Bacon and ham have caught pork lovers' fancy in India -- but sausages are not far behind

Factory produced sausages are made for quick frying or grilling in microwaves -- so they do not have much free fat and contain loads of additives. But the true taste of pork comes from its fat.
Image used for representational purposes
Image used for representational purposes

Come winter in my childhood, going to New Market was like a pilgrimage. It was the time the choicest fruits and exotic vegetables would arrive. The Kashmiri dry fruit shops would overflow with walnuts, almonds, raisins and fake glacé cherries. The Cheese received fresh supplies from Kalimpong, blocks of imported Gouda, Cheddar and Kraft tins brought in by the sailors of merchant ships to make a quick buck on the shore. Nahoum’s -- the iconic Jewish Bakery -- made its finest and widest range of confectionery including the legendary Christmas plum cake.

It was the time turkeys would appear in the market and also ducks. It was also the season for becktis and prawns. Not many other markets got fish of that size and could cut prime fillets. At the central squares were stalls selling Christmas and New Year decorations. I was always fascinated by Christmas crackers that made a snapping sound when pulled open, and contained a small gift inside. Those were magical times. I'm not sure what made it so special -- the age or that period of the city’s history when it was still bathing in the afterglow of the Raj.

But after all this, my principal attraction was to visit one of the many cold storages around to buy sausages and cold cuts. There was, of course, Keventer’s. I like their bottled cold chocolate milk. My father’s favourite store was the Lindsay Cold Storage at the corner of Free School Street, opposite the Fire Brigade, which also doubled as a piano repair shop. The taste of their saltpetre seasoned pink ham and garlic salami are still embedded in my salivary cells. The pièce de résistance was their spice sausage spiked with green masala -- of coriander, green chillies, black pepper and chopped onions. Some of my father’s Anglo Indian friends had them made to order by the fresh pork shops at the back of New Market or in Park Circus.

But we preferred the ones made by the cold storage and, for some reason, my father thought these more hygienic given the lurking fear of tapeworms in pork. He had this theory that pork and oysters can be eaten only in months with a ‘r’ in their name. There was probably some logic in it because the four months that did not have a ‘r’ -- May, June, July and August -- were the summer months when meat could be susceptible to infection. I also learnt from my Dad the method of cooking sausages. He put them into a saucepan, pricked holes in them with a fork and then poured warm water into the pan until the sausages were half covered. Then he would bring it to boil and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes. By the time the water dried up, fat flowed out of the sausages in which they would be fried without any addition of oil. This way, he said not only the excess fat was drained but it was cured of worms and infection.  

I have tried the same method of cooking with pre-packed processed sausages and failed miserably. That is because factory produced sausages are made for quick frying or grilling in microwaves -- so they do not have much free fat and contain loads of additives and preservatives. But the true taste of pork comes from its fat. And, that one can get only from freshly made sausages and cut meat. So overseas, especially in the West, cold cuts and sausages are sold from the meats and delicatessen section of supermarkets or boucheries. Alas, in India, while pork eating has gone up, fresh pork shops and cold storages are disappearing. Some of the fresh pork shops in cities like Kolkata do not inspire confidence. In other places -- like in my adopted homeland, Nilgiris -- pork shops do not make sausages.

However, there are still a few cold storages left that stock their own custom made sausages. On the top of my charts is Steakhouse in Jorbagh, Delhi. Right next door is Pigpo. They make outstanding pork products. Pigpo's salami and ham are closest to my childhood memories of Kolkata. The smoked leg of ham is the best one can get in India. But Steakhouse Masala sausages score over them and for years. I have always made it a point to carry some back to wherever I was based at that time. Khubchand (their main outlet is in Connaught Place) makes good pork products and keeps fresh pork cuts too. I go there for pork kebabs on winter evenings when visiting Delhi.

I must ruefully accept that Kolkata has lost its title of “Pork Capital of India”. Vying close to Delhi is Bengaluru. The Bangalore Ham Shop at the basement of Andres Building on M G Road makes great sausages too. I would have them couriered to Coonoor and was delighted to find them at the Pollibetta Bamboo Club in Coorg. Mumbai’s Bandra has probably the largest concentration of cold storages near Pali Naka and also in Mahim and the northern suburbs of the Borivali-Vasai area which has a large East Indian population. Cold cuts, fresh pork and commercial brands of Goan sausages are their forte. But Goan chouricos or choris is a story for another day.

As I wrote earlier, pork eating is catching up in India and a few modern pig farms have started in parts of the country around Delhi and Pune among others. But the demand is primarily for frozen cold cuts. Some good packaged meat brands like Prasuma, Meisterwurst, Le Carne and Buffet are popular. Bacon has caught people’s fancy -- followed, I would say, by ham. Sausages have some way to go, though Prasuma and Meisterwurst are making some special varieties like bockwurst, Krakow sausage and chorizo. And, if I may add, the blasphemous chicken salami and sausages. But none of them are like the originals that are made with fresh meat. Bockwurst by definition has to be made from unused portions of pork. Made from prime mince, it doesn’t have the same taste. Chorizos are being used in pastas and salads rather than as a standalone dish. However, they can’t replicate the taste of cured, air-dried and smoked Spanish chorizos.

Blood sausages are made in Goa primarily for cooking sorpotel. But British black pudding and Irish white pudding are still alien to India. However, at the end of the day, with a rapidly growing uber rich strata of Indians, supermarkets like Food Hall, Nature’s Basket and Spencer’s all have premium delicatessen sections stocking the best meats from overseas including prosciutto, Parma ham, Italian salami and sausages.

But, if you are like me, try some sausage pulao made with Goan chourico - that would be the Indian version of risotto with chorizo.

Read all food columns by Sandip Ghose here

(Sandip Ghose is an author and current affairs commentator. He tweets @SandipGhose.)

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