Monday, April 8, 2013


Karnataka is a verily a microcosm of India - due to the richness and variety it encompasses in terms of food, languages (Kannada – an umbrella term for its various dialects, Tulu, Konkani, Kodava), culture and traditions. So, the state run Karnataka Tourism aptly holds the motto “One State, Many Worlds”.

Food habits of a region are influenced by its climate, crops, location and culture. Karnataka cuisine has a wide repertoire of authentic dishes which have a blend of various sub-cultures that influenced and moulded it into its present form. Karnataka food and its varieties can be broadly categorised into five types based on the regions that make up the landscape of Karnataka; namely Northern Karnataka, Old-Mysore (Bayalu seeme), Malnad, Mangalore/Coastal cuisine and Kodagu. Different regions have their signature recipes comprising of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies. Technically, there is no one dish that can singularly represent all of Karnataka. Even Bisibelebath (pronounced as ‘be-see-bay-Lay-bath’) ; the recipe of which is shared here, is one of the authentic dishes of Old-Mysore region.

Cultural history
Rice and Ragi (millet) are the staple foods of the Old-Mysore region. The history of rice is said to date back to the Vedic period.  
There is no mention of rice in the Rigveda, but it is referred to frequently in the post Rigvedic literatures. In Atharva Veda, it is called one of the two immortal sons of heaven – Rice and Barley. The Yajurveda mentions five varieties of it, of which the best was mahavriti
                                                             - Extract from the book Cultural History Of India, Om Prakash

Toor-dal (pigeon peas), another important ingredient of Bisibelebath, has a history of about 3000 years. It finds its origin in the eastern part of India. We should thank the traders or the populations which migrated to this place for the introduction of toor-dal into Karnataka cuisine; without which Saaru (known as Rasam in other parts) and HuLi (known as Sambhar in other parts) would not have existed in their current tasty avatars. Now if you are wondering what the difference between “Saaru” and Rasam or “huLi” and Sambhar is - the answer is jaggery. A pinch of jaggery is almost indispensable in the Old-Mysore cuisine.

The hunger-inducing, heady aroma of piping hot, spicy bisibelebath first hit the olfactory sensors three centuries ago, in the kitchens of Amba Vilasa Palace - the palace of Mysore Wodeyars.  The royal cook who wanted to be in the good books of the Maharaja, ventured out on a culinary exploration using a combination of lentil and rice,  spiced it up with slowly roasted and ground spices like cloves, pepper, cinnamon, turmeric along with dried coconut, tamarind etc.  Then, to add a dash of royal grandeur to the dish he added cashews tossed in hot ghee. This neonatal “bisibelebath” was prepared sans any vegetables because the then Maharajas chose their vegetable-based side dishes according to their preferences.
The good old cook forgot to obtain a copyright of his dish and the recipe leaked beyond the walls of the palace. It reached places where creative people came out with various versions of bisibelebath, and the vegetable-loaded version picked up popularity.

Bisibelebath, BBB or B-cube as we algebra-lovers call it, remains the favourite of many people here. It is a wholesome nutritious food. The usual routine that is followed at home is – cook huge amounts of Bisibelebath in the morning and gorge on it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and if possible, as the subsequent day’s breakfast too. And this kind of craze for Bisibelebath, is not unique to our home. The recipe I am sharing with you was passed down to me as a secret heirloom from my mother’s kitchen.  The recipe seems extensive, but is worth all the effort. Ah..that intoxicating aroma and the lip-smacking taste!
Here we go!

Serves: 4
Preparation time: 45 minutes


- Carrot – 1 cup, medium diced
- Potato -1cup, medium diced
- Tomato – 1 cup, medium diced
- Green peas/groundnuts – 1 cup
- Capsicum – 1 cup, medium diced
- French beans - 1 cup, medium diced

Ingredients for roasting:
- Coriander Seeds – 1 tbsp
- Byaadagi Chillies – 2-3 pieces (used for color)
- Guntur Chillies- 4-5 pieces (used for the pungent taste)
- Channa Dal / Yellow split peas - 1/2 tbsp
- Urad Dal / Black gram split lentil - 1/4 tbsp
- Dry desiccated coconut - 2 tbsp

- Aromatic Spices:

- Cloves - 2 (Lavanga)
- Kapok Buds - 1 (Marathi Moggu)
- Cinnamon - 1 inch stick
- Black Pepper – 4 (Menasu)
- Poppy Seeds – ½ tbsp

- Rice – 4 cups
- Toor dal – 4 cups
- Ghee  - According to your preference
- Tamarind -1 medium lemon size
- Jaggery – A small piece

- Ghee - 2 tbsps
- Cashews – 10 broken
- Hing/ Asafoetida - A pinch
- Mustard - ¼ tsp
- Red Chilli - 1 broken red chilli


  • Take a heavy bottomed pan and roast the listed ingredients in the said order, without spices, on a very low flame.
  • Empty the roasted ingredients to a plate.  Roast all the spices listed with 1 tbsp ghee. Once their aroma starts pervading the kitchen, add poppy seeds, desiccated coconut till the delicious aroma intoxicates you.
  • Wash tamarind thoroughly and soak it in water to get the tamarind pulp.
  •  Cook vegetables, rice and lentil in a pressure cooker preferably in different compartments.
  • Grind the ingredients that you earlier emptied onto a plate and the mixture of roasted spices, desiccated coconut and poppy seeds, along with tamarind pulp and a pinch of jaggery with sufficiently required amounts of water.
  • In a heavy bottomed pan, mix cooked lentil and rice. Add cooked vegetables and the ground mixture to it.  Add water so that it does not get very thick. Add salt to taste. Allow them to blend while you keep stirring.
  • For seasoning, add mustard, hing, broken cashews and red chillies sautéed in 4 tablespoons of hot ghee. Add this to the cooked mixture.

There! Delicious Bisibelebath is ready to be served!

Bisibelebath should be served piping hot with generous helpings of ghee. The Maharajas for whom the dish was invented were not calorie-conscious and still aren’t, I am guessing. You can see the picture of current Maharaja for confirmation ;)
Serve it with boondi/chips/fried-stuff to satisfy the Indian penchant for something crunchy to go along with a heavy delicacy.
Enjoy the Bisibelebath and lick your fingers away!

PS: This post was originally written for Centre Right India

1 comment:

  1. I am so grateful for your blog article.Really thank you! Cool.
    Tree House Resort


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