Pork, joy and the carnival of the holy ghost
In a Bangalore neighbourhood, food stalls, families and the local church cement the ties that bind. Vegetarians welcome (but eat before you arrive)
It was lunch time, and under a warm November sun, in a large, open maidan ringed by canopies of great rain trees, we wandered among the multitudes of happy people either cooking food or eating it.
There was the large man with his super-large burger, easily four times the size of his mouth—we photographed the burger but didn’t wait around to see how he would eat it. There were the jolly women who called out from family-run food stalls, inviting us with smiles and humour to sample their wares. There were the Redemptorists, the priests from our local parish, who invited you to stick your head in the cutout of a cassock, so you might see what you would look like if you decided to join their order. There were thousands of Bengalureans who had poured in to enjoy the warm day and the warmth of a two-day carnival hosted by the Holy Ghost Church, down the road from our home.
And then there was us, looking for options for the vegetarian woman of the household. We soon found there were virtually none offered by the Mangalorean, Anglo-Indian, Malayalee and Goan families who ran the stalls. Let’s see, there were live crabs, fish, beef, lamb, chicken and pork—lots and lots of pork, in keeping with local culinary tradition. My daughter and her friends quickly latched on to hot dogs, my mother settled for sorpotel and poee (Goan bread, rare in Bengaluru), and I for poee with pork vindaloo, from a stall adorned by braids of chorizo. Oh, yes, the wife finally found a vegetable biryani. “It’s dry," was all she said, with some acerbity.
Everything was priced at around Rs100 or less, so a great melting pot of society showed up. Since Bengaluru is reasonably tolerant of things unholy to them, the crowd, while largely Christian, included lots of Hindus and Muslims, negotiating the beef and pork—if they chose to. “Pork-a-licious," said one. “Pork for a cause," said another, and so on and on.
Pork is great family favourite. My parents, brother and I believe it has vastly more character than mutton and certainly chicken. My seven-year-old lists pork fat—and the fatty rind of ham—as her favourite food. She is not, however, a fan of pork that is not fat. When I make pork, which I often do when we have people over, I make it mild because I know I have to pick and pile the fat for her.
The great thing about pork is that it is very easy to cook and takes easily to any kind of flavouring. I’ve always used rum with pork, and it takes easily to Indian spices and Western herbs. My latest version uses rosemary from a pot in our balcony and is infused with a black pandhi (pork) masala from Kodagu. No Hindu wedding in Kodagu is complete without pandhi curry, as my wife found to her chagrin a few years ago, when she and other grass eaters were banished to a vegetarian counter at the far end of the room. Many little shops selling pork in south Karnataka are run by Hindus, with names like “Gayatri pork shop" and “Karnataka ham shop", which is where I get my pork from, under the watchful eyes of sundry gods. While local Muslims will almost never eat it, our other source of ham and pork is located next to our main neighbourhood mosque. None of the Muslims at the Holy Ghost carnival appeared to have any problem buying other meat from the stalls that also sold pork.
It is not my case that everything is hunky dory in Bengaluru, but it is a fact that our little Richards Town is a good example of easy diversity, made possible because people here have grown with others unlike them and learned to accept and let live. Our local residents’ association WhatsApp groups reflect that diversity, with reminders to please keep religious greetings and prayers out.
That evening, as the sun began to sink in the usual blaze of ochre Bengaluru glory, we were reminded why we count our blessings in living where we do. In a corner of the maidan—after an afternoon getting our photographs taken in silly costumes, flinging a hat at a pole, trying to snare bottles with a curtain ring tied to a fishing rod and hurling balls through a tyre—we settled down on the grass before a stage. Coconut palms swayed in a gentle, cool breeze, and a racket rose from the trees as hundreds of birds returned to roost. For the next hour we were treated to a concert by one of our neighbourhood choirs, the Bangalore Children’s Chorus (disclaimer: my seven-year-old is one of the singers). Their selection ranged from English to Tamil and included a token Hindi track, Chaiyyan Chaiyyan, mixed with Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough. The crowd cheered and hooted, children ran around wildly, and the birds slowly ceased their chattering. Behind us, smoke started to rise from the stalls, as the stoves and grills were fired up again. Dinner time was approaching, and god, doubtless, was in her heaven.
Pork with rum and rosemary
1 kg pork, with some fat
4-5 heaped tsp ginger-garlic paste
4-6 tsp Coorgi ‘pandhi’ masala (or any garam masala), depending on your spice levels
1 large onion, sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
3-4 tbsp white-wine vinegar
(or Merkera coconut vinegar)
1 cup dark rum (I use Old Monk)
2 tsp oil
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a pressure cooker. Fry the onions until they start to brown. Add ginger-garlic paste, ‘pandhi’ masala and sauté with vinegar for 2 minutes. Add the tomato and fry for 2 minutes, drizzling more vinegar if needed. Add pork and sear on heat for about 5 minutes. Add salt and rum. Add 1/2 cup of water, seal the cooker and cook on medium heat for four whistles. Reduce to simmer and wait for two more whistles. Open the cooker and transfer the pork to an oven-proof dish. Cover and bake for about 1 hour at 170 degrees Celsius, till the pork is tender.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.
He tweets at @samar11