Coorg Cuisine And The Secrets Of Pandi Curry
- Sidharth Bhan Gupta
Updated : August 17, 2022 10:08 IST
Kodavas, or the people of Coorg are incredibly fond of non-vegetarian food
Coorg or Kodagu, a beautiful hilly region in Karnataka, is known for its coffee plantations, spices and culinary prowess. This landlocked region has been home to the self-reliant community of Kodavas, growing numerous indigenous ingredients in their vast farmlands and harvesting the natural bounty of their lush forests.
People in Coorg are fond of rice. In earlier times, most Kodagu farmers were paddy cultivators. In due course, spice and coffee plantations mushroomed everywhere, but the love for rice remained. Thus, most of the Kodagu cuisine dishes are paired with rice or a variety of steamed rice cakes (‘Puttu’) or a special bread made out of rice called the ‘Akki Roti’.
So, what do people of Coorg eat? Let’s have a brief understanding of it.
Kodavas, or the people of Coorg, are incredibly fond of non-vegetarian food; hunting was their popular pastime as a warrior clan. Thus, wild boars and deer were often hunted and cooked to eat along with various other Coorgi delicacies. Although, post hunting prohibition, farm-grown pork is the most loved of all other meat dishes, making it the staple meat and giving a name to the region’s most famous dish, ‘The Pandi Curry’ (Pork Curry).
Coorg is blessed with thick and beautiful forests; thus, foraging has been an age-old skill of Kodavas, resultantly enriching their cuisine with rare ingredients like wild mushrooms and wild mangoes. Additionally, many interesting vegetarian dishes are made with bamboo, jackfruit, Colocasia yam, and many different fruits, vegetables, lentils, and of course, rice.
Spices grown in Coorg need a special mention, as the terroir and weather play their role ideally in producing the highly aromatic and flavourful spices. Owing to these excellent spices, you will find the dishes in the Coorg cuisine to be of highly delectable flavour.
The skills of making pickles and preserves are not unknown to the Kodavas; due to the availability of a variety of fruits from the forest, age-old culinary recipes, jams and pickles are every household’s prized possession. Even non-vegetarian pickles can be found accompanying the spread in many homes.
Weddings are the most suitable time to explore the region's authentic gastronomy. The beautiful houses of Kodavas called ‘Ain Mane’ are vibrant with activity during a wedding ceremony. Two days of festivities are aided with a culinary extravaganza for the guests, especially for the show stopper dish at the ceremonial dinner, The Great Coorgi Pandi Curry.
What makes this Pork curry from the beautiful region of Coorg so delectable and famous?
This spicy and sour, semi-dry pork curry gets its peculiar dark colour from the special vinegar called ‘Kachampuli’, which is derived from sour fruit, locally known as ‘Panna Puli’ (Garcinia Gummi Gutta). ‘Kachampuli; provides Pandi curry with its unparalleled sour taste, which, when cooked along with the famed spices of the Kodagu region, forms the irresistible taste Pandi curry is famous for.
Spices such as coriander seeds, black peppercorns, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, cinnamon, fenugreek, etc., are dry roasted and ground to create a unique masala called ‘Kartha masala’. An onion-based curry is prepared with chilli powder, turmeric, ginger, green chillies, and curry leaves along with the dish’s star ingredient, ‘The Kachampuli Vinegar’; it is a fruity vinegar that lets the meat cook to its full potential.
The fattier the pork, the better the curry! Various ways of cooking pork in this region often have a common denominator: pork fat usage. Pork fat gives the ‘Pandi curry’ its rich taste, mingling well with the spices to extract its full flavour. The luscious sweet and sour pork dish, ‘Pandi Curry’, does not require much water but is left semi-dry and concentrated with flavours of the indigenous ingredients that go into it. To food enthusiasts, it is no secret that slow cooking will result in the tenderest of meats and also help infuse the spices.
From the best ways of cooking, we move to the best ways of eating the flavourful Pandi curry. As a rice-loving region, their favourite pork curry is enjoyed with various steamed rice dishes, especially the ’Kodambuttu’ (Steamed Rice Balls), the famous bread of the region, ‘Akki Roti’, thin and soft neer dosas, or idlis.
While exploring the Coorg region, my usual question was, ‘Where can I get the best ‘Pandi curry’? In Madikeri, you can undoubtedly head to the ‘Coorg Cuisine’ restaurant, known for its variety of ‘Kodava’ cuisine dishes, with ‘Pandi Curry’, its unmissable favourite. It was an instant hit on my palate, and we could not stop gorging over the dark colour and irresistible spicy and sour taste; the balance of this curry and the tender pieces of pork is hard to find anywhere outside the region of Coorg.
In the Kushalnagar town of Coorg, I had the chance to try the ‘Pandi curry’ at an extremely busy ‘Hotel Kaleghat’ (famous for its pork dishes) that serves one of the finest Pandi curries. Anyone can fall in love with Coorg’s natural beauty, hilly locales, and coffee and spice plantations, but exploring the flavours of the excellent Kodagu cuisine will make you its raving fan!
So, why wait any longer? It is always the right time to delve into the culinary canvas of Coorg and be blown away by its natural and gastronomic beauty.
Sidharth Bhan Gupta is a Hospitality/F&B Consultant travelling across India exploring regional cuisines.