After Alexander the Great left the country, the Greek soldiers left behind, married the locals. The results were astonishing and even today the Aryan Kodavas are famous for their looks and the Greek nose. It’s easy to be impressed by a Kodava for along with good looks, they have inherited a gracious nature and are generous hosts.
The cuisine of Coorg or Kodava has evolved over time. Their daily food was drawn from the generosity of the fertile landscape – tender wild greens, ferns, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, colocasia; forests full of flavourful wild game and birds. Warriors by nature, they used to hunt their food in the forests around, and the fields and kitchen gardens were carefully developed by them and tended to carefully.
Rice, grown in deep green valleys and terraced fields of the higher slopes, was the queen at all meals. It made its way to the table in different disguises and versions, and combined with delectable curries, fries and chutneys. Wild berries and fruit were gathered in season, and pickling and preserving was done and are still followed. The seasons decided the cuisine, and dried and smoked meat and preserved vegetables, were stored for times when hunting was impossible. The Coorg table prides itself on presenting some of the choicest food, cooked with whatever is locally available. Wild boar was the heritage favourite game to be hunted and slowly it became the pandi or pig. The Kodavas seldom have a wedding without the pandi curry.
The most interesting flavourful in the cuisine is sourness, which comes either from the dark, viscous vinegar made from the fermented kudampuli or from juice of native limes, or the much loved Kaipuli - local bitter oranges. Most dishes contain one of these elements.
Traditionally, spices were ground in stone mortars and pestles, and grinding stones, and food was cooked in wide-mouthed, red, earthenware pots, known simply as munchutti, which also enhanced the taste. In addition, there were brass and copper vessels of all shapes and sizes. A whole range of food was steamed in copper steamers known as sakalas. The kitchen was a smoky place, with wood fire as the medium. Dried meat hung from the rafters, imbibing all the kitchen flavours over time.
I am always reminded of Asterix and Obelix (cartoon characters) feasting under the moon, on wild boar, when I witness the Coorg festivities and their love for Pandi curry. I was very delighted when I was invited to my Coorg friend’s wedding at Mercara, and insisted that I be stationed at the place where the famous pandi curry was being cooked. Huge firewood carrying a copper pot emitted delicious flavours and fragrance and that was the famous pandi curry. The Coorg people will happily serve you alcohol and non-vegetarian food at their weddings. The black Kokum vinegar is what kicks off the taste in the pandi curry.
Besides Pandi curry their cuisine is famous for rice in many forms. Breakfast can be akki roti (a chapatti-like pancake made from cooked rice and rice flour) or a range of puttu, steamed rice dishes such as nooputtu (rice threads similar to the Kerala idiyappam), paaputtu (a mix of steamed broken rice, coconut and sugar). To accompany these, you have the famous Coorg honey or scrumptious curries, such as pumpkin curry, bamboo shoot curry, or a curry made from wild mushrooms. Coconut is a common ingredient in many of the tangy and spicy Coorg curries, ground with onions, garlic and spices such as chilies, cumin, pepper, etc. with kachampuli providing the fruity tartness. As accompaniments, you will find chutneys made from dried or smoked meat and fish, or pickles made from tender bamboo, gooseberries and mushroom. Delicious vegetarian dishes like chekke curry and kaad maange curry are also their specialties.
However, the pandi curry is their best and a must try for those who enjoy pork. So today, I’m sharing this unusual heritage recipe, so try it out.
Kodava Pandi Curry
Fresh tender pork — 1 Kg
Onion large red — 3
Curry leaves — 1 sprig
Coconut pieces — 1 small cup Green chillies slit — 4
Garlic paste — 2 tbsp
Ginger paste — 2 tbsp
Red chillies ground — 2 tbsp
Turmeric powder — 2 tsp
Kachampuli pulp — 1/4 tbsp
Vinegar — 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Masala Jeera — 1 tsp
Mustard seeds — 1 tsp
Fenugreek — 1/2 tsp
Coriander seeds — 1 tsp
Pepper — 5 tsp
Cloves — 9
Cinnamon sticks — 2
Powdered bay leaf — 1
Black cardamom — 2 to 3
Clean and drain the pork pieces.
Roast the ingredients listed under masala in a small pan. Then grind it into a powder.
Roast the coconut pieces and keep aside.
Heat oil in a mud chetti or bronze vessel.
Add cardamom. Sauté the sliced onion, green chillies, salt and curry leaves. Then add ginger and garlic paste and sauté well.
Add chilli powder, turmeric powder and ground masala powder. Fry it well.
Grind kachampuli in mixer with water.
Add the paste to gravy. Add enough salt.
If the above gravy is prepared in a pan, transfer it to cooker.
Add pork pieces, 2/3 cup water and mix well. Cook until pork is done. It might take upto 2 to 4 whistles.
Add vinegar, coconut pieces, and mix it well. Boil it until the gravy is thick. Sprinkle green coriander.
Enjoy with ‘akki roti’ (rice roti) or ‘kadambuttu’ (rice dumplings), neer dosa, rice or any other Indian bread.
— The writer is a chef and author of Festive Offerings to the Gods