The very mention of Coorg, conjures up images of lush green driveways, sweet aroma of seasonal coffee beans, emerald green paddy fields, pepper harvests in bounteous plantations, nifty homestays and luxury resorts. No wonder Coorg was a prized possession during the British era in India – after all, it isn’t called ‘Scotland of India’ for nothing. Many Kingdoms, Emperors, Colonels and Commissioners have ruled this region and but one thing that hasn’t been influenced and stayed rooted for centuries is – the Coorg cuisine or the Kodava cuisine.
Despite the amalgamation of diverse cultures and ethnicities, the Kodava cuisine has remained unfazed and holds the pride of place. Avowed with its earnestness and simplicity harboured by the traditional dishes, it has remained a favourite through generations. Barring a few, the sublime piquancy of the Kodava cuisine goes unnoticed to the majority of tourists holidaying in Coorg. The Kodava cuisine relies heavily on authentic, locally sourced ingredients and regional flavours – Bamboo shoot curry, Koli curry, Kaad Mange curry, Kadambuttu, Thaliya Puttu, Paaputtu, Nooputtu, Koovale Puttu and various seasonal pickles are the signature dishes of Coorg cuisine, just to name a few. But one dish that stands out from the rest for notoriously bringing in a repeated craving that has slowly transformed into a comfort food is – the iconic ‘Pandi Curry’ or the ‘Pork Curry’. Coorg’s Pandi Curry would pass with flying colours if ever there was a competition of ‘Must try food in one’s lifetime’. Tender and supple pieces of pork melt in the mouth as a collision of flavours jolt the senses, driving the much-needed attention towards the platter. That is the beauty of Pandi curry. It is one of the most revered dishes amongst Kodavas and is a front liner during family gatherings and marriages.
Well, that said, what makes Pandi curry so special and how is it different from pork preparations around the world? In comparison, Coorg’s Pork curry has many attributes which makes it one of a sort. Let me explain. Kachampuli or Kodavas homemade vinegar is one of the prime ingredients in the pork marinade that softens its texture and gives it that distinctive tangy taste. Kachampuli is made with Garcinia gummi-gutta fruit where the ripened fruits are allowed simmer into a dark reddish-purple syrup. This tarty and zesty Kachampuli syrup isn’t much known outside this region and is a well-kept secret behind many delicious non-vegetarian dishes in Coorg cuisine.
Back in the days, Coorg was a landlocked region aided by bountiful, dense forests and sprawling coffee plantations; which meant, less or no connection to its neighbouring states. This triggered the Kodava cuisine to rely heavily on locally available ingredients. Due to the nature of soil and climate in Coorg, the spices here have acquired a unique aroma and taste of their own. Needless to say, these spices have a strong say in yielding that distinctive flavour to succulent Pandi curry. In the good old days, spices were roasted and hand ground in pestle and stone mortars. Now-a-days, though the spices are hand roasted, they are powdered in mixers and kept for later use.
Another important element that makes or breaks a luscious Pandi curry is – the pork itself. Yumminess of the Pandi curry is directly proportional to the amount of fat present in the pork. During the British era, wild boars were hunted down and delectable Pandi curry was brewed in Coorgi kitchens. But as of today, poaching is banned and less fatty farm grown pork makes its way into the cookhouse. Together with Kachampuli and spices, the resulting product is an aromatic concoction of coriander seeds, cumin, mustard and pepper blended together with chunky cubes of pork delivered straight to our plates!
Pandi curry tastes the best when paired with traditional Coorg preparations like Kadambuttu, Nooputtu, Paaputtu and Akki rotti. While small dumplings of steamed broken rice make the Kadambuttu, Nooputtu is a fine lump of pressed rice noodles and what makes Paaputtu stand out is the addition of coconut milk and a dash of shredded coconut which is steamed together with rice. The humble Akki rotti, a simple flat rice bread equally accentuates the spicy, tangy and flavourful Pandi Curry.
Visit Coorg to feel the warmth of unmatched Kodava hospitality and definitely binge on lots of traditional Coorg cuisine! Also remember, the appetizing and aromatic goodness of Pandi Curry is best approached by hand and involves a lot of licked fingers.