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Going vocal for local and drawing in the locals

Masks and social distance may increase anonymity, but bringing food into the equation changes all that

Buy vegetables from local vendors who kept us supplied during the worst days.
Buy vegetables from local vendors who kept us supplied during the worst days. (Photo: Getty Images)

Whenever I post lockdown recipes related to any meat other than chicken, I notice friends asking, where did you get that from? It took me some time to realize that our corner of Bengaluru is (a) not as affected as most cities and (b) a dangerous oh-I-think-it’s-over attitude has taken hold in the minds of locals.

Ever since the lockdown measures have eased, a cavalier approach to life is evident. The night curfew is supposed to kick in at 7pm but no one seems to be hurrying home and an overstretched police force isn’t intervening. About half the people I encounter—walking on the streets, for exercise or otherwise hanging out with friends—do not have masks. Some have but keep them pulled down or below the nose, like most ministers at press conferences. Scooters and motorcycles carry three-four people pressed against each other, as socially not distanced as possible.

I have now joined the hordes in going about my business but I do not share their casual outlook to the era of covid-19. I am always masked and if people won’t keep their distance, I do. On my first morning run in 50 days, I noticed some people waving hesitantly. I had no clue who they were because responsible people these days tend to be masked, distanced and quite anonymous.

I have gradually been discovering the people behind those masks, using prime ministerial guidance to recognize them by their clothes, although not in the way he suggests. It’s interesting how the manner of dress, mannerisms, your dog or walking style can identify you (haircuts, too, of course, but that doesn’t work these days given that most people have not had an opportunity to visit a barber for two months). With face masks, I have realized, these other characteristics are like fingerprints or gene markers—you only have to reorient your senses to look beyond faces and once you do, interesting things happen.

Some people, though, were faceless before the pandemic and will continue to be, like our fish supplier, Rabbani. My mother calls him for fish and he sends it over. I may have seen him once in seven years.

My brief flirtation with a new chain store is done. The unorganized supplier is someone I believe we should support more than ever. I am more inclined than ever to buy vegetables from wandering vendors or the roadside because they were the ones who kept us supplied during the worst days. I was always vocal about local and I am glad it is being propagated by the prime minister, with whom I now have a rare point of agreement.

So, it was with renewed zeal that I got pork recently from our local stalwart, the Karnataka ham shop. Blessed by the gods, their images on the walls adorned with fresh marigold, the little shop raises its own pigs and chicken on a farm.

My pork is usually adapted from an out-of-town recipe—from Kodava to Khasi style. This time I was determined to make it with everyday spices and ingredients, hyper-local if you will. My only concession was a few shots of bourbon from a bottle in my bar.

Alcohol and pork go very well together, but the trick is to add it as late as possible in the cooking process, so the flavour is absorbed instead of evaporating.

Since we have enjoyed the largesse of neighbours during the lockdown, I sent off two loads of pork, one to a Nair, another to a Pinto. One said the pork was had with crusty bread, wine and cream—go figure. The other said, peg and pork, our favourite. Going vocal for local does not really work unless you include the locals.

Even though most of them reside behind masks, I find many neighbours are less faceless than before. The pandemic has cut off social lives but once we figure out who is behind the mask, conversations flow more easily because we really do not have many places to go. Food has proved to be the great enabler.

Over the past month, the goodies we have received have included beef cutlets, dried prawn, khichada (a one-pot meal of mutton, dal and rice), iddiappam and stew. The masks may have hindered facial recognition but the disease and curfew that forced them on us have encouraged us to look beyond. So far, I like what I see.


Serves 8


1.5kg pork, less fat

2 onions, chopped

1-inch piece ginger, chopped

4 tbsp garlic, chopped

2 green chillies, slit

2 large cardamoms

10 peppercorns

1 piece mace

1-inch piece cinnamon

1 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

3 tsp coriander powder

2 tsp cumin powder

2 tsp garam masala

150ml bourbon

2 tsp oil

Salt to taste


In a pressure cooker, heat oil and whole spices (cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorn, mace). When they start to swell or pop, add garlic and sauté for half a minute. Add onions and ginger and fry till they start turning golden brown. Add the powdered spices (chilli, turmeric, coriander, cumin and garam masala) and sauté, adding some water if the spices stick. Add green chillies after the spices begin to swell. Add pork and sear at high heat. Add salt and 1 cup water and pressure-cook for four whistles before turning the heat down. Pressure-cook for an additional two whistles. When the pressure dissipates, drain excess fat and mix in bourbon. Transfer to a baking dish and roast at 175 degrees Celsius for at least 1 hour.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.

Twitter - @samar11

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