Breaking bread, Badaga & Irula style!

The Badaga and Irula tribes of the Nilgiris in South India are among the country’s oldest indigenous communities. Having historically owned land as the largest tribal group in the region, the Badagas are seasoned agriculturists. Irulas, on the other hand, have followed a pastoral lifestyle, and are famous as snake catchers and rat busters, thanks to mainstream media.
 
Badaga cuisine
Badagas cook in traditional mud vessels set on mud fireplaces. Some of the authentic Badaga dishes include avarai gaasu udhakka (beans with potato curry), ottu kudi udhakka (bamboo shoot curry), kappu koi udhakka (chicken curry), and aadu baadu udhakka (mutton curry). Badagas use special dark brown-coloured masalas called badaguru maasu hudi and hatti mass hudi for meat and vegetarian recipes respectively, adding to their unique flavours. These are usually served with rice, pothittu (wheat pancakes), and many preparations of millet balls. On the sweet side, thuppadhittu (fluffy pancake filled with spices and mashed bananas) is popular. A typical Badaga hittu (meal) features an assorted platter of such dishes.

Irula cuisine
Traditionally hunter-gatherers, many Irulas venture into the forests and scrublands nearby to forage for edible varieties of wild and seasonal fruits, tubers, greens, herbs, and a selection of small animals. You will be delighted to try the nadhelli pazham, locally known as the lipstick fruit, which turns your teeth and lips bright red temporarily, or the maatu kalimulaam, which leaves a pleasant aftertaste upon drinking water. If you can get your hands on it, the best local delicacy to eat before your rides and hikes seems to be the kozhi kalimulaam, because it’s quite filling and will leave you satiated. In addition to chickens, goats, and pigs domesticated for food, their non-vegetarian protein intake includes meats from rats, rabbits, monitor lizards, cats, birds, snails, and squirrels, among others.

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Several tea estates in the Nilgiris district employ and/or work with businesses of these native tribes across the region. While dozens of wild foods from their tribes are showcased at regional food and cultural festivals to promote slow food, some of their dishes are available on special requests. For instance, you can enjoy a delicious home-cooked Irula meal as part of our Misty Mountain Hop tour!

Soul of the Nilgiris by Ramya Reddy, Facing Changes by Smitha Tumuluru, and Keystone Foundation are great resources to start at, for those interested in a deep-dive into the tribal groups of the Nilgiris.


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