A porcine and unapologetic 80th birthday

Ill health and advancing age can’t stop a family that indiscriminatingly eats God’s creatures to go back to the basics


Slow-roasted pork with pandhi curry masala. Photo: Samar Halarnkar
Slow-roasted pork with pandhi curry masala. Photo: Samar Halarnkar

I looked around my living room and frowned. About three-fourths of the family, including myself, were or had been plagued by dodgy health. Most of us had notched up serious hospital visits, so we had to watch what we ate. Yet I had just served slow-roasted pork—glistening with substantial globs of fat—as the centrepiece of the spread and there wasn’t a peep of protest.

Was I mad? Were they?

When this big, fat Indian family gets together, reason and rational diets fade into bad jokes, noise, love, irrational eating and some madness.

You see, it was my mother’s 80th birthday, and like me and the rest of the family, she has always liked consuming God’s creatures, including those that would classify us as anti-national. It was she who introduced me to bheja (sheep brain), gurda (kidneys), kapura (testicles) and other innards; ham—especially the fatty rind—sausages and hooves. She set me up—inadvertently or otherwise—to grow up into a man who had no dietary restrictions. Well, almost. I have enthusiastically eaten snake, zebra, wildebeest, crocodile and worm (but I do wonder if I would show the same enthusiasm with dogs, given the puppies I have raised).

I could not envisage cooking a healthy birthday lunch for my mother. But since healthy eating is now so ingrained in our lifestyles and diets, there remained an overarching concern that the birthday feast should not be completely over the top. Since the wife and I also believe good food need not be unhealthy, it was obvious that the concern would be addressed.

“Should we just eat out?” the wife asked, tentatively. And well she might be tentative because I consider such suggestions a personal affront. I like a house full of people, a table groaning with food and a chaotic togetherness, things she is often chary about. I dismissed her suggestion. The birthday meal would be at home, where everyone could kick off their footwear, be loud and lounge around as they almost certainly could not in a restaurant. Down with decorum could be one family motto—the other, let them come.

Each of the 30 homes I have lived in has been an open house. There is always food and space for more visitors. I do not consider having 11 people over for lunch a challenge; that begins at 20. Once the wife acquiesced and promised to stay out of my way, it was easy. I was happy when she returned and said she would do the salads because she is more meticulous than me, and given the extra care she takes and stress she incurs, it was obvious the salads would be good—as they were (a grilled beetroot salad with walnut and feta; a green salad dressed with mustard, garlic and sherry vinegar). Left to me, we might have had a last-minute option.

Still, she could not help but be startled when she saw the 1and half kg pile of pork that I unloaded. “That is a lot of pork,” she said, trying to stay calm. “Ummm,” was my reply. Of course it wasn’t, although there was going to be 1and half kg of my Goan kingfish curry as well. It is not a good idea to use modest estimates with my family because it is not a good idea to underestimate the appetites of our senior citizens and individuals with ill-health.

The vegetarian entrées—two, in addition to the salads—were reasonably healthy. Roasted red peppers, skinned and marinated in a dressing of their own juice, sherry vinegar, olive oil, garlic and coriander; and kadhai makkai khumb (corn-mushroom), something I had not cooked in 15 years, taken from a fraying, unglamorous Jiggs Kalra cookbook with robust, traditional recipes.

The centrepiece, of course, was the pork. It was almost wiped out within 40 minutes. Some pieces of fat remained—reserved for the real fat lover, our six-year-old, who regards it as her favourite food, after hot dog and mutton curry and puri. I suspect the next generation will carry on our traditions.

Slow-roasted pork with pandhi curry masala

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 and half kg pork with reduced fat, marinate in 2 tsp turmeric powder for 1 hour

2 onions, chopped

2 tomatoes, chopped

6 heaped tsp ginger-garlic paste

2 tsp Kashmiri ‘mirch’ powder

2-3 tsp Kodagu pandhi curry powder (or any garam masala)

2-3 tbsp vinegar (I used sherry vinegar)

1 tsp oil

Salt to taste

Method

In a large pot, heat the oil and fry the onions till they turn brown. Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for 2 minutes, dribbling in water if it starts to stick. Add the masalas and sauté for a minute; stir in the vinegar. Add tomatoes and stir on low heat for about 2 minutes. Add the pork and mix thoroughly. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Then empty the pork into a pressure cooker. Seal and cook through three whistles, turn the flame low for another whistle. When the pressure dissipates, transfer the pork to an oven dish, cover, and cook at 180 degrees Celsius for 60 minutes. Stir the pork twice after 20 minutes. Serve hot with rice or bread.

This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes the fortnightly column Frontier Mail for Mint and is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. He tweets at @samar11.

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