Jungle View once again the other day. The place is so deeply ingrained in our psyche, that it has become effectively a default option any time any of us wants to celebrate. The occasion this time was Ramakrishna Das's wife Ashwathi's first visit to Cuttack. Poor Ram had a tough time arranging the trip, or at least, getting all members of the gang to agree on the date and time. It was not just a matter of prior engagements. In the best Odiya traditions, the more pious among us observe a strict vegetarian diet on certain days of the week, on which days they don't find Jungle View so attractive a proposition. I wonder why.
I had intended this trip to be a follow-up to my earlier post on the place, that is, to to check out, and photograph, all the stuff I had missed out on the last time. Alas! my grandiose plans were almost completely frustrated. Both Emu and patra poŗā mutton were off that day. I don't know what they have against patra poŗā; it never seems to be available though the people there insist it's still a part of their regular repertoire. The saving grace: they could muster some hāņdī poŗā mutton. But more on that later. First, a brief digression on the Odiya word poŗā. The term literally means 'charred' or 'scorched', a singularly unappetising appellation for one of the most glorious cooking style one can encounter anywhere. Perhaps 'baked on embers' conveys the idea better. Briefly, the idea is that the thing to be cooked is either placed in some sort of receptacle (bamboo logs and earthenware pots constitute popular choices) or wrapped in leaves. Then the receptacle or parcel, as the case may be, is placed directly on smouldering embers, and the stuff inside slow-cooks over some hours. The combination of smoke and direct, yet gentle, heat does all kinds of wonderful things to the thing being cooked. It enhances the natural flavours of meats and imparts a delicious smokiness to them, a sweeter, much more subtle smokiness than a Tandoor or a brazier's naked flames do. Mutton responds particularly well to this style of cooking. It remains slightly tough, and firmly textured. And its juices intensify to impart a rich gameyness. But this is not to say this method is good only for meats. Chhenā poŗā, to my mind Odisha's single most monumental contribution to the culinary arts, is also prepared in this way.
In contrast to the hoopla Jungle View associates with Bamboo mutton, where the log is brought to the table and the meat ceremoniously extracted in the presence of the customers, they tend to serve hāņdī poŗā mutton in distinctly low-key fashion. hāņdī poŗā literally translates to 'charred (baked, whatever) in an earthenware pot', but you never actually get to see the pot itself. What they serve up on the table is nothing more than a portion of meat on a stain-less steel plate. Even at first glance, though, differences with Bamboo mutton are manifest. Its colour is darker, for one, which indicates they don't add so much turmeric to it. Neither do they seem to use mustard oil, since it lacks the faint pungency of the latter. Which is perhaps just as well: the sharpness of mustard wouldn't have gone well with the deeper, earthier notes of hāņdī poŗā. And it certainly does exude deep, earthy, even gamey notes. It is also smokier, and the meat a shade softer too. Perhaps earthenware pots diffuse heat better than bamboo logs do? Suffice to say that it has become an immense favourite with me, perhaps even more so than Bamboo Mutton has. And that's one massive endorsement.
Dāl, one with scrambled egg stirred in, and the other without. Rajat, the sole vegetarian among us contented himself with egg curry (even his wife Nidhi cheerfully tucked into mutton and prawn). I had a taste of the egg too. Pretty decent, but not exceptional. All in all, a very pleasant experience, as the group selfie I took just before we left suggests. Pleasant enough, but I still wonder: whatever happened to all that Emu and patra poŗā mutton?