparts a distinct flavour and taste to the crop. The vegetable, which produces an average of 2000 kg per day from mid-October to the end of May, is a perfect example of maintaining the genetic purity of the indigenous food.

Fascinating folklore

There are intriguing stories about its genesis, just as about its appearance. According to legend, Sri Vadiraja, a revered saint and philosopher from Karnataka, gave this crop's seeds. He handed these seeds to the farmers of Mattu in the 15th century, which explains why it is also known as Vadiraja Gulla.

Another story narrates Sri Vaadiraja Tirtha used to offer Sri Hayagreeva a prasad called Hayagreeva Maddi made of Bengal gram, jaggery, and grated coconut. One day, some spiteful devotees tossed poison into the Maddi. The Lord did not show up that day. When Vadiraja pleaded, he appeared but ate the entire poison-infused Maddi. It turned Hayagreeva blue, as did Krishna's murti in Udupi. Vaadiraja was devasted and uncosolable. Hayagreeva then offered a few seeds to him and promised that the plant would bloom in 48 days. The brinjals from those plants were cooked and presented to the Lord for 48 days, after which the poison disappeared. In Udupi, the tradition of offering the first crop to Krishna is still practised today.

Fresh mattu gullas, Image Source: pratibabhat@Instagram

There is also a chronicle referred to Chamundaraya's reign, a pious enigmatic woman cast a spell during the Mahamasthakabhisheka in Shravanbelagola (9th-10th century). According to legend, this woman was carrying milk in a whitish-hued brinjal that was transformed into a container by scooping out the meaty contents. Some argue that it was merely a silver pot. Some claim it was an eggplant that was subsequently dubbed a Gullakayi.

At the Udupi Krishna Mutt, Sambar made with Mattu Gulla is considered highly honoured. This is a rare example of a vegetable that has gained popularity through religious patronage.

Distinct feature

Its distinguishing characteristics include an unusual round shape, pale green hue, and faint stripes on the outer skin. Mattu Gulla has thin skin, rich pulpy flesh, few seeds and a thorny crown. 

Its texture, which is firmer than typical brinjals, contributes to its distinctive profile. Unlike other brinjal kinds, which tend to become excessively soggy after cooking, mattu gulla preserves its particular texture and flavour even when combined with other vegetables and spices.

Devouring Mattu Gulla

Mattu gulla is unquestionably the most widely consumed vegetable from October to February. It is especially popular among natives of the coastal regions of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. During this season, gulla is widely used in gravies, curries, sambhar, and even fritters. Older generations used to follow more rustic methods of cooking it. One is a spicy, smoky, green chilli-laden pulpy gravy or gojju. This recipe called for roasting the gulla over a wood-burning stove.

Because it is primarily served at home rather than commercial eateries, each household has its own cooking adaptations. For example, gojju has as many as three souring agents. Using curd, tamarind, or even sour mango, gojju can be prepared in three distinct ways. Gulla is consumed as an afternoon snack or as a meal in the form of podi. Gulla podi is shallow-fried vegetable slices dipped in spicy rice flour and topped with crunchy rava. Bajos are gulla fritters that are covered in seasoned gram flour and deep-fried to relish as tempting snacks.

Gulla podi, Image Source: subhajrao@Instagram

One of the most prevalent recipes is Gulla sambar. It is prepared by cooking vegetables with tamarind extract and green chillies. Following that, a finely ground combination of fresh coconut and red chillies is added. A tempering with mustard seeds and hing and sprinkling of a handful of fresh coriander gives the finishing touch. Other delicacies include gulla vangi bath, gulla bolu koddel (tur dal sambar).