October 15, 2014
Soopa Shastra of Mangarasa III is one of the earliest works exclusively on the subject of south Indian cookery. A previous work on cookery in Kannada language by Jayabhandunandana is mentioned in The History of Kannada Literature, but the name of the work is not available.
Mangarasa III has arranged Soopa-shastra in six chapters, comprising 358 slokas or verses. He begins by saying that in Soopa Shastra he is humbly presenting whatever he has understood from ancient Sanskrit works. He also states that he has experimented with these recipes because of his love for cooking, and composed these stanzas with care so that ladies with refined taste would be able to prepare these dishes. He describes that the satisfaction from the sense of taste is superior to other senses like sight, smell, hearing and touch in the overall development of living beings.
Like most ancient texts Soopa Shastra does not specify exact quantities of ingredients used. Although he describes cooking procedures in great detail, obvious ingredients like salt are not always mentioned. It appears that the author wanted those who try to cook using his recipes should exercise their own judgment and individual tastes regarding quantizes and seasoning. He states that he is indebted to Bhīma and Nala of the Hindu epic Mahabharata (circa 400BC) and Gauri, a character in Halasya Mahatmaya in Skanda Purana (composed between 750 and 1000A.D.) and that he has collected the essence of their opinions about cooking in this work.
The first chapter deals with thirty five snacks most of which have become obsolete, although some of them have survived; Jangiri is one that has survived, but Mangarasa calls it by a beautiful name of Amritavallari, writes Jyotsna Kamat, a research scholar. Despite Karnataka being in the south of India, an exceptionally large number of dishes were prepared wheat at the time of Mangarasa III. Even today, most people of Karnataka consume approximately equal quantities of rice, wheat and ragi (millet).
He goes on to describe seven types of cooking methods and six types of food. Cooking methods include roasting, baking, boiling, brewing or distilling, steam cooking, seasoning or tempering and prolonged heating to refine a dish. Even when the basic ingredients are the same, different methods of preparation considerably changed the taste and texture of the end products. In some recipes either ingredients or cooked food is wrapped in leaves of plantain, betel, or turmeric and tied with strings made from the bark of plants. The implication is that the food absorbs the flavors of these leaves and its taste is enhanced. Some the techniques described are highly labor intensive and perhaps the reason why they have become obsolete over the years.
There are detailed descriptions of processing wheat for cooking. Pieces of stone and mud should be removed from wheat grains and then it should be washed with water, dried and pounded to remove husk. It should be pounded further to make flour of various grades - coarse, fine, very fine and so on. The very fine flour is used for making different types of bread. Wheat based dishes are prepared using various cooking techniques - roasted, baked, steamed or fried. Roasting itself took several forms: baked between two plates, with hot coal above and below, baked over hot griddle, baked on a griddle under cover of a cup, a cup cover above and live coal below.
Here is a sampling of five recipes from this chapter.
Fine wheat flour is mixed with ghee and water and left covered for two hours. Knead it well into a soft dough and make several balls out of the dough. Flatten the balls and cook both sides on a hot flat griddle. Stack them together and pierce them with a bamboo spear. Then flavor the bread with ghee, sugar, edible camphor and palmyra flowers to yield chucchu roti.
Sift fine wheat flour with water and drain and mix with boiled and thickened milk and ghee and knead well. Flavor the dough with musk and edible camphor. Shape it into small balls and then flatten the balls. Mix wheat flour with water to make a dough and shape two cups out of this dough. Fold the flattened bread into one cup and close with the other cup. Heat both sides of the cups first on burning coals, and then on burning cow dung cakes. Break open the dough cups and take out the bread. Spread ghee, cream and sugar over the cooked bread and serve hot.
This roti is baked by a method called kanika - baking within a seal of wheat dough. Very fine wheat flour is sifted with water and kept for some time to dry. Add ghee and fine sugar and knead the dough well. Roll thin breads with this dough and cook them on the back of a hot clay pot kept over burning wood coals. These breads will be crisp. Crush the bread fine and mix with tender coconut water, fresh milk, cream, buffalo milk boiled down to one-fourth quantity, sugar and mango juice. Shape it into a ball.
Mix wheat flour with water and make dough and shape it into two cups. Put the prepared balls into one cup and close with the other. Then flatten the whole thing into a flat bread. Heat it over burning coals until it turns black. Break open the wheat layer and take out the bread. Spread ghee and sugar on top and serve hot.
Take fine flour of chana dal (besan) add milk and mix it into a batter. Heat ghee in a pan and fill a coconut shell with a hole at the bottom with the batter and release it through the hole into the hot ghee. Deep-fry and take out of the ghee. Mix the fried pieces with sugar syrup flavored with cardamom and edible camphor.
According to K.T.Achaya the very first time idli is mentioned in 920 AD in the Kannada work Vaddaradhane of Sivakotiacharya. Both Manasollasa and Lokopakara talk about steaming a fermented thick batter of urad dal mixed with clear liquid that remains on top of yogurt and spiced with asafetida, cumin, coriander and black pepper. Both Manasollasa and Lokopakara do not mention how it was cooked - whether fried or steam cooked.
Mangarasa's recipe for iddalige includes rice. Compared to the prevalent method of steam cooking a fermented batter of rice and urad to make idli, Mangarasa's recipe for iddalige includes several additional elaborate steps. Both urad dal and parboiled rice are soaked and ground into batters separately. They are mixed together and salt, tamarind liquid, asafoetida, cumin seeds and crushed ginger are stirred into the thick batter. This recipe for idli batter is similar (except forthe tamarind water) to the recipe for kanchipuram Idli offered at the Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram.
This spiced and fermented batter is first steam cooked. Then the steamed idlis are broken into pieces and mixed with ghee, pepper, onion, cardamom leaves and edible camphor. Mix wheat flour with water and make dough and shape it into cups. Put a few spiced pieces into one cup and close with the other cup. Then, flatten it in the shape of a vada. Repeat the process with the remaining spiced idli pieces and wheat cups. Deep fry in ghee and serve.
Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Oxford University Press 1994
Bhatt, N.P. & Modwel, Nerupama Y. (Editors) Konatambigi, Madhukar (Translator) Culinary Traditions of Medieval Karnataka. B.R. Publishing Corporation, Delhi 2012
Doniger, Wendy Purāṇa perennis : reciprocity and transformation in Hindu and Jaina texts. State Univ. of New York Press, 1993.
Kamat, Jyotsna K. Social Life in medieval Karnataka, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi 1980
R. Narasimhacharya M.A., M.R.A.S History of Kannada Literature University of Mysore Publication 1940
Photo of Bread by Nora Kuby https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/