Pig trotter soup is a popular dish in the local cuisine of Shillong. It scores high both in nutritional value and taste
One rainy afternoon in Jhargram, Medinipur, I was making my way home from work through runnels of rainwater on a muddy path with paddy fields on either side. I was cursing myself for not carrying an umbrella, and also for choosing this shortcut because it was picturesque. Suddenly, I remembered my days in Shillong where rain could come similarly unannounced, and longed for Kong Flody’s pig trotter soup.
Before I go any further, let me tell you a little about Kong Flody and pig trotter soup.
Kong Flody’s name (‘Kong’ in Khasi means ‘elder sister’) was on most people’s lips in Shillong in the early 1970s on account of her instinctive healing touch. She became a professional therapeutic masseuse almost by accident after she heard a sage’s prophecy and grew aware of her ability. When my mother had a severe case of frozen shoulder and muscle debilitation that did not respond to modern treatment, our neighbours suggested we call Kong Flody. Not only did she cure my mother over the course of the next six months, she also became a fast friend. Very often on my way back from college I would sight one of her daughters waiting for me at the head of the lane leading down to their house. She would whisper in her excitement, ‘Come quickly, Mother has just taken the pig trotter soup off the fire,’ or, ‘We saved some doh khlieh (pork brain salad) for you from lunch, come on’.
Pig trotter soup is a popular dish in the local cuisine of Shillong. It scores high both in nutritional value — it is recommended for pregnant women, children and the elderly — and taste. For that matter, my mother fed us trotter soup when we were children to build strong bones, but most of the time it was lamb trotter soup (tengrir soup in Bengali). It was good enough but from what I remember, it didn’t have the same rich taste or flavour as pig trotter soup.
Kong Flody’s soup, a broth really, which we called ‘suruwa’, was cooked on a slow coal fire and left to simmer all day. There was no seasoning save salt, peppercorns and onions. By the time the soup was done, the trotters would have almost melted to the point that they could be chomped into a mash, and the marrow blended with the onion.
I sat around the fire with Kong Flody’s three daughters in a small, cosy kitchen with a wooden floor while she ladled out the soup in large mugs. Transparent globules of fat floated on the surface of a steaming, thickish broth. She served this with hunks of crusty white bread, which I had, while her daughters preferred to drop red rice into their mugs to be spooned up.
You dipped your bread slice into the mug for a moment, lifting it to your mouth just before it threatened to fall into the soup, then sucked it up, followed by a sip from the mug. It was rich and coated your lips as you drank. And you licked your lips off roundly. I remember the three girls and me laughing at each other as we did this while Kong Flody’s eyes twinkled and she beamed at us indulgently like a big mother cat.
That rainy afternoon in Jhargram I decided to try out Kong Flody’s soup. The only trouble was that I had no access to pig trotters. Well, I thought, lamb trotters would have to do. Incidentally, in the early 1980s in Jhargram when I was posted there, meat was unbelievably cheap, even for those times. Chicken and lamb sold for ₹13 a kilo while khashi (castrated goat) was ₹25. Trotters cost 25 paise each.
There was radhuni pata, or wild celery, growing in patches all over the garden, so I decided to use it. In the absence of radhuni pata you could use celery stalks and leaves. This is my recipe. You could try it on a winter’s day.
Lamb trotter soup
6-8 lamb trotters
12-15 cups water
2 large onions, sliced roughly
1 tbsp pepper corns
5 cloves garlic
Salt to taste
1 handful radhuni pata with stalks or two stalks of celery
1. In a heavy bottomed kadhai or handi set the trotters to boil over medium heat.
2. Slice the onions and chop the radhuni pata. Peel the garlic.
3. Once the water starts boiling, add the garlic, peppercorns, onions and radhuni pata stalks, leaving the leaves for garnish.
4. Cover the pot, reduce the heat and allow the soup to simmer. Stir it once in a while. The longer a soup simmers the better it is. When I cooked this in Jhargram, I let the soup remain on the coal stove all day. In a slow cooker this would take about the same time, say 5-6 hours. The soup should have about 6-7 cups at the end.
5. Stir well to mix the soup. Add salt and white pepper. Garnish with radhuni pata or celery leaves.
6. Serve with croutons, soup sticks or crusty bread.
The writer is the author of the food memoir, Spiced, Smoked, Pickled, Preserved: Recipes and Reminiscences from India’s Eastern Hills.