Monday 24 June 2013

Pandi Curry - Coorg Style Rich, Dark Pork Curry

Coorg, or the Kodagu district in Karnataka, is a beautiful little hill town on Eastern slopes of the Western Ghats. Its intense green hills are lush with coffee plantations and the fragrance of citrus and spice is one of its best known characteristics. Its hard not to be totally captivated and fascinated by this small, magical piece of India, and its also one of the country's best kept secrets.

Coorg is heavily reminiscent of my childhood. Growing up, I went to a private school, which also had a boarding school attached to it, run by nuns. The boarders were usually girls from Coorg, and two of my best friends were girls who hailed from this lovely place. I saw Coorg through their memories and descriptions, and when I went there to see for myself, I was not disappointed, it was a beautiful place, made even better by the wafts of fragrances that I spoke about.

The first time I ever went to Coorg was, weirdly, for a debating tour. A friend and I took thelate evening bus from Mangalore, and we reached the capital of Coorg, Madikeri (or Mercara) at 3 AM in the morning. And holy (word) was it ever cold there. Both my friend and I had no idea how cold it can get in Coorg, coming from hot and humid seaside Mangalore (that said, now that I have experienced the Edmonton winter, I laugh at our feebleness) The temperature was about 18 or 19 degrees, and we had no sweaters or blankets or anything remotely resembling warm clothes. We actually wrapped ourselves up in our Indian shawls, called dupattas, and huddled into a dingy bench in the bus station. As we'd reached there at a silly hour, there were no buses to get us anywhere to where we wanted, so we had to stay in that bus stop till almost six in the morning. Both my friend and I were so grateful when the chaiwallahs (or in Coorg's case, coffeewallahs, more on that in a bit) started their lilting tunes... we must have gone through gallons of hot, milky coffee to keep us warm. 

We finally managed to grab another bus at 6 AM, which took us to the college hosting the debate. I still vividly remember the beautiful morning mist that we drove through, and the dew still cold and wet on the coffee plants in the estates. Early morning students were already up and about, and we were soon fed and ready for the tournament (we won, in the end... made that journey worthwhile :)) We then spent the rest of the afternoon at another friend's place and we were taken on a tour of her coffee estate, before finally wending our way back home.

Ever since that first trip, I've been back to Coorg several times... most of the times sensibly driving in at a more reasonable time, that is, and the little district never fails to make me feel completely alive and vibrant.

Pandi Curry - Coorg Style Rich, Dark Pork Curry

Coorg is rightly famous for many things, including the best coffee in South India (I highly doubt anyone's going to call me out on this extravagant claim) The coffee there is highly dependent on its terroir, and it has got this really amazing flavour of spices running through it, most probably down to the fact that its usually grown on the same hills with spices like cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper. I've never found Coorg coffee anywhere else in the world, so I always bring back some when I get back from India or make my friends and family bring it to me. For me, that coffee is truly the taste of childhood. 

The other famous dish that evokes Coorg is this wonderful, rich, dark, spicy pork curry. Called Pandi Curry, I first tasted it in a tiny little Coorgi restaurant in Bangalore that my sister lived close to. This curry is very reminiscent of the flavours of Coorgi cuisine and while little known outside of Coorg, its a dish that remains a favourite. Its traditionally served with a flatbread called 'akki roti' that I haven't tried my hand at making yet. 

I asked a few friends how to make this curry, but in the end went with a slightly more fusion version, as I didn't one of the characteristic traditional oils (gingelly oil) that is used to make this dish. My dad and I made this dish together, with him tasting it as we cooked it and telling me what it needed more of. I was quite happy with the way it turned out in the end, and so was my dad, even though he said it wasn't as spicy as it should be... to which I will hold up my hand and claim responsibility, cause I am a bit of a spice chicken now :) But that said, the curry itself was pretty tasty and both dad and I loved eating it. Dad ended up reminiscing about his time in the army with a whole group of Coorgi soldiers (Coorg is also known for its warrior class) and I just quietly sat and ate with him, lost in my old memories of my lovely Coorgi friends and the beautiful misty scenes of the sun rising through foggy, green coffee blooming hillsides. 

Pandi Curry - Coorg Style Rich, Dark Pork Curry

(Printable Recipe)

1 kilo pork (I used shoulder)

Spice Mix: 

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
2 - 3 inches cassia bark or 1 stick cinnamon
5 whole cloves

Curry Sauce: 

2 tablespoons malt vinegar (substitute red wine or plain vinegar, if desired)
1 tablespoon coconut oil (or any unscented oil) 
2 large onions, chopped into medium dice
5 - 6 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely
2 inch piece of ginger, chopped coarsley
2 green chillies (add more to taste) chopped
Salt to taste
Fresh cilantro, quartered limes and whole green chillies, slit lengthways to garnish


Trim the pork, leaving behind some fat, and cut into large chunks.

Make the spice mix: heat a heavy based pan, and dry roast the spices, one by one for between 30 - 45 seconds, and remove to a bowl. Let cool completely, then blend to a fine powder in a spice grinder.

Place the pork in a large bowl, and add the spice mix and the vinegar along with a little salt to taste. Mix well, and place aside to marinate for an hour.

Heat the coconut oil in a heavy pan, and add the onions. Saute for a few minutes, until softened, then add the garlic, ginger and chillies. Fry for another minute, then add the pork, and its marinade.

Season again with a little salt, then cover and slow cook on a low heat for about 2 - 3 hours, until the pork is fork tender, but with a little chew. Adjust seasoning to taste, adding a little more salt and vinegar, if required.

Serve, garnished with fresh, chopped cilantro, green chillies and lime wedges, with rice or roti. 


  1. Beautiful post, you make me want to pack up and visit there, even though it sounds *so* cold (hahaha)

  2. janice Stanyer3 July 2013 at 17:37

    Thank you, Michelle, for this recipe! I made it yesterday and it was delicious! Very easy to make and the flavours in the pork were absolutely wonderful. This is definitely one to keep and make over and over again.

  3. This sounds lovely - I've definitely got to try this at some point. I'm just imagining the mist rising over coffee plantations; that's a lovely image - I'm missing Coorg and I've never even been there. I'm hoping that you might try making the akki roti at some point. If that's the one made with rice flour, then I've always thought it sounded a bit tricky. But then I'm a bit of a wimp.

  4. Whats dark about this Pandi Curry ? And is this the same way the Coorgi people make it? I mean, is this the original Coorgi recipe ? I have had many times, but not something that looks like this one.

  5. I like your approach to cooking and the fact that you made this the first time with your dad. Very nice! If you don't get the Coorgi vinegar, itself a magnificent and unique preparation, malt vinegar is a very poor substitute as are maybe the quartered limes for the gravy. That vinegar gives the dish its rich dark colour. But you can cheat on this by using a thick sauce made of dried but juicy 'Kokum'...

  6. Thank you, Michelle, for this recipe . I like the coorg food and festivals and greenery.i really missed all this. this recipe looks delicious i will surely try this hope my hubby like this thank you again - coorgexpress.com


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