It’s an old-fashioned thrill for game or hunting that’s given the Coorgis their love for pork, one of the few regions in the country that pays particular attention to this form of meat.
The Kodavas, a martial race once defiant of Muslim rule, historically remained fearless soldiers. Their food habits reflect this cultural trait because the pork is not domesticated bovine but wild hunted boar, which is how the community would prefer it. With forests getting depleted and wildlife laws prohibiting game hunting, the Coorgis have, however, had to settle for less in their pork.
Chandra Shekhar Pandey, executive chef at the Courtyard By Marriott Pune Hinjewadi, who did a project on Coorgi food while in catering college in Bangalore, says pork makes its way not just into the famed Pandi curry but also into meat pickles. The pickles traditionally do not use oil as a preservative; instead, spices and salt brine are used. Coorgis also make pickles using fish, kumu (mushroom) and baimbale (tender bamboo).
“Kodavas are basically agriculturists who get busy transplanting in the rice fields from June to August-end,” says Kishor Cariappa, a media consultant and the moderator of a blog on the community. “So on 3 September, they have a festival Kailpold or Kail Muhurta where pork is consumed in abundance. Farmers need the extra fat and energy after the hard work for three months transplanting rice. Coorg is also cold and monsoon months can be harsh.”
“We are strict non-vegetarians,” insists Naren Thimmaiah, executive chef at the Gateway Hotel in Bangalore, though, he adds, there are many vegetarian options also in Coorgi cuisine.
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He says Coorgi food, usually spicy, has predominantly depended on local produce, whether it’s hunted or grown locally. So the vegetarians are partial to dishes like Baimbale Curry (made from bamboo shoots), Chekke Curry (unripe jackfruit) and Maange Curry (raw mangoes with spices and jaggery).
Coorgis are essentially rice eaters—the all-time favourite being akki otti (rice chapatis made from a dough of cooked rice and rice flour) and puttu (steam-cooked dishes).
“The basic ingredients of a traditional gravy for a Coorg curry,” says Thimmaiah, “whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian, is coconut, ground with onions, garlic and a selection of other spices. In the past, coconut oil was used for cooking, also due to our geographical proximity to Kerala. But because of health issues, coconut oil is now used sparingly or not at all.”
“Refined vegetable oil is the substitute, resulting in a loss of the authentic taste of Coorg dishes,” he adds.
Pandi Curry (pork curry)
20g green chillies
50ml Coorg vinegar
Salt to taste
50g coriander leaves
Pinch of turmeric powder
For the masala powder
40g coriander seeds
10g cumin seeds
5g cardamom and cloves
10g red chillies
20g black pepper
10g mustard seeds
10g poppy seeds
Roast all dry ingredients for the masala powder till light brown in colour and powder to a coarse consistency. Cut the pork into 1-inch size with the skin and fat. Marinate it with a dash of turmeric powder, salt and 10ml Coorg vinegar. Crush onion, garlic, ginger, coriander leaves and green chillies to form a rough masala paste. Cook marinated meat with masala paste and masala powder on medium flame so the meat gets cooked in its own juices. Add remaining vinegar after 15 minutes and a little water. Simmer for 20 minutes (this is a semi-dry dish that tastes better the next day).
Recipe courtesy Naren Thimmaiah, executive chef, Gateway Hotel, Bangalore.