Lost Culinary Heritage Of Goa

The tiny western state of Goa is distinctly diverse from the rest of the country in terms of food, culture and even history. While British rule was firmly entrenched in the rest of the country, Goa agonized under the Portuguese rule. The state gained independence well past the end of British rule in the year of 1961. On 18th – 19th December 1961, the Indian Army invaded and annexed Goa after a 36-hour battle and Goa finally merged with independent India. After ruling Goa for more than four hundred years, the governor-general of Portuguese Goa signed on the instrument of surrender, liberating Goa.

The long Portuguese rule had a significant impact on the Goan life, essentially in their cuisine. Goan culinary history is axiomatically demarcated into the pre-Portuguese and the Portuguese era. The Portuguese can be credited to play a colossal role in significantly changing not only the Goan but the entire Indian food scene. How, you may ask. It is they who introduced potatoes, tomatoes, pineapple, cashews, kidney beans (rajma), red chillies, green chillies, bread, vinegar and various types and cuts of meat to the Indians. Come to think of it that only in the last five hundred years have we been consuming them and yet they are distinctly such an intricate part of the Indian cuisine!

The history behind Goa’s exclusive Cuisines

Goan cuisine is notably divided into Christian Goan cuisine, Hindu Goan cuisine and the Muslim Goan cuisine. The cuisine broadly is based on four important elements; sweetness, sourness, spice and salt. With the introduction of vinegar, Christians generously use it to get the tangy flavour, while the Hindu Goan cuisine makes use of the traditional tamarind and the locally grown, kokum. The food, the Muslim Goans eat seems to be largely influenced by the food commonly consumed in the region. Fish and rice form a part of their staple diet, and sea food is preferred over goat meat. Some indigenous ingredients like Teppla or Teppal, Kokum (Garcinia Indica), the tangy Bimla, Tamarind, Toddy, Galmo (dried baby shrimp) and Coconut are predominantly important in Goan cuisine.

The distinct flavour of the Goan cuisine is also due to the traditional cooking methods that were used by the Goans. Earlier, you could see clay pots placed over wood fire, spices were hand pound and ground and the food was slow cooked in pots.

Breads were made from fresh toddy instead of the yeast, making them lighter, airier and keeping them fresh longer.

A Varn (grinding stone) was used to grind pastes, a ‘Dantem’ (hand mill) for grinding Cereals and Grains and Brass utensils for making desserts. The ancient practice of burning coconut coir husks also gave a distinctive smoked flavour to Goan food. The food was lovingly served with ladles made with coconut shell on banana (plantain) leaves. With the advent of modern kitchens and conveniences, the traditional methods have made their way out of a Goan home.

The Jesuit missionaries and nuns who accompanied the Portuguese, brought with them a treasure trove of recipes. The Portuguese were superior seafarers of their time and with multiple colonies under their rule, their cuisine was an amalgamation of their own and the colonies’. When they came to Goa, the cuisine underwent a major change and modifications had to be done to their recipes to accommodate local
flavour and ingredients. Many traditional recipes of the locals and the Portuguese were modified or lost in the bargain due to mutual influences on each other’s cuisine. As time passed by, some elaborate and time consuming recipes too succumbed to the vagaries of time, simply because of busier lives.

They brought Chillies, Capsicum and Kidney beans from South America, Cashews from the New World and cooking techniques from Brazil and Mozambique. Somewhere down the line, the role of the Portuguese colonies in the diversity of Goan cuisine has been greatly overlooked.

Once Upon a Time – The Unique Recipes of Goa that are just stories now

The glorious Chicken Cafreal, which is grilled chicken marinated in coriander, chillies, cinnamon, garlic, and lime juice, is believed to have its roots in the Mozambican ‘Galinha Piri-Piri’. Piri-Piri is a fiery, hot, small chilli, similar to the Bird’s Eye chilli.

Likewise, Sorpotel, a popular Goan pork curry, is said to have evolved from the ‘Sarapatel’ devised by the African slave community in Brazil. Originally, the dish started out as a pork, sausage and blood stew called ‘Sarrabulho’ made in Minho, northern Portugal. It crossed the Atlantic with Portuguese invaders and landed in Brazil, where African slaves added offal, chili, onion and tomato, and changed its name to sarapatel. The rich and spicy stew was modified as a way to use up the undesirable offal and blood. Cooked in vinegar, the stew would last much longer than normal, proving beneficial when traveling on long journeys. After the Portuguese introduced sorpotel, it was quickly adopted and modified by the local Goans. The wine was replaced by toddy vinegar, a vinegar obtained through the natural fermentation of coconut palm sap. Using pig’s blood is rare now, so most households achieve the deep brick-red colour using ground dried Kashmiri chilies. Sorpotel usually contains cumin, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, pepper and cloves and is rarely made with tomato. Some modern-day cooks leave out most or all of the pigs’ offal, using only liver and pork meat, while others add Feni, a coconut or cashew liquor. Like vindaloo, it contains chilies and a lot of vinegar, which acts as a preservative as well as adds sourness. Once this rich stew is cooked, it is left to mature for several days before it can be served.

The predecessor of today’s Vindaloo is Carne de Vinha d’Alhos, made with salted pork, wine, vinegar and garlic. The local influence added cinnamon, cloves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, pepper and toddy vinegar to the tangy curry. It was cooked in a traditional way in a clay pot, which was covered with another pot with water in it. This technique helped retain the moisture in the meat, making it softer. Tragically, no one knows the original Portuguese recipe accurately, as there was no written documentation done for it. Recipes were passed down to generations simply through word of mouth. Carne de Vinha d’Alhos recipe available today, is the closest to the original.

Halfway between a pickle and a curry, ‘Balchao’ is a delightful mouthpuckering concoction of tomato, onion, vinegar, chili and spices, usually made with either prawns or pork. Once cooked, Balchao can last for several weeks. It is thought to have come from Macau, which was once under Portuguese control, although it may also be related to the family of Southeast Asian shrimp-and-chili pastes with names like Blacan, Balachan and Belacan. Indian modification included the addition of local spices like cloves, pepper, cumin seeds and cinnamon, to get Balchao that we have today.

Many recipes have not withstood the test of time, simply because they are too elaborate, labour-intensive and time-consuming to make for the busy working households. Earlier, joint families
meant many hands to prepare meals, and with the advent of nuclear family setup, valuable labour for these recipes is lost. Though these recipes are still being made in selected households and even restaurants, it is not like how it used to be.

Some of them are Aard Maas, a robust and tangy pork bone curry, Galantine De Galinha, which is a hearty mix of chicken with jelly and vegetables, Kazaracho Stew, a hearty stew made of pork sausages or chorizo, beef and lots of vegetables, Goan Vonn, a thick, sweet porridge made with chana dal, jaggery, coconut milk and cashews. The porridge is made especially during Lent, Sao Joao or before weddings during  the family lunch or bhikra jevonn. Rissois de Camarao, a crusty fried shrimp savoury, which is crisp and appetizing and Apa de Camarao, a Prawn pie made with fermented rice dough and egg yolk are flavourful and rich in taste. Batter consists of rice (soaked for several hours) and grated coconut ground with palm toddy. Sugar, salt and egg yolks are added and the mix is allowed to rise for some hours. Batter is then divided into two parts: one poured into the baking tin. Over this, a semispicy prawn stuffing (small prawns cooked in sautéed onions, tomato, garlic ginger paste, pepper corn and dry chillies) is poured, and then again covered with the remaining portion of rice and coconut batter and baked. A delicacy only a few know to prepare. The delicacy is extremely time-consuming as the dough takes long to ferment. These delicacies are still being made in Goa, but not like how they were made before.

Most gourmands are well-versed with the popular meat and seafoodcentric Goan Catholic cuisine, which has been popularised by shacks and restaurants alike in Goa. However, not many are familiar with the bounty of the versatile Goan Hindu cuisine, which holds its own with a unique and distinct palate.

What made those Recipes unique?
The Goan Hindu cuisine differs markedly in taste and the ingredients, adding another dimension to the Goan cuisine as a whole. Based on the Goan food elements of sourness, sweetness, spice and salt, the ingredients used differ from the Goan Christian fare. Instead of vinegar, tamarind and kokum add a dose of sourness. While, the fish curries have Teppla or Teppal for that peppery pungent aftertaste, coconut remains the base for the vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries.

The Goan Hindu community comprises of Saraswat Brahmins, Daivadnya Brahmins and other Brahmin communities like Karhades and Chitpavans.

The Goan Hindu cuisine seamlessly unifies ingredients that are easily available locally with traditional homemade masalas.

Tefal or Tirphal (Sichuan pepper), Bimli (a berry from the cucumber tree, which is used as a souring agent), Byadgi chillies, Tamarind, Bidna (a summer fruit used for souring curries), Ambade (hog plums) and Coconut cream and milk are some of the core ingredients that set this cuisine apart from other Goan cuisines. Goan Hindu cuisine, which abounds in Shivrak or vegetarian fare also has an extensive variety of seafood and meat delicacies.

With elaborate and time-consuming procedures, many recipes have been slowly pushed in the backburner by the busy, working generations. Sweets form an integral component of their meal and some excellent dessert recipes have bitten the dust. One of them is Bot Nevryo Kheer, a thick porridge-like consistency kheer made with tiny coconut-jaggery stuffed nevryos with coconut milk and jaggery. Nevryos are grated
coconut and jaggery stuffed samosa-like sweet fried snack. Gavalya Kheer is another forgotten dessert, which has tiny refined flour crispies, which are dried under the sun, to get its crispness and then added to a coconut milk, jaggery and cardamom powder porridge. Jibruti Kheer requires soaked puffed rice and rice grains overnight, ground in the morning and tiny balls made out of that batter. The flour balls are then fried crisp and added to a rice flour, melted jaggery and coconut milk mixture.

Kheers or sweet porridge was also made of wheat grains. The wheat was soaked overnight and hand-pound in a mortar and pestle to make it into a coarse powder. This wheat powder was roasted in clarified butter, cashews, jaggery and coconut milk.

The Wheat Kheer used to be a staple at the Hindu festival of Janmashtami. Today, with the advent of modern kitchen appliances, mortar and pestle have vanished of the shelves and a quicker way of using ‘Lapsi’ or broken wheat is implemented.

Sevya Ros, rice noodles dipped in sweet coconut milk, is also in the throes of obscurity due to its lengthy procedure. Rice has to be soaked the previous day, ground and fermented overnight and made into thin noodle-like strings using a mould. The strings then are steamed and served with a thin concoction of coconut milk and melted jaggery. A host of interesting accompaniments like Papad Kismoor and Yam Kismoor have also moved off the tables.

Like the ones mentioned above, there are a horde of rich, traditional recipes, which are in the throes of obscurity. With the world being a global village, people are travelling the world like never before. Along with travel, they are experimenting with cuisines from all over the world and even adapting them as per their taste. And somewhere in our quest to become a global citizen, our rich culinary heritage is paying the price.

For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

Don't miss out!
Subscribe To Newsletter

Receive top news related to Goa right in your inbox!

Invalid email address
Give it a try. You can unsubscribe at any time.


Author: Planet Goa Team
For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

Leave a Reply