Monday, August 2, 2010

The irrepressible "Congress groundnuts"

I actually consumed part of what is seen above and got the inspiration for this piece as the mind 'nostalgiated'.
My father's favourite snack aside from the Masala Dosa was the
Kharada Kallekai aka Spiced Peanuts aka Congress Kallekai.
I do not know how this catchy name of 'Congress' got tagged up to this. May be someone will enlighten me. When we were young, we had heard of the Congress Party and that it was their food and so we thought it was called Congress kallekai.

My father was so fond of this snack that he would oftentimes choose the route back home either from a shopping errand or somewhere so that there was his favourite shop that sold the "Congress". The small shops sold this item from wide-mouthed big glass bottles kept loose on their show shelves covered with wide lids. If we were walking by that route we knew that his legs would automatically go in that direction and at other times, his bicycle stopped in front of the shop as if from a magnet!

Pointing to the bottle, he would say "Give me 250 grams of this." There were other bottles containing whole nuts coated with salt and red chilli and spiced-puffed rice (mandakki puri and avalakki puri). This 'Congress' comes with the seed separated into its two halves and the recipe suited this. When he had more money, he would buy all the three in equal quantities and sometimes mixed them together for a new combination!

When the shopkeeper opened the lid and kept it aside for taking the required amount from a large spoon to the bowl on the weighing scale, he would invariably sample a small handful. This was normal practice! If sometimes the taste did not appeal, he would not consider buying.

Those were days in the 1960s and 1970s when plastic had not overwhelmed the world and so the packing was done using recycled paper envelopes made from old magazines or children's school books which were sold off. The easiest way to pack was to make a cone using a rectangular sheet, fold the top and secure the bottom by pinching and twisting and then tying it up with a thin jute or cotton packing thread. All biodegradable things. But then we never used that word at that time!
(The disposable paper cone container)

If we were walking with him, no sooner we left the shop, he would open the pack, hold the cone and put in a few seeds into his mouth and then offer it to us kids or whoever were with him. Such was his temptation. As we walked along, he would, in his own typical style, shake the cone as if to bring the heavier ones to the top like a winnow. That way he felt comfortable. He really enjoyed this. Of course who does not relish a spicy specialty item like this!

When he was on his bicycle and coming alone, he would gobble up the top quarter and bring the rest home for us keeping the cone or packet in his shirt pocket. When I grew up and was old enough to run errands, he would ask me to go and buy a small quota when he felt the urge. I would happily go because it also meant an independent ride on the bicycle. I always promptly returned the balance. I cannot remember the rates but I have seen the times when it was bought in measures and also saw the time when shopkeepers bought weighing scales.

In the 1960s there was one Ramaswamy Iyer in the neighbour's shed selling such items (plantains, cigarettes, peppermints, lemon lozenges). He was eking out a living from this humble little shop. There was another "Iyengar Shop" close by, but they sold only provisions.

My father was in Bangalore doing his diploma in 1949-50 and his liking to this 'congress' was well known even from those days. It appears he was a great patron of a shop in the Basavanagudi area that sold delicious 'congress'. Long later, he used to remember and show us a house which was the place of that shop where he bought. Here is a picture (below) from 2007 around the same place and is also popular for its variety of condiments.

In Mysore, he had found 2-3 shops, esp. one in Cheluvamba Agrahara, that prepared the item to his liking because this spice combination can vary from person to person and can be very tricky. He would buy often from here whenever he felt like, until the time (late 70s) he could no longer freely entertain his taste-bud temptations but probably not before strongly passing them on!

Those old shops are no longer there. Some new tastes have got stuck - in particular, one with predominantly asafoetida flavoured. Paper cones have given way to the more convenient plastic covers and jute and cotton thread have given way to Bostitch pins, but the irrepressible attraction to this tempting recipe never dies. Not for nothing it has been around for more than 60 years!


Groundnut is called the poor man's almond. Here in India, it is way cheaper than the almond which comes from the north. Its nutritional value is unquestionable.
There are so many uses, besides the "Congress", of this wondernut which you already know. The list would be endless!
I must share a funny incident about peanuts involving an elder friend. He had gone to Israel for a year long study-stay. In his early days there he used to buy peanuts for 'time pass' and was comparing the prices back in India. A friend noticed it after he did that many days and asked him to buy almonds and other dry fruits instead of peanuts but he was surprised at this suggestion! Only then he realized how much money he had wasted on peanuts! Our 'poor man's almond there indeed was way dearer compared to real almonds!

Kannada film song Kallekai Kallekai.... raja taja kallekai profiles this humble groundnut which the westerners call peanut and also Bangalore's famous groundnut fair. Tried searching that original film song footage, but this rendering by this little girl is equally impressive.

India is the second largest producer of groundnut. It is called by various names like peanut, earthnut etc. You can see more information here in this Wiki link.

Mahatma Gandhi was a great advocate of groundnuts.
Spiced peanut is an important ingredient in Churumuri. Some people ask "put more peanuts"!
Proverb: Marriage is like a groundnut: you have to crack it to see what is inside.


jyothsna said...

i simply love your articles. i chanced upon your articles very recently and i have already finished reading them. even though i am in my mid 20s, i totally relate and relish your posts.i eagerly wait for them to be posted. i cannot in words tell you how you have given me the joy of reading..i am a person who lives in the past and somehow your articles remind of the old bangalore/mysore culture that i so miss. please keep up your posts regularly so that people like me reading can make their day a good one. Thank you.

G said...

Now,where can I go to get some Congress kadlekai? :)
The shop in Bangalore that you mention is 'Subbamma stores' in Basavanagudi. Their business has grown quite extensively but it is still run out of that little shop.

YOSEE said...

By the time I finished reading this post, I was drooling for a handful of crunchy munchy groundnuts! Yeah, will freely admit that I am nuts about these nuts !

Austinbhats said...

Ayyo Dinakar-I enjoyed the article as much as I enjoy Congress Kadlebeeja.This goes so well with anything from Pepsi to Wine here in our house.
It is part of my baggae.So far in Customs ,never been troubled for this lip smacking finger licking Kadlebeeja.13 years ,I have given a space in suitcase.Raja-Kadlebeeja.
I also miss Boiled peanut,sold only in road side Gadis.The paper may soak or leak--still the taste of boiled peanut is yum.My good old friend --long live Congress Kadlebeeja.Thank you for posting.

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Virginia said...

Hi Dinu,
I've found your blog via Daves Garden.
I have bookmarked it to read at leisure. I love reading interesting blogs.
I have enjoyed reading how you first started out in gardening and blogging.
I'm trying to locate some seeds for the white(cream) lucky nut tree that you have posted.
Can you help me?
I'm in Barbados and willing to pay shipping etc.
Please contact me at:
Thanks and take care,

Ravi said...

Master Hiranayya, as per the folklore coined the name "Congress" onto the Karadha kaDLekayi. As per the story that I have heard he used to make pun of the then Congress party that split under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, by calling it "Langa Congress" led by Mrs. Gandhi and the other faction of Congress as "ChaDDi Congress". In the same pun he would also add that the "Langa Congress" has taken on the shape of the KaDlekayi that is split and made spicy like Karadha KaDLekayi. I guess the name "Congress KaDLEkayi" become synonymous with the Langa Congress Spicy party.

Achar said...

As per my elders' version, when the first Congress meeting held in Cubbon Park, Bangalore, with a view to impress members with a new taste, this item was served as munching refreshment. All liked it very much, especially those who came from out of Karnataka. Since then this name became synonymous to this item.