Krishna and Guntur – Utter these names and what it brings to mind for people is usually beautiful canals and green fields. But talk to foodies and they will undoubtedly recall the delicious dishes from those regions, such as Mamsam koora (mutton curry), Gongura chicken (chicken curry cooked in gongura leaves) and Fish pulusu (fish curry).
But the most classic dish they will remember relishing from the banks of the Krishna river is Ulavacharu.
Halfway between a rasam and a traditional soup, ulavacharu is a thick lentil soup made from horse gram. The agricultural families from the district are said to be the first to have prepared this delicious dish.
Generations change, culture changes, so does food preferences but the ulavacharu has remained a favourite of not just people from Krishna district, but Telugu people the world over.
The horse gram is known as ‘ulavalu’ in Telugu. Earlier, the families that owned agricultural land along with animals used to feed ulavalu to cattle, buffaloes and horses. At that time, horse gram was widely cultivated in Krishna and Guntur, and got its name due to the fact that it was used to feed race horses.
In earlier days, the horse gram was heated for hours and while the boiled gram was fed to the cattle, the remaining water (or rasam as it is called locally) would be cooked till it became thick and drumstick would be added to give extra delicacy to the dish.
Nowadays, ulavacharu is prepared to be served to guests at all important family functions and festivals. Ulavacharu is usually served with rice and a dollop of fresh cream, butter or ghee.
Considering the health benefits of the horse gram, the dish has now gained wide popularity. The protein-rich, low fat food contains a high amount of dietary fibres and is known to lower cholesterol and help reduce obesity.
While many restaurants in Vijayawada and Guntur never miss ulavacharu from their menus, small-sized food outlets and certain night street food stalls at Vijayawada too serve ulavacharu. In Hyderabad, the popular Ulavacharu Biryani House restaurant is known for serving delicious ulavacharu varieties. Specials such as Ulavacharu Chicken and Ulavacharu Biryani are also available in some restaurants.
Shiva Kumar, a chef at a well-known restaurant on Besant Road in Vijayawada, said, “Our restaurant is known for our ulavacharu varieties, we serve it along with veg meals here.”
The restaurant has been satisfying the taste buds of the city’s foodies for 20-25 years.
Shiva adds, “You know, ulavacharu tastes good even with non-veg items.”
Interestingly, the dish has crossed international borders and has many fans, including former US President Bill Clinton, who tasted the dish when he participated in TANA (Telugu Association of North America) meetings with Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu and appreciated it.
Taking the dish to a wider audience
Mandava Venkata Ratnam, who is also known as Ulavacharu Ratnam, is a native of Krishna district. Started in 1990, his production unit called Indiraa Foods, based in Vijayawada, supplies packed ulavacharu to neighbouring states and abroad too. In fact, the ulavacharu served at TANA meetings is supplied by Indira Foods.
Speaking to TNM, Chandrashekar Azad M, Venkata Ratnam’s brother and one of the partners at Indiraa Foods, said, “These days people are making ulavacharu in less time using pressure cooker, but to make pure ulavacharu it will take more than 14 hrs.”
Since people have stopped cultivating horse gram in Krishna and Guntur, Indiraa Foods imports it from the Rayalaseema area and from Karnataka.
He adds, “At Indiraa Foods, we make ulavacharu in the ‘Jacketed Boiler Vessels’ which was designed by my brother. These massive vessels help in preparing huge quantities of ulavacharu which is then supplied to different regions.”
Talking about ulavacharu’s popularity, Chandrashekar smiled and said, “Though it originated in Krishna – Guntur agricultural families, it spread to wherever Telugus went!”