About a decade and a half ago , a nervous young bride hosted three grand old (in number only !!! ) gentlemen who knew just what to say and the manner in which to say it. The loud laughter , the hilarious conversation and the amazing bond they shared with my much younger (in number only !) husband was quite a revelation. The banter left nothing to the imagination and people of all ages were welcome to be a part of it. Being non-judgemental was a quality that they excelled in the most ! I miss having them now as a part of my husband’s sundays , they enriched it in more ways than one.
Back then I could just about manage to put together a simple meal , while mostly relying on mom’s culinary prowess. Even then these lovely human beings showered me with such lavish compliments ,that I almost wondered if a genie had changed the contents of the dishes on the table. They all brought with them huge appetites and of course the gola urandai without which the sunday revelry was just not complete ! Jagar uncle (thatha), Ramamurthy anna and Dr. CRS uncle , this one is especially for you. Sundays in heaven must truly be ‘happening’ now that the three of you are in residence. 😀
Now…do read on;
The traditional meat dishes of Tamil Nadu are an explosion on the taste buds. The mutton ball is a popular Sunday lunch dish or a party snack. Different communities in and around Coimbatore have their own version of the recipe. It is one treat that is devoured as fast as it is cooked.
There are mutton balls and there are mega mutton balls, as I discovered one Sunday soon after I got married. That’s when I first saw and tasted the famous neikarrapatti gola urandai. Even today the mere mention of it is a cause of extreme delight for my spouse !On first sight, it looks like a ball of mince tied together in an organised pattern with natural fibre. Unravelling it without allowing it to fall apart takes practice, as I soon discovered. It is tied at the top with a strong knot. Once yanked gently at the tip, the wrapping collapses in a heap on your plate and the exposed succulent round of spiced meat can then be attacked with gusto.
This delicious dish became popular in the hamlet of Neikarrapatti, close to the Palani hills. Mr. then Thulasidharan’s family has kept the tedious process of making this dish alive. Being a passionate foodie, he is the self-designated quality controller and has taken it upon himself to hone the taste of the dish.
The origin of the gola urandai is fascinating. The story goes that it was originally a Maratha dish and was brought to Thanjavur due to the liaisons between the royal families of Maharashtra and Thanjavur. This delicacy was apparently made especially when the royal sons-in-law of the family came on visits.
The Maharaja of Thanjavur would visit Neikarrapatti for hunting and other sport and cooks were part of the royal retinue. Thulasidharan’s grandfather, Shri.Kullama Naicker, was then zamindar of the samasthanam of Neikkarapatti. He requested that the cook be left behind to teach his family the recipes. To this day, the family makes the delicious gola urandai in precisely the same manner.
Thulasidharan’s wife, Anandhi, is a vegetarian but, as she talks about the special tools used to pound the meat, I realise why the meat is different. It isn’t minced at all. It is, in fact, chunks of meat devoid of any bone, gristle or cartilage.
Only the best cuts are chosen and the meat is boiled well and fried until it is tender and gets a crisp coating. This is then painstakingly pounded by hand until the fibres are tenderised to such an extent that they resemble fine strands of cotton fluff. The pounding is done with a traditional ulakkai (a large stone mortar with a wooden pestle) so that the meat still holds its texture and doesn’t become pasty.
The other ingredients like onion, green chillies, garlic and coconut are fried. A flat inverted knife blade with a wooden handle, which has its own wooden box, is used to coarsely grind the cooked onion mixture. Ghee is another ingredient that is used generously. The urandai is unapologetically deep-fried to near char perfection.
Since Anandhi has not familiarised herself with the actual ingredients or the cooking process, the task has been handed over to the capable hands of their daughter-in-law Sowmya. She is the one who knows the exact ingredients that go into the dry spice blend that flavours the meat.
By spending hours in the kitchen, Sowmya has even learnt how to secure the meat with the long strands of banana fibre. The fibre is picked from the farms and never bought. She says it takes her a just couple of seconds. According to her, the whole process of cooking one kg of meat takes 4-5 hours with three cooks at the helm. Earlier, one kg made 22 meat balls but they have now stretched it to make 35. I was delighted to learn that not only has she methodically documented the various procedures but also started a blog in honour of the Neikarapatti cuisine. She has plans to go public with it soon. You can access it here at Neikarrapatti blog and recipes
It’s a blog that will soon feature many authentic recipes that may be forgotten during the course of time.I commend Sowmya on the fantastic use of her time spent as a new bride at Neikarrapatti. That’s the best way to go about preserving the past ! Mr. Thulasidharan or Dorai anna as he is fondly referred to says that the cuisine boasted of many such outstanding dishes. While he has not been able to suitably replicate the taste of them all , he is happy to have succeeded in doing so with the gola urandai. He says since all of the ingredients are pre-cooked save for the lemon juice and ginger juice that is added much later, it is ideal for freezing. That’s what we do ,take out a few once in awhile when the cravings gets really intense, we try to save it for as long as possible !!!! It was a pleasure to go down memory lane with him as he spoke about the food that he has had the pleasure of indulging in for almost 50 years !
My brother in law P. Gopalakrishna is also one who is keenly interested in customs and traditions of past living. He adds further interesting elements to this article by stating a few facts known to him.The dish was apparently called Chunti gola or Tanjore Chundia by the Maratha royal family. The badges , sashes and insignia of the Kullama Naicker family is a reminder of their princely heritage ! I gratefully acknowledge his contribution.
From an unforgettable sunday lunch experience to being rightfully acknowledged for it’s uniqueness , the Neikarrapatti gola urandai has come full circle in my family’s memories !