I have come to Coorg looking for two things: white coffee flowers and dark pandi curry.
The coffee flowers have evaded me. I have not bothered to crosscheck the information I have about the time of their bloom and have reached Coorg only to be greeted by torrential rains. So I pin my hopes on the other thing: Pandi curry.
I have heard many stories, watched numerous food shows, and read reams about the rich, flavourful treat from the region and, even though Pork is not my first choice of meat, I am eager to experience the phenomena called Pandi Curry.
Going by the stories I have heard, I already have a flavour of the dish in my mind: I have imagined it to be hot & spicy, with thick gravy, which tastes somewhat like the spicy mutton preparations of Andhra or the peppery chicken of Kerala. I could not be more wrong. The curry is spicy and yet bland (yes, such a combination does exist), I find it too high on spice and too low on flavor, and it does nothing for my taste buds. I make do with the beautiful rice chapattis called Akki Otti and some bland chicken.
With both my motives of travelling 2500 kilometers from home having been defeated, to say that I am now dejected will not be an exaggeration.
“What is a broken heart that cannot be mended by good food?” Says my host Kaveri when I share my disappointment with her. In a matter of minutes, I have a plateful of the most crispy onion and potato bhajjis accompanied by cups of strong coffee. I am not even done with it when her cook, the ever-smiling Lakshmi, asks what would I like for dinner. I ask for basics and eat my dinner of the perfect poriyal and parathas a few hours later in candlelight. A steady stream of rain falling on the asbestos rooftop of the cottage accompanies me for my meal.
What began with the bhajjis in the evening continues in the morning with perfectly steamed rava idlis, hand ground coconut chutney, and endless bowls of tomato Sambar (with baby potatoes). The idlis are soft as cotton, the sambar full of flavour – hot, spicy, tangy, sour all at once – and the chutney ground to perfection. I spend close to an hour sitting by myself in the brick walled verandah enjoying every bite of the food and listening to Laksmi sing a melancholic tune in Kannada.
As I get ready to pack, I realize Kaveri was indeed correct. The steaming idlis, the spicy sambar, the velvety chutney, and Lakshmi’s melancholic song have more than made up for my disappointment. I promise to come back only for them.