Kada biryani to kane rava fry: The Karavali coast is a food lover's paradise

Karnataka’s Karavali coast offers a variety of delicious options when it comes to food, everything from masala dosas to colourful ice cream-based desserts.
A non veg meals at Shetty lunch home in Kundapur in Mangaluru
A non veg meals at Shetty lunch home in Kundapur in Mangaluru
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After an arduous road journey from Bengaluru, we tarried awhile at Kalladka, a non-descript town on NH 75 in Bantwal Taluk. Like most travellers, we stopped by Lakshmi Nivas KT, a roadside hotel at Kalladka junction to fortify ourselves with the strong Kalladka Tea (KT) and ‘Rim Jhim’ (coffee version of KT). As we sipped the steaming tea and coffee, we nibbled on raw banana fritters, Mangalore buns, and other local snacks.  It was a visual treat to watch the tea master churning out tea and coffee and swirling the decoction and milk with alacrity. It was a refreshing start to our culinary tour of coastal Karnataka.

Lakshmi Nivas KT has been around for around 70 years. “The origin of the tea can be traced back to 1952, when my grandfather, Laxminarayan, on his return from Chennai started serving this unique tea to his local customers. This became an instant hit with them,” says Shivram Holla, the present owner. “While normal tea has a frothy milk cream layer on top, KT has one fourth layer of thick tea decoction sitting atop the milk. Even though the ingredients are the same as regular tea, it is the consistency of the undiluted milk, the quantity of sugar and the proportion of the decoction which makes the difference.” 

The Kalladka Tea and 'Rhim Jhim' coffee

That night, we trooped into Toddy House, a swanky toddy lounge and air conditioned restaurant at Talapady, Mangaluru. To lure a wider customer base, Kudla’s kali (toddy or palm wine) shops are being upgraded to restaurants, where one can have delectable food in the company of family. You can sip on their toddy, which comes in different flavours like mango-ginger toddy, Gandhari chilli (bird eye chilli) toddy, orange-coconut toddy and toddy vanilla shake.

We found it a gourmet’s delight, as the toddy is served with various spicy and delicious seafood, chicken and other dishes. You can grab a bite from the wide range of dishes on offer. For starters there is kada (quail) and  kori pepper fry, chicken kebab, rabbit roast and other items. For the main course, there is kada biryani and Toddy House duck biryani, chicken pulimunchi, among others. But the tapioca tossed in oil with chilli and shallots is the star attraction.

Tapioca tossed with chillies and shallots

The next day we headed to the temple town of Udupi. After a quick breakfast of masala dosa and Mangalore buns, we had filter coffee at Mitra Samaj restaurant. The first thing that comes to one’s mind at the mention of Udupi is the ubiquitous masala dosa, which has its origins here, and a whole school of south Indian cuisine that takes its name from this town. It is as renowned for its chefs, cuisine, and ‘Udupi Brahmin’ restaurants, as it is for its Krishna Temple and various mutts.

“It is very unfortunate that the Tourism Department has not made any concerted efforts to promote the undiscovered gems of the Karavali coast. To showcase the Kambala buffalo race sport, Karavali’s enthralling dance forms, colourful rituals and lip smacking cuisine, we have curated cultural and culinary trails,” says Ravi Menon, Managing Director, Arjun Tours and Travels. 

After a visit to St Mary’s Island, we headed to Hotel Thimmappa Fish Meal where the locals swear by the fish meals and also the fries. As we tucked into the food in the live kitchen, it was a fun experience watching the red Byadgi chillies being ground to a paste on one side and the fish simmering in the tawa on the other. The fish fry redolent with the aroma of freshly ground and roasted spice assailed our senses. Seafood lovers can savour a range of delicacies like the fish kebab, disco fish fry, mackerel fry, etc. We tried the signature kane rava fry (lady fish coated with semolina and fried). The luscious seafood curries are prepared with coconut ground paste, red Byadgi chillies and sour tamarind. Served with boiled rice, they make a satisfying meal.

Chicken ghee roast at Shetty Lunch Home

Shetty Lunch Home, was the next stop on our food trail. For non-vegetarians, there are plenty of options in this restaurant run by Harish Shetty and Uma Shetty (the granddaughter of Thejappa Shetty).  In 1956, Thejappa Shetty launched this iconic eatery in Kundapur, using his wife Prabhavati’s recipes. It is said that the eponymous Kundapur chicken ghee roast was created here.  Fiery, tangy and laced with ghee, as the name suggests, the chicken ghee roast is the pièce de résistance of this restaurant. Other specialities include chicken sukka, fiery mackerel curry and piquant chicken curry paired with neer dosas. Using a variety of flavours including the tanginess of tamarind, the sweetness of coconut and the fieriness of red chillies, the distinct coastal flavour of the dishes packs a punch.

The next morning, we rounded off our tour of culinary delights with some Gadbad, a layered ice cream dessert at Ideal Ice Cream Parlour. The dish borrows its name from the Kannada slang ‘gadbidi’, which roughly translates to ‘mayhem, chaos or confusion.’ In Kannada, ‘gadbidi’ is usually used to refer to a person in a hurry. Since this dessert was made in a ‘gadbidi’ (hurry) the name stuck. It is a colourful, layered dish consisting of multiple flavours of ice cream, dry fruits, fresh fruits and jelly. Served in a tall transparent glass, the dessert stands out for its mix and mash of colours.

Colourful and layered Gadbad ice cream

At the end of the journey, we realised food alone can be a good reason for a weekend break on the Karavali coast, especially for seafood lovers. Traveling down the Karavali coast, the Kalladka Tea, Gadbad, the crispy goli bajji, masala dosa, Mangalore buns, chicken ghee roast, kane fry are some of the culinary delights that spiced up our experience of the sand and sea.

Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer and photographer contributing articles, content and images to several publications, travel portals, guide books, brochures and coffee table books.

All pictures by Susheela Nair.

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