Rooting For Tubers Festival In Bengaluru For Urban Awareness
Image Credit: Spudnik Farms

Last year, a residency programme called 'Back to Roots', bridged a connection between chefs and local farmers in the communities of joida in Karnataka that grew indegenous tubers in an immersive experience of learning that culminated in a grand luncheon called ele oota, which was organised to create awareness about these sustainable crops and the resilient communities that have been cultivating them for many generations among the urban dwellers in Bengaluru.

What started off as a residency programme organised by the Spudnik Farms, which is a 100% organic and community-supported farm in Bengaluru, has grown into a celebration of over 30 varieties of tubers from across the country this year in a day-long festival at the Bangalore International Centre in Bengaluru.

"The residency programme itself was started as an educational experience to connect consumers, producers, chefs, distributors, and researchers by fostering an enriching exchange of knowledge and ideas centred on the biodiversity and culinary potential of these tubers. With the Rooting for Tubers festival, we aim to increase awareness about root and tuber crops in urban areas, which often lack knowledge about these nutritious and sustainable food options," says Sumeet Kaur, founder of Spudnik Farms.

The local farmers and the members of resilient communities and local farmers from Meghalaya, Kerala, Tripura, Orissa, and Karnataka not only participated in the festival but also brought along these precious tubers from their native regions and explained their sustainable farming traditions in their respective regions.

There was a display of tuber crops, and many stalls were set up where people and participants were able to interact with the communities about these tubers for some tips and tricks on how to use the produce and even purchase some of these tubers, like the bread potatoes, sweet potatoes of Orissa, and more, to be able to try them at home later. An array of foods like mudali wafers, chembu chips, condiments, and tuber products like ratalu papads, pickles, powders, and more were available for purchase as well.

Yes, there was the 'Ele Oota' for lunch and this time indigenous tubers of Meghalaya and Orissa were included in the menu along with the other tubers grown in Kerala and Joida of Karnataka. The menu for ele oota was meticulously curated and crafted by Chefs Karan Upmanyu and Nayantara Menon Bagla, participants in the previous year's residency programme.

This year's ele oota featured an extensive menu that included Mudali sanadige (Mudali tuber's fritters), Ratalu (sweet potato) papad, Chembu (colocasia) chips, and Joni Bella Dave Kona (Kona tuber cooked with liquid jaggery), Meghalayan Soh Phlang with perilla seeds chutney, Purple Yam Cutlets, Kappa (mashed tapioca from Kerala), Elephantfoot yam curry, Chicken curry with a medley of tubers, Paalua (Arrowroot laddoos), and many other regional delights like bakri and appe midi pickle to pair with these tuber delicacies. 

In this festival, many experts from the research, culinary industry, and farming communities participated in panel discussions to talk about traditional methods of cultivating tubers, innovation and challenges, its sustainability to build a resilient future, and its importance in securing food and nutrition security in the future. 

"Tubers are biologically efficient crops. They are sustainable and produce more yields in adverse conditions like drought, etc. Despite the lack of sufficient water and nutrients, tubers are able to thrive in drastic  climatic conditions and produce more yield with fewer inputs. Tubers are called future-smart crops, and because of their biological efficiency, in the future, these crops will gain high importance compared to other stable crops like rice, wheat, and even potatoes. Tubers provide food and nutritional security. About 220 crores of people mostly belonging to tribal communities in our country depend on these crops for food and nutritional security," says Dr. G. Byju, President ICRS and Director, ICAR-CTCRI.

Among the participants, a celebrity chef from Manipur carried along with him different kinds of tubers for display all the way from Manipur and spoke about the indigenous variety that grows in the state. Asem Nikesh, chef and restaurateur who owns Cjakhum Restaurant in Manipur, says, " With me today, I have brought along some tubers all the way from Manipur. I have a few varieties of taro, some cassava, yam, and more. But I would like to highlight one specific variety called the 'koukha', which is also known as Broadleaf Arrowhead. This particular variety is indigenous to the Manipur region and is a big part of our culture and cuisine. We eat koukha in many kinds of preparations. They can be boiled and eaten or whipped into a smooth mash. We also make fritters, which are called koukha bora, and we also use the tuber to cook with dried shrimps."

While the chef also spoke about tubers as sustainable crops that will influence future food security prominently, he also described that in Manipur, rice has traditionally been a staple and that it is primarily cultivated in the valleys of the hilly region. However, recent years have witnessed a shift due to decreased rice production, attributed to climate change and other factors. Thus, people have been finding alternatives that are substantial and rediscovering tubers as they grow in adverse conditions. 

Chef Asem adds, "Recently, we heard a rumour that plastic rice is being sold, and when I did a bit of research on the same, I found out that it is a form of functional food that is shaped in the form of rice grains but made of non-rice materials like cassava and taro. Apparently, it is called Rice Analogue. So, I am beginning to believe that when rice cannot be supplied to fulfil the demand, tubers will take place as a sustainable option to strengthen food and nutrition security."

Spudnik Farms works closely with the Kunbi and the local agricultural communities that grow tubers like Mudli, Kona, Ratalu, Chembu, and more in Joida, Karnataka. Sumeet says, "Through this festival, our aim is to highlight the importance and opportunities in promoting the cultivation of root and tuber crops and integrating them into mainstream agriculture and diets. By collaborating with the Rainmatter Foundation and diverse stakeholders like researchers, chefs, producers, and more, we aim to engage in discussions about innovations, challenges, and effective strategies for mainstreaming these crops. Our commitment is to ensure that the indigenous communities involved in their cultivation benefit from these interventions, fostering inclusive growth and sustainability."

The Rooting for Tubers festival extended beyond discussions, stalls, and ele oota. It included captivating short film screenings showcasing the scenic tuber-growing regions of India, such as the Western Ghats and Meghalaya. A day-long festival to celebrate the tubers at BIC seemed educational for many students who took part in the festival as attendees or volunteers who made it a grand festive affair.