Manjunath has made an important revelation on the evolution of food preferences and culinary habits of south Indians in general, since last five centuries. Based on his reference in Malayalam literature, he cited that the Portuguese imported several, now commonplace, agricultural crops to
I was surprised that the imported list included the humble sweet potato. In childhood days, when my granny used to tell me the story of Ramayana, that Rama and Laxmana ate tubers and roots in the forest, I conveniently imagined them eating sweet potatoes, which are, somehow, also edible in the raw form.
But sweet potato is native to
The Tulu Nigantu lists a number of kireng (subterranean tuber) species like: tuppe kireng, mullu kireng, tooNa kireng, guddoLi kireng, koLLi kireng, pottel kireng, NaaTi kireng, apart from the usual kempu kireng (red sweet potato), bolpu kireng (white sweet potato) and the mara kireng (tapioca).
Apart from the numerous native species we have, the Tulu and Tamil words for the edible tuber kireng / keelank speaks of the antiquity of the tuber in
Second point of interest is that for most of the imported vegetables, tubers and fruits south Indians have retained their original names in the land origin like, pineapple, beans, cabbage, etc. But the term sweet potato was not inducted into local languages. It appears that the name kireng was also extended (ca five centuries ago) to the imported sweet potato which was similar in features to some of our native kirengs.
Shocking news is that chilies are in the said imported list. That means our Indian food was lacking in hot - khara- taste with we are familiar with now.
Again, another Tulu word uppaD (=pickle) has something to say. UppaD is now a popular food accessory, often the basic one in poor families. Basic summer food in many rural Tulu families, often also preferred by the rich, consists of boiled rice porridge (ganji) with uppaD. I used to wonder since childhood days why this uppaD which is characteristically rich in chilies, speaks only of uppu(=salt) +aD (=food preparation) .I was perplexed because in the word there is mention of chilies, the important ingredient in that dish.
With the revelation that chilies came only some five centuries ago, I have got the answer why pickle is named only uppaD! Our ancient uppaD did not have any ingredient of chilies. It was only the vegetable (raw mango, limbu, cucumber, raw jack fruit etc) with salt.