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.
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.
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. 😉
Today we’re on X of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.
Picture Credit: Kake Pugh via Compfight cc