Rice cultivation or simply paddy cultivation is closer to the heart of traditional Coorg farmers than you think. Every farming household is believed to grow rice, predominantly for local consumption. Most households in Coorg used to have paddy bins- Pathaya carved out of wood to hold the harvest required for annual consumption of the immediate household it was in. Though now such paddy bins have been phased out with retail outlets taking the lead, the historical importance of storing rice holds paramount importance in the psyche of farming households.
Historically, paddy is the major crop in the region. Though paddy fields are gradually disappearing in these fertile valleys owing to many reasons, rice is still the staple food in Kodagu and comes on the platter in various forms. A 9-10 month marathon, commencing with the tilling of the field, at the receipt of the first showers in April each year, up to the harvest in January the next year. Rice grows in abundance in the fertile Coorg valleys and intrinsically forms their staple diet. A fragrant variety of rice sannakk’ is deemed superior over the commonly available variety basmati up north. During the harvesting period, sannakki disseminates a pleasant whiff of melting Ghee.
Locals in Coorg use rice in a wide variety of dishes in different shapes & forms. These range from their favourite breakfast staple Akki Otti (rice chapathis made like phulkas from a dough of cooked rice & rice flour) to a plethora of Puttus (steam-cooked dishes). You can have Kadambuttu (ball shaped puttus), Thaliya puttu (flat puttus steamed in plates), Paaputtu (cooked with milk and shredded coconut), Nooputtu (thread puttu, pressed into noodle like threads with a mould), Od puttu (baked on a flat mud pan), Nuch puttu (made of broken rice), Madd puttu (made of a medicinal leaf called Madd Thopp : Justicia Wynaadensis Heyne of the Acanthaceae family), Koovale puttu made with ripe bananas or jackfruit and steamed in folded Koovale leaves or banana leaves), Thambuttu (roasted and powdered rice flour mixed with mashed ripe bananas) and Berambuttu (puttu made with jaggery).
And then there are a variety of rice Pulaos – from the simple, dainty Nei Kool (ghee rice garnished with raisins and nuts) to the more elaborate and spicy vegetable, chicken and mutton pulaos. The locals predominantly are non-vegetarian or so they like to be associated as. Fish and crabs are caught in the paddy fields, ponds and streams that are found everywhere in Coorg. No Coorg meal is complete without at least one non-vegetarian dish. Pork is an all-time favourite, cooked as Pandi curry and served with Kadambuttu for breakfast, or with rice at other meals.
The traditional staples like kanji (Conjee or ‘rice gruel’) and koolu (boiled rice) are served along with salt and pickles. Other rice dishes like paputt (steamed rice cake, cooked with coconut gratings), noolputt (rice noodles), kadampoott (rice dump, also called kadamboott), etc are served along with a curry. Votti (akki roti) with pajji, a mild spicy chutney is a popular breakfast item. Sannakki — fine, small rice grains with a sweet fragrance — is commonly used in these preparations. Traditionally much of the paddy cultivated in Coorg was organic. Even today, over 25% of the paddy cultivated in Coorg can easily be certified as organic as several marginal paddy farmers continue to use only cow dung and other natural fertilisers to enrich their fields.