The small Western State of Goa in India is ever famous for three things…the beaches, it’s easy-going nature and it’s FOOD..Goan Cuisine. The men of Goa with their pot bellies are evidence of the fact that Goans love their Food.
The Goan cuisine is an interesting mix of varied influences. The long period of Portuguese rule, besides that of the Muslim and Hindu kingdoms, has left an indelible influence on the original style of Goan cooking and this has led to an exotic mix of truly tasty and spicy cuisine. Most people who sample Goan cuisine, enjoy this different and unique style of food which has a distinct and unique combination of spicy flavours.
With over a hundred kilometers of coastline it’s no shocker that fish and seafood are staples here. A Goan meal is incomplete without Fish, Rice and Curry cooked with coconut. Apart from fish though Pork is Widely available and eaten mainly among the Christians. Beef is commonly available as well unlike the rest of India. Though there are some vegetarian dishes they are not widely known or associated with Goa. Goa really caters for non-vegetarian meat lovers.
Goa is famous for its seafood, the ‘classic’ dish being Goan fish curry and rice. Apart from a Curry preparation fish is also fried and sometimes picked. Kingfish is probably the most common item, on the menu, but pomfret, doumer, shark, tuna and mackerel are hot favourites as well. Among the excellent shellfish available are crabs, prawns, tiger prawns and lobster. Other seafood includes squid and mussels. Goa’s luscious coconut and fish based dishes draw in people from all over the world.
A popular version of fish curry in Goa is the Ambot-Tik which literally translates to Sour-Spicy. The sour comes from the use of the petals of the tart ‘Kokum solam’. Known to be a cooling agent and honoured for its medicinal value, the red-coloured fruit of ‘Kokum’ is the real king of Goan cuisine.
Grounded coconut is mixed with red chillies, peppercorns, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, turmeric powdre, garlic and ginger to make a fine paste. Sliced onions, tamarind juice and green chillies are added along with a cup of water and salt. The mixture is cooked and dried mango and kokum are added in process. Later, fish is added and is cooked till ready. The dish is a hot favourite of all seafood lovers.
Recheado means stuffed in Portuguese and in this recipe, a fresh whole fish, usually a mackerel or pomfret, is slit down the center and stuffed with a spicy red paste, after which it is shallow fried. Mackerel Recheado is one of Goa’s most famous dishes. Other fish can be used is well. The fiery-red Recheado masala made of kashmiri red chilies, garlic, cumin, peppercorns and tamarind is ground into a smooth but thick paste using vinegar. It is very versatile and can be used to prepare many other Goan seafood dishes. The Recheado masala can be made and stored in an airtight container for months as the vinegar in it acts as a preservative.
Prawn Balchão is another Goan favourite. Brought to Goa by the Portuguese, Balchão originated in Macao, where it is called Balichao. Balchao is a method of cooking either fish or prawns in a dark red and tangy sauce. Balchao is almost like pickling and can be made days in advance without reheating. The traditional Balchao uses a paste made from dried shrimp known as ‘galmbo’ in Konkani spices and feni(see below. This paste is added to fresh prawns, onion, spices and oil to prepare a prawn balchao. Balchao is often bottled and eaten as an accompaniment in meals. But many people leave out the dried shrimp paste as this lends a fairly strong fishy flavour to the dish.
Pork is a popular meat available in Goa. Though the Hindu’s and Muslims of the state don’t eat pork because of religious constraints, it is widely popular among the Christian community and is in the main dishes of any festival or celebration. Vindaloo and Sorpotel are among the most famous pork dishes of Goa along with their spicy chourico sausages.
Pork is a must for any festive occasion in Goa and the most famous preparation is the vindaloo. There are diverse interpretations of the etymology for this word one being ‘vinho’ for wine, ‘alhos’ for garlic (Portuguese), ‘viande’ and ‘aloo’ for meat and potato (French and Hindustani). It is a spicy concoction, lots of red chilies, garlic, cooked with chunks of pork, Goa vinegar, and hard palm jaggery and is best enjoyed with plain boiled rice.
Sorpotel is unarguably the essence of Goan Christian cuisine. Adapted from the Portuguese dish of Sarabulho, it is served traditionally at Christmas and on feast days. Sorpotel is one of those classic dishes that truly highlights the melange of Goan and Portuguese cultures in the cuisine of this state – Goan because of the generous use of spices; Portuguese because of the use of vinegar, which is hardly seen elsewhere.
Sorpotel is prepared from pork, liver, heart and kidney, all of which are diced and cooked in a thick and very spicy sauce favored with red chilies, cinnamon, cloves bathed in tangy toddy vinegar, which is needed to balance the strong taste of pig’s blood: another traditional ingredient of this revered dish. The Blood is not used in recent versions of the dish as it is not to eceryone’s taste. Sorpotel, like balchao, keeps for several days, and is actually considered to taste better if left for three to four days before being reheated.
Chouricos are spicy pork sausages, which owe more than a passing debt to Portuguese culinary traditions. Goan sausages are prepared used well salted and spiced cubes of pork. Once they have been made, the strings of sausages are dried in the sun and then hung above the fire where they are gradually smoked. Traditionally they are eaten during the monsoon, when fish is scarce. To prepare them, they are soaked in water and then usually fried and served with a hot sauce and rice.
Chicken is popular as a meat all over India as well as in Goa. In Goa it is prepared in different sauces or dry fried with spices.
A Goan dish of tribal origin is cafreal. It was named after the African soldiers or Kaffirs who brought it to Goa centuries ago. Today, the dish is made by marinating pieces of chicken in a paste made of spices, chilies, garlic and ginger and lemon juice and then deep-fried or shallow fries till dry. The result is rather dry, but spicy dish. This is the equivalent of Portuguese-style grilled chicken and the sauce it is marinated in tastes a lot like the famous Portuguese Peri-peri sauce.
This one will be loved by those who prefer a spicy preparation tremendously. Xacuti (pronounced as sha-coo-ti), makes use of plenty of spices like nutmeg, coriander leaves, red and green chillies, ginger and cloves. Additionally tamarind and lemon juice make for a pungent curry. The recipe can also be made with mutton, lamb or fish.
Offering an impeccable blend of European extravagance and simplicity of Konkan cooking, the sweetmeats of Goa are a must try for every holidayer. Although, the desserts are kept simple in Konkan, it takes a lot of effort to create those culinary magic dishes. Many of Goa’s most popular cakes, including the rich ‘Bebinca’, were developed in Goa’s convents and monasteries, where time was never in short supply. Their sweets usually have the same core ingredients of rice flour, coconut milk, palm jaggery, semolina and eggs, from which a formidable array of sweets and savouries are created.
The most famous Goa’s sweetmeats is bebinca also known as bibik.It is a wonderful concoction made from layer upon layer of coconut pancakes. The extract of coconut milk is added to flour, sugar,eggs and ghee and other delectable ingredients are used to make this delicacy. Each scrumptious layer has to be baked before the next one is added, traditionally it has 16 layers but can be made with less or more. The dessert is baked in a specially-made clay oven, with hot coal as a source of heat, placed above. Though the process of making bebinca is tedious process the dessert is a mouth-melting dream.
Dodol is another famous Goan sweet, traditionally eaten at Christmas time, and made with rice flour, coconut milk, jaggery and cashew nuts. It is usually cooled in a flat pan and served in slices, and is very sweet.
An accompaniment to wash down all Goan food is the locally brewed feni. The Goans probably first distilled this from the fermented sap of the coconut flower-stalk, but later they also made it from the fruit of the cashew tree which the Portuguese had brought to the state with them. Though other forms of liquor are readily available across the state, the Goans are as emotional about their feni as they are about their food.
There are two types of feni, both of which are made from local ingredients. Coconut or palm feni is made from the sap drawn from the severed shoots on a coconut tree. In Goa this is known as toddy, and the men who collect it are toddy taper’s. Cashew or caju feni, on the other hand, can only be made during the cashew season in late March and early April.
Undoubtedly Goa’s most famous triple, double distilled perfectly clear and fearfully potent (has an alcoholic strength of around 30% yo 35% proof), this is a drink which deserves respect. Goans are keen to offer advice not to drink it on an empty stomach and mix with other spirits and certainly don’t swim after a couple of fenis. But the best you will hear is ‘you don’t realise how strong it is until you get up’.