Xacuti and Other Goan Food

Fish curry Rice thali
Fish curry rice thali

Goan food? I can wax lyrical about it!

Ask anyone which dish they associate with Goa and the inevitable answer will be the fish curry/rice. Even a vegetarian in the sample of your  survey, is likely to give you the same answer. Without having even smelt the aroma of the curry, much less tasted it.

And the finding of the survey would quite accurately reflect the eating habits of the average Goan, cutting across religious lines. Even today, the best fish curry can be had in the small restaurants and eating places run by Hindus and partonised by the local population.

I attribute this unparallelled  dominance of fish curry and rice to geographical location and climatic conditions of Goa. Besides being  a coastal state,  two major rivers, viz. Mandovi and Zuari,  and their numerous tributaries flow through Goa.

As such, sea food is plentiful. Or at least is was, till the tourism started booming. Now the best of the daily catch moves straight from the beach or dock to the five star hotels catering to the tourists. Today,  living in Mumbai I eat more seafood at a cheaper price than the average Goan in Goa.

Again, being on the coast, coconut trees dot the state, which takes care of the main ingredient of the curry. The other ingredients like chillies were grown locally and only the spices had to be brought from outside. In any case the Vasco da Gama came to India in search of spices, so the Portuguese rulers of Goa ensured that these were always available.

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Mutton xacuti

The other element of this tasty  bundle, viz. rice, is cultivated in the paddy fields that still line the roads as you drive through Goa. In fact, historically, wealth in Goa was measured in terms of bhattan (coconut groves) and khetan (paddy fields) one owned and from the former the term bhatkar (landlord) originated.

But Goan cuisine has more to it than  fish curry with rice. Or Prawn Caldinho, a mild coconut based curry with lady fingers. Or Amot Tik, a hot and sour curry made with shark or squid or other coarse fish. Or Prawn Balchão, a hot pickle. Incidentally, the last item in available in shops in Goa, packed in special plastic container that can withstand the pressures of air travel.

And if there is one dish, more than any other, that would epitomise Goan cuisine at its best, it  is Xacuti (pronounced as shakuti). Made either with chicken or mutton, it is an inclusive dish, that is eaten by all Goans, irrespective of their religious beliefs.  Again, like the fish curry, the best Xacuti is cooked by the Hindus and should be eaten, not in a restaurant, but as a guest in someones house.

Once more,  the main ingredient is the coconut, though in this case, the dish using copra or dried coconut tastes better. But then, coconut is mandatory in Goan cuisine.  Vegetables,  were never popular in Goa in the old days.  I remember overhearing my mother sharing a recipe of a vegetable dish with someone and concluding with the admonition that a generous sprinkling of coconut scraping was necessary for ‘taste’.

To prepare xacuti, the coconut and the spices are lightly roasted till they turn brown and then ground to a coarse paste. And as a manifestation  of the dire economic circumstance of the Goan economy under the Portuguese rule, the chicken or mutton was chopped into very small pieces, so that a small fowl or a little mutton could to go round for  a large family.

Though many Goan families kept a few goats for the purpose of milk, mutton was always a luxury. But every house reared a few  chickens mainly for eggs. And if an important guest, like a cousin from Bombay, suddenly arrived, a chicken was quickly ‘conscripted’, dressed and cooked.

Goa is famous for a host of chicken dishes; some are simple curries but have fancy Portuguese names.  For for some reason, unfathomable to me,  one dish that has captured the popular imagination is  chicken cafreal, a kind of barbecued chicken. There is a restaurant in Saligao in North Goa, close to the popular Calangute beach,  that claims to have popularised the dish.

Besides sea food and chicken, the Catholics in Goa love pork. In the pre-liberation days,  there was no electricity and therefore no cold storages. So pork was not available on a regular basis. Dishes like sorapatel, a spicy curry of pork and liver cut in small pieces, were cooked only for feasts or parties. Or if it was a feast fit for a king, the piece de resistance would be leitão assado or roast suckling.

goanbread
Poi – one of the many types of Goan bread

More likely, pork  would be was reserved for making chouriço ( sausages), which were then placed in oil or smoked over the wood fires that people cooked on. Or some of the meat would be salted and dried in the sun to make khara maas or salted meat, which would subsequently be used to prepared a chilli fry with lots of onions. Now, with pork readily available, besides sorapatel, other dishes like addmaas or curry of bone meat, is a staple item on the menu of many eateries in Goa. Both these dishes can be had with sanas or steamed rice cakes.

If  Corinne and I were to host a party in Goa (not very likely, though), the menu would comprise of a salad, mutton xacuti, chicken cafreal, pork sorapatel, fried fish, a fugad or vegetable dish and pulao.  And of course sanas and  an assortment of Goan breads like the poi in the picture.

Goans also have an assortment of sweets and desserts. But that’s the subject of another post!

My apologies to the vegetarians reading this post. What to do – we Goans are like this only. 😉

 

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Today we’re on X of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Picture Credit: Kake Pugh via Compfight cc

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56 Comments

  1. Kajal

    Now fish is my husband’s weakness too and am sure he would love having the Xucati. I on the other hand, do not like fish…so. But the pictures look very appealing 🙂 Maybe I’d make do with the Poi 😀

  2. Am not a fish eater but I would love to try Xacuti – chicken. What a novel name which eased the X 🙂 !!
    Descriptions r tempting. am a lover of khopra and Prawn Balchão seems spicy . I dont eat prawns but I would love to taste that pickle. I tasted it in coastal areas here. A friedn used to get prawn pickle from godavari region every time she goes home. I literally survived on the chicken/ prawn pickles she bought when foodwas too lousy in hostel

    delicious post
    good day

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  4. If you guys host a party (And, though unlikely, I”d like it to be hosted in Goa and I’ll show up with or without an invitation 😉 I’ll gobble up all the veggies 🙂 Please bring Pablo along – I’ll take him to a walk on the beach while the rest of you enjoy the feast!

  5. Roshni

    Mooh mein paani a gaya! My parents and I are very fond of Goan food; mainly because we are fish and meat eaters and love spice!!
    I’m not sure I liked this post because now I’m craving the same! 😛

    • Vegetable dishes never ever formed the main course. Maybe it is because paddy was the main crop. So vegetables were not grown. At least my grandparents did not grow too many vegetables. Or it could also be that there was no market for vegetables.

  6. sridevi

    Poi did it for a vegan like me …always waited for the honking of the breadman early in the morning . The bread would be warm and fresh and would be downed within minutes 🙂 And yes …you are so right copra does make the dish so very Goan 🙂

    • Early morning…. Poi with a dab of butter and a hot cuppa tea. Brings you to life. Or the cancon or ring. Or the eight shaped bread. But no, poi is the best. Yes, I believe that the copra makes a huge difference to the taste. But then it was expensive.

  7. Just reading your post makes me want to eat fish and mutton 🙂 I have had the privilege of eating veg xacuti, although even the waiters laughed while serving and asked me to consider switching it to a fish course 🙂 You brought Goa to life via the food post C. Great job!!

    Meera

    • The roasting of the coconut and the spices is the important part of the process. You have to get it just right. The aroma of the spices has to be released. Suggest you go to Goa after the rains. It is beautiful and plenty of fish. Very expensive, though.

    • Yes, do try them, one by one. And then let us have your findings of the best places to eat these dishes. Next time we are in Goa we can use your report to eat well. I’m glad you find that Goa is splendid. I get I am lost in my nostalgic memories of Goa that I cannot accept that the changes may be for the better.

  8. Divina

    My mouth is watering and am sure feeling home sick after reading the article…so authentic just took me back to my grand parents days ..the summer hols and the Food… Thanks Jose..

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