We were in Coorg (Kodava district) last week and the region’s beauty just blew our minds away. As did its amazing cuisine – especially, the spicy Pandi Curry. It was a pork curry like no other I had tasted.
I should mention that my initiation to pork took place only after my marriage some 3 years back. In my life prior to marriage, I was brought up to believe that the pig was not a nice animal to have as food. All thanks to my dad whose favourite expletive was ‘Suwar ka bachha’ (Son of a Pig). The word pig, thus, would evoke in my mind visions of fat, grunting pigs wallowing in filthy water. No, not a nice animal to eat, for sure. I had built up such a mental block against it that even when my friends and cousins spoke of pork with drooling mouths, I was not a bit tempted. People who knew I was from North East India would be surprised at my aversion to pork. “What? You don’t eat pork?” was the common refrain. All that changed after I got married to a person who believes that relishing pork is the secret to attaining nirvana.
The husband was shocked when he came to know that I did not conform to his noble ideas on the pig. And so started his endeavors to convert me to his camp. I started out nibbling gingerly on thinly sliced soya infused lean pieces of pork and graduated to bigger chunks of meat cooked with bamboo shoots. The husband continued to churn out one amazing dish after another till he achieved success and I had crossed over to become a pork lover.
For the record, my dad is still unaware that his daughter, in whom he had instilled the value of turning up one’s nose at the word ‘pork’, today squeals with glee when that notorious meat is placed in front of her.
Now, back to the curry of the day. We first tasted pandi curry at a restaurant that served authentic Coorgi (or Kodavas) cuisine. We were a bit overwhelmed by the presence of various weapons around us, mounted on the walls of the restaurant. The Kodavas are fierce warriors and due to their cultural and religious customs, they are exempted from Arms Act so that they can carry light rifles without license within the Coorg district limits. The curry arrived at our table along with some rice noodles (noolputtu) and we were again struck with apprehension. It was of a dark colour and looked quite fierce, not unlike the Kodavas themselves. We braced ourselves and had a dig. I remembered losing our way amidst the rolling hills of Coorg a few hours back. We had to then look around for someone to guide us back to the correct path and came across a young man in traditional Kodava attire brandishing a rifle in one hand. We had approached him hesitatingly, not sure how we would be received. But the response was an unexpected one. The person gave us a wide radiant smile and explained to us in detail the way back. Well, that was how the pandi curry was. It looked daunting , no doubt, but once you had it, you appreciated its warm mellowness. Just like that Kodava young man with a gun we had met.
The taste of pandi curry lingered in our memories even after we were back in Bangalore, till we had no other option but to try and recreate the magic in our home. Some research and here are our findings, in the form of a lip smacking pandi curry, quite close to what we had in Coorg.
Pandi Curry or Coorgi Pork Curry
(Adapted from Jane DSouza’s Cook Book)
1 kg pork, cut into medium sized pieces
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon kachiapuli or Coorgi vinegar (we used normal white vinegar)
1 tablespoon refined oil
2 onions, 1 inch piece of ginger, 1 whole garlic pod, a small bunch of coriander leaves, 4 green chillies
Roast and powder:
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon pepper corns
1 inch piece of cinnamon
2 cloves, 2 cardamoms and 2 dry red chillies
½ teaspoon each of poppy seeds and mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon methi (fenugreek seeds)
Marinate the pork with salt and turmeric powder. Keep aside for an hour. Now, pressure cook the pork in a cup of water for 2 whistles and take it off the gas. The pork should be half-cooked.
In a wok or kadai, heat the oil and fry the ground masala well. Add the pork and stir well. Then, spoon in the roasted spice mix and stir some more. Cover and cook till the meat is well done and it becomes almost dry. Check for salt and add the vinegar just before taking the wok off the gas. Serve hot alongside thin rice noodles or steamed rice or any bread of your choice. The dish just goes well with everything you have!
I must tell you to be prepared about the aroma that ensues once you roast the spices and grind it. Our whole house was filled with the aroma and it made us salivate even more. In fact, till the time the husband actually tasted pandi curry he was of the opinion that spices spoil the flavour of pork. Now that he has been proved wrong, he has compounded a new theory. “The secret lies in the vinegar”, he says. “It helps to cut through the richness of the spices and pork fat and make the curry amazing.” Whatever the secret be, this is one spicy curry I have come to love. Well, not quite nirvana, but a bit close to it!