Patoleo – The Tradtional Indian Catholic Cuisine

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Today I am going to talk about something close to my heart. Patoleo (singular) or Patoli (Plural) as it is called in Konkani the mother tongue of most Catholics in India. It may sound Italian when pronounced by westerners but in Konkani, the ‘leo’ or ‘li’ is pronounced with a hard ‘L’.

Patoli is but one of the many traditional foods we prepare.

Roman Catholics in India are a minority consisting of not more than 2.3% of the total population. For the uninitiated, I am a Roman Catholic.

In India, Roman Catholics natives from 4 major regions in the country: Goans – from the state of Goa. Mangaloreans – originally Goans having migrated to the coastal city of Mangalore in the state of Karnataka down south, East Indians from the eastern part of the country and Keralites Catholics from the state of Kerala. There are also anglo Indians residing in the country but their numbers are very few.

When it comes to differentiating a Catholic, he or she is usually asked about their native origins. A Mangalorean will mostly prefer to marry someone from the same native, so also a Goan, an East Indian and a Keralite. There are no hard and fast rules and couples do get inter-native married. 

The Cuisine:

Each Catholic community have their respective cuisines to contribute to the already expansive food culture of the country. I will come up with more posts about the Catholics in the country what most Indians take for granted. It will also serve an eye-opener to most non-Indians and non-Catholic/Christian Indians. 

Catholics bring a distinct identity in the country with our food, educational institutions and services to the poor. Most of the institutions are run by the Churches but I won’t get there.

During the feast of The Assumption of Our Lady (August 15) – we prepare a sweet dish which doubles as a breakfast or a snack item called Patoli. This traditional dish is prepared using rice paste as the main ingredient. Other ingredients are grated coconut, ground cardamom and jaggery. 

Patoli is a steamed dish. So, we will need turmeric leaves for wrapping the unsteamed patoli. More on this later.

The Preparation: 

The traditional Patoleo

Grated coconut, small pieces of jaggery and coarse cardamom are mixed well together. The rice paste is them spread over the turmeric leaves and the mixture is placed in it. The leaf is then closed firm. 

We use a traditional steamer called Tondor  – it a belly-shaped steamer. The leaves are placed in it for steaming. 

After it is done, the leaves have to be peeled and the inside is eaten. 

The Taste: 

It tastes sweet and a little crunchy because of the coconut. The rice paste which forms the outer covering makes another tasty contribution to your palette. The steamed rice paste that forms the outer part may be quite a mouthful so taking small bites is advised. 

Here care should be taken while eating because sometimes, the inside tends to get semi-liquidy due to the steam. So, while eating, the semi-liquid may leak! Yes, it may messy as well but not to the extent of having a hamburger or subway. It is manageable. 

Do you recommend to cut it before eating? Well, I have never done that but yes, longer patoli are always cut in half. I do not see any harm in it though. You can cut it in pieces, however, take care to see that you do not cut bite-sized pieces. It is best if you do not cut it into smaller pieces. 

Patoli is usually accompanied by tea. Yes, it is a breakfast dish and also eaten as an evening snack.

Catholics in the country do not strictly follow the preparation schedule. It is prepared anytime during the year and as long as Turmeric Leaves are available for the preparation. 

Where preparing, Mom usually does not add too much jaggery. She has the habit of making sweet dishes that are balanced. Patoli should not be too sweet nor too bland. The minimal ingredient should individually contribute to your taste.

What is surprising, the Hindu community of Maharashtrians also prepare a similar dish called Modak. It is typically made during the festive season of Lord Ganesha – around August or September. Modak can be prepared without the turmeric leaves. It can be directly steamed in the steamer. The taste still remains the same as the Patoleo.

Many people fail to realise how traditionally integrated are Indian Catholics. The culture differs slightly across various Catholic/Christian community in the country.

My future posts will highlight facts about Catholic/Christian identity in the country. Starting with food, according to me, was an excellent way.

I am a blogger, YouTuber and Indie Music Producer navigating my way through a massive sea of words, games and soundwaves!

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