Curd rice with pork chops—and other strange things
There is a difference between eating something strange and eating strange combinations
Whenever I cook dinner for my eight-year-old, I ask her what she wants to eat. It’s usually 6am when I ask this question, but she’s always clear about what she wants, as she was one crisp morning last week.
“Thayir saadam, pomegranate and a pork chop."
The answer was immediate. She was intently creating some slime—which, if you do not know, is a vile concoction of borax powder, glue and warm water—and barely looked up.
I frowned. That was pretty specific, but it sounded like she had created a menu at random to get rid of her father.
“Are you sure? You want curd rice, pomegranate seeds with pork?"
She looked up and smiled.
“I like them all, appa."
Yes, but to combine them? Anyway, I did as I was asked, and the photograph you see alongside was the end product, which I looked at with distaste but she proceeded to demolish with gusto.
I should not be surprised. She takes after me in this respect. Since I was a child, I have combined chapati with rice, and I still do. For instance, mutton, beef or pork curry with rice, mixed with yogurt and scooped up with chapati; at a vegetarian meal, perhaps dal-rice with prawn pickle and chapati.
When I was younger and more carefree, I’ve had fried brain with prawn curry and rice, sourdough and salad—all in one mouthful—and I still have dosa with fish curry and fried egg.
Purists may baulk at such seemingly mismatched combinations, but really, good food is what tastes good to you.
Apart from the reminiscing, my daughter’s demands led me to some research. I found that strange culinary combinations are de rigueur worldwide. In the Reader’s Digest, I stumbled on pizza with Nutella, bananas and ketchup, banana and mayonnaise on toast, burgers and jelly, French fries and ice cream. On Huffington Post, I heard of Coca-Cola with red wine and cold pizza dipped in soda.
A day after I made the curd rice and pork chop, I watched—much to my wife’s horror—a Fox Life travel show where sautéed termites were used as garnish for fish in the Peruvian Amazon. I shrugged. It looked good.
But do we really need to go that far? India’s streets are an open-air experimental kitchen, and some strange foods are now part of national culinary lore and menus. This, after all, is the land of Chinese bhel, green-chilli ice cream—which I have eaten on Marine Drive, Mumbai—vodka pani puri, chocolate momos and noodle samosas, which I refuse to eat.
Beyond the cities, they eat stranger things—and these are strange only because they are unusual to most of us. There is the red-ant chutney in tribal Bastar: dried, crushed ants leavened with salt, spices and sugar. In Meghalaya, during a recent visit, I missed the doh khleh, steamed pig brain in an onion salad, but the standard Khasi jadoh—offal, pork, rice and blood—was excellent every time.
The good thing about being raised in a family that eats anything is that you will try most things and be open to everything. I’ve said this before: Anything that was alive the Halarnkars will eat, in any combination offered. We may not like everything, but we certainly will try it, which is why my father happily ate stewed (or fried, I can’t remember) rat in Nagaland. “A lot like chicken," was his response.
There is a difference between eating something strange and eating strange combinations. Many Indians—especially of the vegetarian variety—enjoy strange combinations, getting a thrill from that Schezwan dosa. But they may not enjoy eating a dosa stuffed with, say, rabbit. Speaking of rabbit, do visit the Ponnusamy Hotel in Egmore, Chennai, and try their rabbit roast. This is the great thing about living in the south—there are so many foods and food combinations, many that may make our northern and western cousins queasy. Where else will you get idli with mutton chops, kheema balls, chicken “lever" and biryani for breakfast—ready at 6am every day—but at the New Govind Rao Military Hotel in Cottonpet, Bengaluru? Around the corner from my house, a daily favourite at the New Empire Hotel is the kheema dosa; further down the street, Albert Bakery’s best-selling item appears to be the kheema samosa—indeed, if you want a potato samosa in this area, you better specify that—and, a couple of times a year, a brain puff.
And that is why I realize my daughter’s offhanded combination should not come as such a surprise. Her suggestion obviously emerged from a family, neighbourhood, state and national culture known for such experimentation. Next time I won’t ask if she’s sure about what she wants.
(Recipe only for pork chops, the curd rice is fairly standard).
Two pork chops with fat
For the marinade
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp garlic, chopped
4 tsp light soy sauce
4 tsp red wine
Salt to taste
Marinate the pork chops for an hour. Fry in a teaspoon of oil on a non-stick pan on medium heat until done.
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.
He tweets @samar11