At a lunch meeting in a club off Kolkata’s Park Street, Ayan Ghosh read the day’s menu as his server waited patiently. Dijon Bekti, tomato soup, some fancy omelette, salad – he skimmed through the names, before zeroing in on what he wanted. “Ham steak,” he announced in his crisp, authoritative voice to the elderly man in pristine whites.

His choice was hardly surprising. Ghosh is the president of The Calcutta Porkaddicts – a diverse community of dedicated pork enthusiasts of different ages, professions and disposition. The Porkaddicts take their pork very seriously. These are people who know their sirloin from their tenderloin, have staunch opinions about the ideal ratio of fat to meat (but most would agree there’s no pork without fat), could guide you to the best pork in town, and would doggedly defend the superiority of pork.

For the longest time in India, pork eaters have been a minority despite the fact that the meat is widely consumed in many parts of the country (including the North Eastern states, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala) and by several communities (including the Catholics and Kodavas). The pig’s scavenging ways brought it bad press – many people consider it impure, irrespective of religion – and it was off limits in many kitchens. Restaurants too were wary of putting it on their menu. Until a few years ago, even in Kolkata, a city reasonably tolerant with meat, pork dishes were limited to a few Park Street vintages, unassuming Chinese eateries and holes-in-the-wall serving cheap pork curry and rice.

“In Bengaluru too, eating pork was a taboo,” said Kalyan Gopalakrishna, a stockbroker-turned-food consultant and founder of the Bangalore Pork Lovers’ Club. “Restaurants wouldn’t put it on the menu in fear of alienating many and the pork scene in general was dismal until recently.”

Things have changed significantly in the last couple of years. As Homer Simpson said in The Simpsons, the pig is “a wonderful, magical animal”, and it finally seems to be casting its spell. It’s not just pork that is gaining popularity – pork lovers across India are making their presence felt too. In fact, pork is at the centre of a culinary subculture and a burgeoning community of people bound by their shared love for the meat and a spirit of camaraderie.

The Bangalore Pork Lovers’ Club at Siam Trading Co..

Why pork?

So what is the reason behind the rising popularity? “Pork has a sort of cult following – it’s perceived as something luxurious and exciting,” said Mumbai-based Rhea Mitra-Dalal, a seasoned home chef, blogger and founder of The Porkaholics, a popular Facebook community dedicated to pork. “The fact that many don’t eat pork for various reasons also gives it a niche status, [an] exclusivity of sorts, at least in India. It’s to some extent aspirational, even though it is inexpensive.”

Social media has played a big role in triggering this shift and making pork fashionable. Online communities such as The Porkaholics and Pork Lovers gave pork enthusiasts a common platform where they could share recommendations, exchange recipes, discuss, debate and flaunt their love for pork without fear of being judged. “If you look at the posts on The Porkaholics, you will see people constantly drooling over photographs, laughing at the memes and cartoons, engaging in lively discussions around everything from lab-grown meat to health benefits, or the lack thereof, of bacon or pork or lard,” said Mitra-Dalal. It was not long before fellow members of virtual communities started getting together in the real world for fun potlucks and curated restaurant meals – all-pork, of course.

A year and a half ago, 30-odd pork enthusiasts (mostly members of an existing online community) got together for a pork-laden lunch at Tung Naam, an unassuming Chinese eatery with a reputation for superlative food in the city’s Old China Town. “It was here, albeit unwittingly, The Calcutta Porkaddicts was born,” said Ghosh.

Since then, the group has been celebrating their shared love for pork, one (sometimes two) porcine meals a month, hosted at venues ranging from unpretentious eateries tucked in unassuming neighbourhoods to luxurious restaurants in five-star properties. One such meal was at a farm in Shantiniketan, where the Porkaddicts feasted on specialties of the Santhal tribal community such as Surki Kohra (stir-fried diced pork) and Surki Pitha (dumplings stuffed with minced pork, pressed between sal leaves and roasted) in addition to a whole spit-roasted pig.

Innovation, experimentation

The eight-member core committee of Porkaddicts, led by Ghosh, is in charge of organising the monthly meets, and they take their job seriously. That Ghosh himself is a seasoned management consultant means each event is planned meticulously to the last detail. Every event is dedicated to exploring a new cuisine and culture through pork. “Most of our events start with an introduction to the cuisine [either by the chef who has cooked the meal or Ghosh himself] and its cultural background,” said Ghosh.

The Porkaddicts have celebrated Losar (Tibetan New Year) with Pork Phing-sha (a soupy dish made with pork, veggies and glass noodles) and Pork Shapta (stir-fried pork), and Christmas in Anglo-Indian style with pork roast and jhal-farezi. They have explored the cuisine of Bengali Christians through their favourite pork preparations and picnicked over Pork Jhol (Bengali-style curry typically sold at hole-in-the-wall eateries around Kolkata) and Pork Chorbir Bora (pork fat fritters).

Their latest was a monsoon special lunch – Barshar Bhojo Porko, a play of words that loosely translates to porcine monsoon feast. On the menu were monsoon favourites in quirky porky avatars – khichuri studded with bits of ham, Dim’er Devil (Bengali version of Scotch eggs) made with minced pork, and a regular aloo bhaja (potato fry) livened up with strips of bacon. This meal was about breaking away from convention.

The man behind the imaginative spread, Azad Taslim Arif, the executive chef at Vedic Village Spa Resort, had earlier wowed The Calcutta Porkaddicts by pulling off an all-pork Awadhi feast – pulled-pork shammi kebabs, spice-laced pork bhuna served with sheermal and kakori kebabs made with minced pork. Considering the resolute absence of pork in Muslim cuisines across the country, achieving this couldn’t have been easy.

In Bengaluru, the Bangalore Pork Lovers Club met for a monsoon special lunch at the Thai specialty restaurant, Siam Trading Co., in July. Gopalakrishna spent months planning the event. “Simply Thai wouldn’t do,” said Gopalakrishna. “We wanted uncommon seasonal specialties that were evocative of the rains.”

The pork-only menu at Siam Trading Co., Bengaluru.

Weeks of brainstorming with the team at Siam Trading Co. yielded diverse options. Among the ones that finally made to the table were a luscious pork and lychee soup, grilled pork neck and coconut ice cream served with honey glazed pork strips and Sriracha cream. The lunch was a roaring success. It was one of the porcine events curated by Gopalakrishna since the group’s inception a year ago. The others included an all-American pork lunch, an elaborate suckling pig lunch, and a 10-course Mexican meal crafted by chef Vikas Seth featuring beer-battered pork ear salad and Pork Pozole, a slow-cooked Mexican stew.

Passion for meat

What makes this pork love all the more special though is the passion that drives it. When, in May 2017, the Calcutta Porkaddicts recreated the famous street-side Chinese breakfast of Tiretti Bazaar (old China Town) at a traditional Chinese eating house that has stood in the area for over 70 years, they were faced with a challenge of another kind. The restaurant’s nonagenarian owner came gladly on board, but the unassuming family-run establishment could accommodate no more that 20-25 people at a time. Besides, they didn’t have the manpower or infrastructure to cook for and serve large groups.

Within days, with the help of Porkaddicts members, an old workshop next door was transformed into a dining hall that would accommodate the 100-odd people who had signed up for the breakfast. Friends and family of the restaurant’s owner took over the kitchen to prepare a lavish breakfast. Members of the Calcutta Porkaddicts volunteered to help with service in true communal spirit.

The growing love for pork has also encouraged home chefs to showcase their culinary skills through pop-ups dedicated to pork. Angona Paul’s Pig Boss started in 2016 as an all-pork weekend delivery service in Pune that she ran along with two friends. When Paul relocated to Kolkata, she started hosting monthly swine-dine pop-ups under the Pig Boss banner, which went on to become a crowd-puller.

Another home chef, Elika Awomi, found the perfect platform to host her first Naga pop-up in The Calcutta Porkaddicts. In January, the group organised a home chefs’ pop-up where both Paul and Awomi, along with Atrei Chatterjee, who runs a home-based culinary outfit, cooked up a storm. “I made Pork Loin Roast and Pork sliders,” said Chatterjee. Paul explored dishes from South India with Pandi Curry and Malayali Pork Sukka, while Awomi served up Naga specialties like smoked pork and pork belly cooked in black sesame paste.

In Mumbai, Mitra-Dalal set up Horkus Porkus along with home chefs and fellow pork aficionados Gitika Saikia and Madhumita Pyne. Saikia is known for her rural Assamese cuisine pop-ups, while Pyne is a home chef and caterer. The trio host only-pork pop-ups and offer pork-only Piggy Bag menus. July’s Piggy Bag menu had dishes such as Tripuri-style Pork Sticky Rice by Saikia, Goan Aad Maas by Pyne and a Sri Lankan pork curry served with carrot sambol and rice by Mitra-Dalal.

The Calcutta Porkaddicts' home chefs pop-up. Photo credit: Poorna Banerjee.

At Hokus Porkus, Mitra-Dalal has served dishes like Pork Dhansak and a porcine adaptation of the Parsi rural classic Batervo – goat meat cooked slowly in spices and toddy. She named the dish Pork Toddywala, punning on a common Parsi surname. “Like Bengalis, most Parsis love their pork, but it’s not a part of their traditional culinary repertoire,” she said. Hokus Porkus’s August Piggy Bag menu will see the quintessential Bengali Ghoogni and Kosha Mangsho (traditionally cooked with goat meat) get a porky metamorphosis. “Besides, Alefiya Jane of The Bottle Masala [catering service] will be joining us as a guest chef with her East Indian treats,” said Mitra-Dalal.

Over the next few months, The Calcutta Porkaddicts are likely to feast on some rare Goan delicacies, cheer for their favourite chefs at a home chefs’ cook off and celebrate the Oktoberfest at a five-star over platters of porky treats. In Bengaluru, Gopalakrishna plans to experiment by pairing pork with various liquors. “The pork-loving community is active and vocal and the chant ‘May the Pork be with you’ is loud and clear,” said Mitra-Dalal.