The Pork Obsession
Consumption of meat in India has always been a bone of contention, despite the fact that India is not exclusively a vegetarian nation. Chicken and mutton are the most popular choices for most. Beef, of course, is sacred and pork is considered unclean. Yet, pork is the one taking over our palates and restaurant menus.
The India Connect
Food has always been a sensitive subject in India. When it comes to pork, there is a distinct regional and socio-economic divide. Middle class India who follow Hinduism in most parts of the country have never had pork as part of their animal protein staple. It has always been in pockets and has been driven by affordability, accessibility and external influence. “The meat has always been part of diets in rural, tribal and poverty stricken areas and has wider acceptance in these segments. It is a myopic view that consumption of pork is not part of India, it predates proliferation of pork now,” says Manu Chandra, Executive Chef & Partner, Monkey Bar and The Fatty Bao.
Goa can thank colonial occupation by the Portuguese for the introduction and proliferation of pork. A case which extends to Mumbai and its East Indian community, and Kerala which was influenced more by Catholicism. Apart from these influences, pork has been dietary staple of various rural and tribal communities across India, from north east to the west.
There is a lot to be discovered within India’s territory. Gresham Fernandes, the man behind Swine Dine and Group Executive Chef – Fine Dine at Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality says, “Within India there are many communities where pork is an essential source of food, no one has really explored it much. Like the smoked pork in the north east, I prefer it over any imported smoked pork that comes in.” Wild boar is actually a delicacy in arid Rajasthan. In fact, as Chandra puts it, thanks to the poverty no part of the animal is wasted. Fernandes and Chandra are both on the lookout for lesser known pork dishes from Indian states. This is also what drives Fernandes as he conducts Swine Dine dinners in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. A communal dining initiative which started in 2011 Swine Dine is all about devouring porky delights. From head to hoof, nothing is wasted as Fernandes looks for new and innovative recipes to showcase at each of these dinners.
Get great quality pork meat and products.
Farm Products, Colaba
Joseph Cold Storage, Bandra
Bandra Fresh Pork Market, Bandra
Bangalore Cold Storage, Johnson Market
Bamburies Meat Products, Richmond Road
Arthur’s Food Company, Attibele
Pigpo, Jor Bagh
INA Market, Sri Aurobindo Marg
Cameo to Stardom
Having said that, urban centers in India has always had access to processed pork products in form of sausages, cured ham, bacon, etc. Pork made cameo appearances as cocktail snacks, pizza toppings, etc. It has been a trend in the making for almost a decade says Chandra. However, it is only in the last couple of years that you will find the likes of Bacon Bloody Mary, Pulled Pork Bugers, Braised Pork Belly, Crackling Pork making a steady inroads on restaurant menus. Indian dishes like Pork Vindaloo have always been a favorite, recent to join the gang is Goan Choriz or sausage fry as is Pandi Curry from Coorg. The meat is, clearly, here to stay and rule over our carnivore palates.
As consumers, we make a beeline for pork dishes because we’ve tried it during our travels, seen television chefs do magic with it and also because most of us aren’t comfortable cooking it at home. For restaurants, pork not just adds variety but is also cost effective; beef is banned, lamb is expensive and chicken is done to death. What began as a leap of faith for many restaurateurs has reaped great benefits. The meat itself is more often than not imported. If he isn’t importing, then Fernandes gets it from Bangalore. Chandra imports his stock from Sri Lanka. Importing pork is not as expensive as one would’ve thought. Neither of the two chefs have anything against local meat in fact they vouch for the improvement in quality of the meat over the years but there is an evident need for further improvement.
Making the Cut
There is a distinct difference between Indian and international ways of cooking pork meat and it isn’t the cooking technique. It is all about the cut of the meat. Loin, tenderloin, chops, back ribs, spareribs – best of foodies in the country will have trouble wrapping their heads around the variety of cuts. People are just about opening up to it. “It will be some time before people actually appreciate different cuts of the meat. Right now its all about the belly, ribs and bacon,” adds Nachiket Shetye, Director, Cellar Door Hospitality.
There are three main reasons for this lack of knowledge. It is not common to see pork meat being cooked at India home kitchens, most of the consumption happens at restaurants. Those who do, do not focus on cuts; dishes are all about curries and gravies. Fernandes explains, “Most of the cooking at Indian households is done in a pressure cooker so cuts do not matter.”
Then there are the butchers, they are used to their old skills which they’ve learnt as apprentices from their predecessors. From a novice’s point of view, understanding cuts and then explaining it to the butcher will be difficult. “Butchers are yet to learn cuts and styles. They aren’t used to cutting them,” says Shetye. With fine dining and European restaurants wanting these special cuts there is a change taking place, albeit a slow one. “This is one of the reasons why most of pork dishes featured on the menu are either South East Asian, European or Goan,” Shetye adds.
The signs are positive, pork meat can only become more popular as we get to better understanding of the meat and its benefit. Not only is there a lot to discover within India but there is a lot of innovation which is taking place across the globe which is influencing India. Let’s hope there is no ban placed on pork.