The Bare Necessities of Beef

Hartman de Souza’s culinary journeys through the land of beef

 

The meat I have eaten since my cord was cut
The meat that has risen as bone of my bone
The meat that has raced as part of my blood;
When you drove me far from the village,
When you found even my footprints untouchable,
When you couldn’t even see me as human,
What stood by me
And brought me here was beef.
When you bragged, presenting your side,
Your forefathers drank ghee
Exploited many,
It was only beef which stayed with me
Stood by my side;
When its udders were squeezed and milked
You didn’t feel any pain at all,
When it was stitched into a chappal you stamped underfoot and walked on
You didn’t feel any hurt,
When it rang as a drum at your marriage and your funeral
You didn’t suffer any blows,
When it sated my hunger, beef became your goddess?


Beef Beef‘, a translation by Naren Bedide of the Telugu poem,’Goddu Mamsam‘ (Cow Meat) by Digumarthi Suresh Kumar.

 

I recently travelled with four women actors who make up the Space Theatre Ensemble – as their resident cook, general dogsbody and reluctant dramaturge – through a long tour that took us to Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai.

The four actors ‘perform’ poetry, and use vocal harmonies and a solid in-your-face physical presence to give their words a razor-sharp edge. So when they perform the poem above, nobody remains untouched. Nobody gets outraged, nobody get offended – although I’m pretty sure quite a few squirm uncomfortably in their seats. Which is as it ought to be, else why do theatre?

What else do people expect, that after the supervised, systematic killings in Gujarat, we should just bring on the laughs?? Do this for what? Higher fucking growth rates???

We Love Beef & Riots too - a poster by Thma U Rangli Juki
Poster’s from a protest from Shillong

The group’s probably performed Beef Beef for some 6,000 odd people in these three cities – and the bulk of them college-going audiences. I’ve seen them do it so often, I don’t watch them any more, I watch the audiences instead. The group doesn’t perform in RSS-governed institutions or places where their appointed goons spew venom, so all I ever see are huge grins and people laughing soundlessly because they don’t want to miss the words and the searing effect of the dissonant vocal harmonies grated by the four women. Every time they mix their genuine, heartfelt outrage with their tempered sarcasm, they cook up a storm, and receive resounding applause, hoots of sheer glee, lots of whistles.

It’s a simple endorsement that beef tastes good to some people, that no right-wing backward looking gau rakshaks in a cluster of backward, totally feudal districts in UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat can tell you that you can’t eat it, or can glorify a cow to the point of issuing edicts against those who don’t.

***

I’ve been eating beef for 66 years and I will not stop doing so merely because some goon with a saffron bandanna and a vermilion scowl, beats a froth in his mouth. I grew up in a family eating beef in two continents before I did. I ate beef in two continents. Our families, going back God only knows how many generations, also ate beef.

My wife, a Hindu, eats beef; both my in-laws eat beef, as do most in their family. My son will eat anything put on his plate by anyone who cooks for him. My daughter is a vegetarian the last few years and had also been vegan, yet she doesn’t tell any of us one that we can’t eat beef or mutton or pork

I come originally from Goa, where almost everyone who is born Roman Catholic eats beef. Goan Hindus who make up the bulk of the population in this tiny state do not tell Catholics they can’t eat beef. They will accept an invitation to a meal in a Catholic home because they know they will not be served beef if they don’t eat it. They will be served fish or, if they eat it, then pork. Many young Goan Hindus eat beef themselves, even though their parents don’t.

My wife, a Hindu, eats beef; both my in-laws eat beef, as do most in their family. My son will eat anything put on his plate by anyone who cooks for him. My daughter is a vegetarian the last few years and had also been vegan, yet she doesn’t tell any of us one that we can’t eat beef or mutton or pork; she may even taste it when I cook it and give me her opinion. We are vegetarian on Hindu holidays that we celebrate at home (though this doesn’t exclude the transgression of seeking other spirits). Catholic festivity is given its due spirits and beef or pork or fish – or all three. On both the Id holidays, we’ll splurge on good mutton so that I can cook a biriyani, perhaps like the dosa, a great example of how food can transcend differences in culture and bring with it an openness in attitude.

Make no mistake that if our son marries a Punjabi, we will find ways to serve beef with makhi di roti, and if his wife doesn’t eat beef, I’ll either cook the Kenyan Sikh version of Butter Chicken (the original one!) or sarson ka sag. If our daughter marries a Bengali, I’ll have no problems. I’ll cook his mum aloo poshto and she’ll swoon. If his dad supports East Bengal Football Club, cooking illish for him could pose a few problems. Now if he backs Mohun Bagan, no problems at all, he’d get my prawns. If I’m still stuck, I’ll give the daughter suitable parental advice.

We’ve got it all worked out in our heads because we know that the way we can change and adapt is our strength, one that makes us inclusive naturally – something all of us have – a quality that the Goons want to kill.

***

Catholics in Goa also eat pork. No major celebration in fact, takes place without at least one or even two dishes of pork on the table. Sometimes three. Depends on how much they cook, they eat pork for many days following a celebration.

Goa has also had a Muslim population for centuries but Catholics have never been told that they can’t slaughter and eat pigs. Catholics don’t slaughter pigs in front of a Muslim house or force them to eat pork with a knife to their throats. They would not cook and serve pork on the table if a Muslim friend was coming over for a meal. Yet in most Goan markets, a Muslim butcher selling beef and mutton may be just three shops away from a Catholic butcher selling beef and pork.

That’s the very same thing in Bangalore or Chennai – you walk into a shop as we did, you walk out with beef or pork or mutton ( just avoid the chicken in all places unless you want to cook steroids) and you go home and you cook it. You don’t have to look over your shoulder to see if there’s some thugs standing there, orange bandanas wrapped around there foreheads, and a thick, long rope dangling in their hands.

Or even take Delhi for instance, where a young friend of ours lives. A degenerate Brahmin from Jammu no less, who took all of us on a beef crawl from Lajpat Nagar to Nizamuddin to sample incredibly good seekh kababs.

(Okay, if you’re a ‘beef purist’ (snob), I know what you’re going to say, disparagingly, “that’s buffalo meat”, or as some say, ‘buff’ (which actually sounds quite nice!).

No, the point is that buff is meat, there are people who eat it and are nourished by it. It’s not as expensive as mutton, not as contaminated as factory-produced chicken; it’s just very affordable protein in Delhi that tastes good.

Spare a thought too for the poor buffaloes themselves who may feel that they’re slaughtered and eaten merely because they are uniformly dark-skinned!

***

There is diversity in food practices and cultural flows between communities and across many differences in quite a few cities, indelibly linked to food that’s cooked and eaten. For instance, as any upright Goan would vouch, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Pune have the best pork outlets in the country. There are very good reasons for this.

In Delhi, the Punjabi Hindus have made a fine tradition of cutting, cooking and eating pork – from their curries and fries, to their amazing pickle

In Delhi, the Punjabi Hindus have made a fine tradition of cutting, cooking and eating pork – from their curries and fries, to their amazing pickle. I’d go to Delhi any time to get the Pork to cook my mother’s recipe for Goan ‘sorpotel’ – little cubes of pork fried just short of brown in lard, them tempered with a medium to fiery masala ground in vinegar, fried some more, and slowly cooked over days – if you want to eat a vintage sorpotel on December 25 for instance, you start cooking it a week before. You bring it to a boil, then let it cool. You bring it to a boil adding a stock of pork bones and trotters boiled to extinction, taking the level of gravy back to its original level, then letting it cool again; like my mother always said, slowly cooking a sorpotel over a week to ten days was like being forced to say all decades of the rosary every night when you were sleepy.understanding-cuts-of-beef

Okay, maybe I’m just a pig at heart. I’d buy pork in Bangalore too, where both the Dalits and some OBCs and the Hindu Gowdas have made an equally great tradition of cooking and eating pork, and not to forget the Kodava community who are not Caste or any kind of Hindu, but their own people – and who take cooking pork to another level altogether!

I’d also willingly buy pork in Pune and Chennai. Pune gets this tradition from its Dalit population in the slums, the large Goan population that settled there from the turn of the last century; from the Anglo-Indian population there even longer, and now, from the large South Korean and Japanese expats; and of course, more recently students from the Northeast. Chennai is much the same thing; first made popular as a cuisine by Dalits and OBCs and Christians and Anglo-Indians, then made even more specialized with the advent of Korean and Japanese expats.

In Chennai too lies a tale, worth repeating. Not too far from where the Space Theatre Ensemble was working with Chennai-based theatre group, Koothu-p-Pattarai – was an incredibly clean, spotless upmarket butchery selling pork, and bang next to it, part of it in fact, a restaurant selling you four different Chennai-style pork dishes served with either appams, dosas or parathas.

The actor who took us there, Kalaiselvam, told me the owner was Dalit. “How do you know?” I asked him.

“I know her,” he said. He duly introduced us. Finding out that I was from Goa, and with Kalaiselvam and the ensemble endorsing my culinary skills, she asked me whether I could make “Vindaloo, a very famous Goa dish” (which it isn’t; the credit for creating this must go to the Catholic East Indian community in Mumbai).

She was charming and articulate, her English accented but fluent. From what I could see, she was the entrepreneur, her husband, the large man who came to the kitchen door, cleaver in hand, the butcher cum cook.

“You have recipe to make?” she asked.

“I have,” I told her, “you want me to write?”

“No, you tell me, I will know, then I cook first time, and after, give him,” she said, pointing to her husband. This was a woman after my own heart, who understood that you must cook by ear. “Madam, won’t you please sit,” I replied, gallantly pulling a chair out for her.

I gave her Goa on a plate as the tourist ads would say. Recipes for vindaloo (even though it’s not Goan: hey Godfrey, if you’re reading this, I first ate an authentic pork vindaloo thanks to your mum, who also told me the recipe!), sorpotel, booch (which is a very spicy dish made of pork tripe and various other unmentionable parts of the pig), my mother’s recipe for a pork roast – and because she had Koreans coming in to eat, my recipe for glazed and spicy pork chops. She was thrilled. Refused to charge us for the appams and parathas we had eaten. “Next time you come Chennai,” she said, “you just give call” – she pointed her finger – “he will cook all Goa dishes and you tell me taste.” At the kitchen door, her husband glared at me, cleaver in hand.

Before we paid the bill, Kalaiselvam hooted with laughter. “You see that fellow standing at the counter?” he said, pointing, “he’s a Brahmin.”

“Why do you say that?” Andrea asked, “because he’s fair?”

“No,” Kalaiselvam replied, “my cousin is fairer than him but she is still Dalit, it is the way he’s speaking Tamil!”

What is the agenda of this right-wing Hindutva brigade then? In a word, they look backwards. Like the right-wing Salafists with their AK 47s, our Hindutva goons with their trishuls want to goose-step us back in time.

When we left, the man was still at the counter waiting for his order of spicy ‘Pork Masala Fry’. I stopped, fascinated that a Brahmin from Chennai would order pork in a Dalit restaurant. For political reasons I was happy he ate pork and said so. He looked absolutely horrified, like I had caught him masturbating.

“No, no, no,” he said, “I am a pure vegetarian, it is for my brother…”

“Well, I’m happy your brother is eating pork from a Dalit restaurant…”

“No, no, no,” he piped in, “he is also pure vegetarian”. He lowered his voice and hissed, “It is medicine you see”…

“Medicine??” I asked incredulously.

“Yes, yes,” he said to me, his voice still a whisper, “pork fat is very effective for treating piles you see, and my brother, poor fellow is suffering from very severe piles…”

“He just eats it as medicine?” I asked.

“Yes, he is eating it with curd-rice”…

***

What is germane is that in neither of these three cities we travelled to – all of which have a sizeable Muslim population – do you find Muslim mobs storming a shop selling pork and demanding that they stop selling this unclean meat. My family and I ate pork in Kenya – which also had a sizeable Muslim population – and I’ve been buying and cooking pork in India since 1970, when I discovered the joys of cooking – and I’ve never been threatened by a Muslim mob, and then thrashed.

What is the agenda of this right-wing Hindutva brigade then? In a word, they look backwards. Like the right-wing Salafists with their AK 47s, our Hindutva goons with their trishuls want to goose-step us back in time.

Like the yellow markings on Jews in Nazi Germany, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Parsees, Adivasis – former Pakistanis whom we have long vanquished, and even many, many Hindus – would have to wear T-Shirts above their long khaki trousers proclaiming they do not eat beef.

Drinking pure, unadulterated sacred cow urine out of a carton manufactured by Raba Bamdev or some such Made in India start-up will be made compulsory. All games will be banned. Schoolchildren will learn how to march with long, fibreglass lathis. They will lobby to have yoga included in the Olympics and send a contingent of 1,000 to ensure a clean sweep of the medals.

Beef Market, Iewduh, Photo: Whitemonk
Beef Market, Iewduh, Photo: Whitemonk

That old beast, poverty, will be hidden behind billboards. Women will be shown their rightful place in society and be urged to throw themselves on the funeral pyre the minute it is lit. The LGBT community will be hanged, drawn and quartered without mercy because they are the new pariahs.

(Hasn’t it amazed anyone yet that the only time a Catholic bishop, a Hindu sage and a Muslim cleric will not spout venom at each other is when, all smiles, camaraderie and ecumenism, they share the same dais and condemn the LGBT population!).

Make no mistake about it, every hour, on the hour, we will have to whatsapp the words “Bharat Mata ki Jai” or the deemed equivalent. Welcome to the past in the 21st Century, wearing brand new long khaki trousers!

***

The more I think about it, the more I respect my parents. I wish some of the more ardent long khaki trouser clad ‘pracharaks’ – men appointed to propagate their holy cause – were that blessed to have had them.

When I was about nine, one of my parents’ closest friends were a Pakistani couple, Dr. Rahami Khan and his wife Abida. He was a doctor who worked in the government hospital in Embu, a town in Kenya where I grew up. His wife and him were younger than my parents, their son barely beginning to walk. She spoke no English, so my mother and her spoke in Kiswahili and my mother gave her all sort of tips on bringing up her baby, and teaching her English by encouraging her to speak.

Dr. Khan and my dad bonded over hockey and whiskey. Both played hockey in college, him in Karachi, my dad in Pune. My dad’s kick was telling him that just like with the Olympics that had just gone by in Melbourne, India was going to win the gold in Rome. Dr. Khan and my mum bonded over pork. Even before he had sipped his whiskey, he’d say to my mum, “Dora, sausages please”. Kenya of course, has a history of pork as a commercial enterprise going back to colonial times, around the same time wild boar was considered a delicacy by those tribes who hunted it.

Mrs. Khan didn’t have a problem with her husband eating pork sausages and licking his fingers, or drinking whiskey with my dad, or standing next to my mother when she fried them. Out of respect, DR. Khan didn’t drink at home or make her fry pork for him, he got his whiskey from my dad and Uplands’ famous chipolatas from my mum.

My first lesson about the diversity of food practices came not shortly after, when we were still living in Embu. My dad had been deputed to attend a ‘baraza’ – a meeting of village elders – and I tagged along, mostly because it’s nicest thing when you are nine, to go hurling down a mud road in an old 3-gear Land Rover, also if he wasn’t in a tearing hurry then he would let me sit on his lap and steer.

The baraza was at a village of the Gikuyu, who like the Masai, consider cattle a blessing and sign of wealth. What really got me was that one of the elders milked a cow straight into a long gourd – maybe half a glass full. Then he made a small cut on a bull’s neck and let the blood drip into the gourd. Then he gave it to my dad to drink. He did and I almost gagged.

A meeting of elders is always followed by local beer and ‘nyama choma‘ – which in this case, may have been a young calf and a few few goats, skinned, cleaned of gristle and nerve and rubbed with salt; then placed over a mammoth grill, over logs that have been burned down and glow a bright red with heat. My mouth watered. Thanks to my dad, I got a lovely slice. The meat looked tough but succulent, and the smell of it made me hungry. Before I could take my first bite, I saw what they were going to serve my dad. One of the men sliced out one of the eyes, the testicles and pulled out a steaming hot liver.

I would have run for my life, he just smiled, took the plate from them and began eating with everyone else. My slice of grilled meat took another colour. I could see a thin line of the animal’s blood seeping out in a a thin line and smudged into capillaries that moved towards the edge of the enamel plate. I slunk away and gave the meat to a dog.

Going back home, I said this to him, which is when I got his interpretation of food diversity, an axiom he would repeat just once more, on an occasion where I was to make a fuss about eating something.

“If it’s in the air, and it’s not an aeroplane; if it’s in the water and it’s not a boat; if it’s on land and it’s not a human being – and if five other people are eating it at a meal with you, shut your bloody mouth and eat it!”

This is the first part of an article. The second part with recipes ‘The Bare Necessities of Cooking Beef’

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Hartman de Souza Written by:

Hartman de Souza has a background in theatre, education and journalism. He has been associated with several theatre groups in the country and was, till September 2015, the artistic director of the Space Theatre Ensemble, Goa.

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