A walk on any of the streets in Madurai will make it evident that this land thrives on its rich and diverse cultural history. The kitchens’ air fills the streets with aromas of delicious local platters prepared with the same culinary style and technique that has been practiced for many generations together. Local to the land of Chettinad, the flavors too speak their tongue. One such tongue is spoken very fluently by Madurai’s Kola Urundai.
The origins of the minced mutton meatballs point towards the neighboring city of Thanjavur. The culinary credentials of Chola dynasty of Thanjavur are inextricably linked to the Marathas who ruled over a considerable part of this region for around 150 years between the 17th and the 19th century. Saraswathi Mahal library – one of Asia’s oldest libraries, holds documented accounts of recipes among many other rare historical manuscripts. This would probably be the first attempt in any part of India to preserve recipes for posterity. There are many local legends in and around the city that surround the origins of Kola Urundai. Some suggest that the dish is essentially a kebab or shunti (Marathi) that morphed into a local dish. With a slight change in either the ingredient or the method, each variety of the dish brings unique and distinct flavours to its taste. One of the local specialities – Kayir Katti Kola Urundai – is set apart in its taste as much as in the presentation from a dish that the Nattukotai Chettiars have made their own. Kayir Katti means to be tied with a string. Kayir Katti Kola Urundai is held together from falling apart by a banana string. Some true-blue Chettinad Chefs and food experts claim that the original kola urundai was made with raw banana or plantain before the mutton version became popular.
What’s noteworthy, and undeniably one of the most important parts of the process, in the preparation of Kola Urundai is painstakingly grinding down mutton until it becomes soft and yet retains the right texture to make it crispier. It is essential to get the textures of this process right as this is what makes these scrumptious meatballs crispier on the outside to bite but soft on the inside that melts in the mouth. The perfectly ground mutton ensures that the flavors and spices blend seamlessly.
Kola Urundai holds its ground as a teasing appetizer and a filling main course. The textures of the Kayir Katti Kola Urundai are slightly different from the Chettinad version. They are too crumblier on the outside, the strings help hold them together. The “No strings attached” Kola Urundai is certainly crisper on the outside and the key to achieving that is to fry them before they disintegrate in the frying pan. While both these versions are fried, there’s also the Kola Urundai Kuzhambu where these meatballs are steamed and dropped into a kuzhambu (gravy); another Chettinad signature dish that should be checked for its fluency in its flavors.
Amma’s South Indian Cuisine brings the dialect of flavours in their Kola Urundai. Carefully ground meat mixed with homemade spice is fried to get its crispiest crunch and served for you to relish the language of the Chettinad.