by Dr. Madhav Prabhu
When in Rome live like a Roman, when you live in Belagavi feel like a true Belagaviite. You cannot just come into Belagavi and live like you are on an island; the city and its surroundings just pull you to its elements, you will never want to leave. Belagavi has silently accommodated everyone, it has taken every individual into its arms and embraced every culture with an open mind.
Like every other place in India, Belagavi district has its own mix of culture and cuisine. It’s a heaven for the foodies, especially with a variety of foods, being served in a spread across the lengths and breadths of the district. But Belagavi is not about the new multi-cuisine restaurants or the tandoori places, nor is it about the five stars offering festivals to please your palates. Belagavi has much more to offer.
One should remember that a true Belagavi, is a person who does not bend, no compromise, it could be the British or our own government, a true native Belagavi does not compromise either in life or food.
The essential ingredients in our food are love, we may be hard nuts from the outside but within we are sweet and considerate. Belagavi had always appreciated art in every form. Belagavi was considered as the final exam of talent before facing the outside world. Mallikarjun Mansur, Bhimsen, Kumar Gandharva, P L Deshpande all took this test and Belagavi was the one that gave then the final thrust.
When it comes to the art of cooking, we love to experiment and several dishes with their origins outside will taste yummier in Belagavi. The district has its own recognized foods though and a true Belagavi knows them and misses them all the time.
We have different dishes for different occasions, when with friends we need something crunchy, while others rely on chips and kurkure we have our own Alepak aka Alipak.
Alipak or rightly pronounced Alepak goes by this name because it contains ginger (ale). It’s an all-purpose snack, you can have it at home watching movies or you can have it in an open ground for a picnic. You can have it with sugarcane juice or you can have it with Jack Daniels. You can have Alepak at any time of the day.
A true Belagavite will always offer you an Alepak if he/she wants you to know the city. There are basically two to three types of Alepak all with a hint of black salt, so you can choose which best suits you. The first one is the groundnut Alepak, it’s a little spicy with the hint of extra chili. Best suited with a cool juice, or a vodka, a must have on first dates. If the other person chooses groundnut Alipak, he has a good choice.
The second variety is the poha Alepak, the essential element here is parched rice or poha, this Alepak is less spicy and you should always ask for an extra laddo which is the spice maker of Alipak. This Alepak is for the middle-aged, you need to eat it at peace, you can take off your entire day’s frustration with a cool glass of sugarcane and poha Alepak. The third variant is one which comes with churmure or puffed rice, it’s more a variant of bhadang than Alepak and is for the elderly as its easy to chew. There were several Alepak shops when we were kids now I guess there is only Sheetal on Congress road makes the better one.
Don’t confuse the Alipak with Alyachya vadya,Alyachya Vadi is something every true Belagaviite will remember from his childhood, it was our desi strepsils, you have a sore throat, you have a cough, you have cold Alyachya Vadya was grandmoms Ramban Upay (a remedy that never fails). The Vadi is sweet, with a pungent taste and immediately give a strong flavor but over time its soothing and you have to learn to eat them. You do get them around in pan shops nowadays but we miss the original flavors that we grew up tasting.
But Belagavi is basically for the sweet tooth and here is where experimentation comes in. The two desserts which are famous here is Kunda and Mande.
Kunda is nothing but khawa or khoya with dehydrated milk, sweetened and cooked over a low flame for a long time. Kunda was discovered in Belagavi and has undergone several changes over time, additions of dry fruits, preservatives and sometimes with sugar substitutes. The kunda has several locations Hanamshets, Purohits, Kalyani’s, Rajpurohits and so on, have mastered kunda making and today, you get an array of kunda’s which can be carried and preserved for longer durations. Kunda is essentially served piping hot as a dessert, but you can have it at any time and it always gives you happiness. If there is nothing we can think of to gift someone we can always pick up a package of kunda, its actually our prized dish. We do get tinned and packaged kunda nowadays and is available online too.
Mande or Mandige
Mande or Mandige is actually not unique to Belagavi, those familiar with Sant Dyaneshwar must have heard of the saint-making them on his own back with great generated by yogic powers. The dish is so sweet that when we have some sweet dreams we call them ” manatle mandhe” Mandhe is essentially a wheat-based dish made into a very thin sheet and having multiple layers with sugar in between.
Commonly served as desserts in marriages and thread ceremonies its best enjoyed with ghee and milk. There are traditional cooks who make it at home but the commercial version was popularized by the Saralayya family. You can always carry Mandhe to your relatives and win them over with the crunchy sweet taste. I have had a foreign friend who always wondered how making this is possible and you must visit the workshop at Konwal galli to see the skills first hand. Mandhe is quite filling and one can eat only this dish for lunch too.
If you move a little further you come to the town of Gokak where Dundappa Kalburgi discovered the Kardant. Kardant is basically edible gum as a base on which jaggery and dry fruits are added. It has this sweet, gluey to crunchy taste and is best eaten with lunch. If you happen to go on a picnic to Gokak, buying a kardant is a must. Kardant had also undergone a lot of refinement over the years and can be an excellent gift for a sweet tooth. Today we have pure ghee kardant, dry fruit kardant, special kardant and so on, but the best one is the one eaten fresh. Kardant is healthy and rich in nutrients, a great substitute to the chip and wafer generation of kids.
But if you really want to show you are happy and celebrating you need to buy pedas, pedas are part of every celebration, you have a newborn son you distribute pedas(daughters are sweeter and demand jelebis ), you clear exams, you get married, you buy a new bike, you perform a pooja, you open a new office, pedas are a must.
The native Belagavi knows a few rustic shops like the Sadanand sweets in Kadolkar Galli, the sweet shop next to the Maruti Temple in Maruti Galli also has the same taste. Today pedas are available at so many shops and are off so many varieties, the Sadanand shop has two varieties and unless you buy early the stocks don’t last. Pedas can be sweet, they can be milky, they can be less sweet called phike pedhe. You also have flavors like mango, pista in them, but the flavoring is not for us natives. There is another place famous of pedhas in the district and its called Ainapur. Ainapur pedhas have a lot of milk and have their exquisite taste. I have seen pregnant females craving only for these pedhas. The best Ainapur pedhas are the Mama pedhas and here too the stock does not last long.
Ainapur pedas are huge in size and milky sweet to taste, a single peda is enough to fill. If you are on your way from Miraj or Athani you should stop over at this town for the famous pedals.
There are also other dishes like the Ladge laddoos from Gokak, but kardant is by far the more appreciated of the two.
Overall Belagavi welcomes every cuisine, experiments and adds finesse to cooking. If you are a foodie and if you want a cool laid back life, Belagavi is at your service.