When comfort food takes you back home: Food in Goa
If it's all about foodie travel for you and you plan to explore Goa, India, here's Goa food you need to try!
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I bump into my neighbour as we're both reeling the bins in. She tells me she's been freezing this year. She launches into an explanation of how decades ago, it was a winter wonderland, here in the North of England. Times changed, and it snowed less and less every year. But of late, the weather has been extreme. She blames it on 'all the environmental talks' she's been seeing on TV. I nod my head, wholeheartedly agreeing yet eager to get inside to avoid getting drenched in the rains. The snow in the front yard has finally melted after a week, and the rains are back (not that they were gone for long). Back in India, when the monsoons came, a rainy day meant curling up on the couch with a steaming hot cup of chai (tea) and some crispy bhajiis (fritters). I can't possibly think of doing the same here where every alternate day is a rainy day yet when it comes to craving for comfort food; it equals me spending an hour or so in the kitchen to whip it up. The beauty of having roots in the coastal parts of India was being introduced to some of the best, creamiest curries and delicious meats one could find.
Also, while many curse the reign of all the nations that ruled us, I for one can't help but admire the flavor and variety of cuisines they introduced to us.
The Portuguese ruled Goa and influenced the cuisine in a significant way. Cashews, Guavas, Chorizo and many spices were brought by them, some from Brazil. These ingredients were then adapted by the Indians to suit the Indian palate and each region prepared dishes using these ingredients in their unique style. When it comes to Goa and Goan food, be it the North (where the Estrela do Mar beach resort is located) or the south, while the main dishes stay the same, the taste varies significantly. This variation is because the diversity of chilies, spices or even vinegar, which happen to be the core ingredients in most of the traditional dishes changes. Here are a few traditional dishes from Goa, that you have to try when you visit Goa, as told by a Goan! (that would be me!)Let's start with one of my favorites:
Goa-n foods to try: Sorpotel
I remember my mum laboriously boiling pork, cutting it into tiny cubes, then frying it before making a spice paste and then adding the cubes to it. While it may sound easy, it took her almost 4 hours to get everything right for about two kilograms of meat. In earlier times, Sorpotel used to have offal and blood added to it (which reminds me of Haggis) however now many prefer to skip these bits. However, the liver is a must, and traditional Sorpotel will have at least one-thirds of liver in it. The color of Sorpotel deepens with each passing day depending on the chili peppers added to it, making the color darker and the Sorpotel, tastier. We eagerly waited for festive occasions for mum and grandma to start preparing it a couple of days before Xmas so that the taste would be exactly right on Christmas day. If anybody were off to Goa before that, we would specially request them to get home-made vinegar and Feni to make it even more festive. Eaten with Sannaa's, puri's or even rice, when it comes to Goan food, it's Sorpotel for me!
Goan Foods to try: Sannaa
While some may mistake it for Idli's, the batter for Sannaa is entirely different. It's fine, not coarse like Idli's, has coconut and has toddy added to it to ferment the mixture. While toddy is now replaced in may households for yeast, the Sannaa still turn out fluffier and are sweeter than Idli's. Perfect for scooping curries or Sorpotel too! The rice used is called 'Ukdiche' rice which translates to 'boiled' rice but isn't actually boiled, it's just what it is called and is the same type of rice you'd use for Idli's. A must for Goan weddings...so if you get invited to one, ensure you turn up! While steel Idli steamers are frequently used to make Sannaas, many houses even now, use brass or copper steamers to get them right!
Goan foods to try: Xit Kodi aka Fish Curry Rice
When I have guests who know of my Goan heritage turn up, the first thing they want me to make is fish curry. Fish curry is a staple dish in the coastal region of India. Goa, Kerala, Karnataka, each have their versions. What does make it slightly similar is the addition of coconut milk to the curry. Goan fish curries usually use oily fish which won't easily disintegrate into the curry. So mackerels, pomfrets, kingfish and prawns are favorites. The curry is tangy, has paprika (Kashmiri red chilies) and Garcinia indica aka kokum added to it in addition to tamarind and ginger-garlic. It's usually served with 'ukdiche' rice yet again, The rice is perfect with the curry as on cooking each rice grain gets separate and the rice doesn't turn out mushy.
Goan foods to try: Fish Rechad/Rava fry
A perfect accompaniment to your fish curry and rice is fish rechad/rechado made with mackerel. Rechad is the name of the spice paste used to coat and fill the fish and then deep/shallow fry it. It works just as well with any fish other than mackerel although mackerel is the most popular as the fish stays intact after frying and retains the mix well. My grandma used to tie the fish with white thread to ensure it did not break open! The mackerel is slit on both ends near the bone and pockets are made to stuff the spice paste in. The paste has red Kashmiri chilies (a spicier version of paprika, yet mild than green chilies) and vinegar as it's staple ingredients and like Thai curry pastes can be stored for use later. Rechad spice paste isn't used for curries but can be used for other dishes like prawn stir-fries. If you'd instead prefer something non-spicy, try Rava fry. Fish is coated with rava aka fine wheat semolina and deep fried for a crunchy exterior and steamy, moist meat which also works as a great accompaniment to beer!
Goan foods to try: Choris (cho-rees)
It does seem that we couldn't come up with something original to rename chorizo, but thankfully it works in my favor as when I'm travelling and miss choris, I buy chorizo and add the missing spices and voila! It's as good as choris to me! Choris is one of most versatile ingredients as these sausages can be used to make a curry, pulao and stir-fry's. The difference between choris and chorizo is the addition of toddy vinegar and feni to the meat when it's being marinated and drying it in natural sunlight. Also called 'rosary sausages', you'll easily find choris in the local markets, sold in multiples of 50 or 100. A relaxing evening at the beach, whenever I visited Goa, would involve buying choris pao (bread) from a street-side vendor, breaking the pao open and stuffing the choris in and munching away as the waves gently splashed on the beach! Do ensure you try choris pao as a street food. If you're not a street-food enthusiast, try choris chilli fry which involves adding onions to the sausages, which is readily available in most restaurants.
Goan foods to try: Dos
No Christmas was complete without Channa (Gram) dos. A dessert requiring lots of labor, it needed boiling the 'dal', then grinding it and adding freshly grated coconut, jaggery or sugar and ghee to it and then stirring it. Stirring it till the whole mixture started to leave the side of the pan, this usually took a couple of hours. All the family members pitched to help as tremendous stirring is always needed. Once the mixture was right, it was immediately slapped onto plates and spread evenly, then cut into triangles. The result was a simple sweet that disappeared too quickly. Dos/Dosh can be found in some of the markets in the sweets section. However, if you get to have it warm and fresh, it's the best!
Goan Foods to try: Balchao
While many make Balchao as a one-time dish using the same masala, the Balchao as I've had since childhood used the same masala, but we used it to make a pickle with prawns. Vinegar, 'feni' and tamarind were vital again, and fresh prawns were added to the spice paste, with coconut toddy vinegar being mainly used and the result was a fiery red, tasty, hot and sweet, piquant pickle with pieces of prawns in it. Many substituted dried prawns if fresh we not readily available or they were skeptical about the pickle not lasting too long. A must-have, it's also great to take back whenever you leave as a little of this pickle works great with rice or bread when you're too tired to cook as a small bottle could last for at least a few months.
Goan foods to try: Vindaloo
It's quite amusing when some locals in Britain call 'Vindaloo' a native dish. A simple Google search states that Vindaloo did originate in Goa. As long as I've known, Vindaloo was a dish that was made in Goan households in India.
The British calling it local goes to show how much they love it here, although the 'Vindaloo' here is more like a curry and all about how fiery it can get.
Traditionally Vindaloo isn't meant to be spicy. Vindaloo originated from Carne de vinha d'alhos which if you're a Portuguese reader you'd know that it's a dish made from pork, wine and garlic. The Portuguese introduced the dish wherever they traveled and each country now makes Carne de vinha d'alhos in its own unique way. We have Vindaloo which is more like a thick gravy dish. The spice paste is applied to the meat and marinated overnight. The next day Vindaloo is made and it's sweet, sour and hot yet miles away from the tongue-burning version found here. Subtle notes of cardamom and cinnamon can also be tasted and the smell of curry leaves makes one tummy rumble! No festivities are complete without Vindaloo. Best had with Sannaa or rice.
Goan foods to try: Xacuti
Sha-kuti or Chacuti as the Portuguese would call it, has a sprinkle of poppy seeds and nutmeg to it. Peppercorns are added to Xacuti in addition to Kashmiri chilies, making this dish genuinely spicy. While Xacuti with chicken is the most popular, it can be created with any meat or even veggies in it. The dish probably uses the largest amount of spices than most other recipes. Onions are caramelized, and coconut is roasted before the meat and spices are added and cooked. A thick yet smooth coconut base adds flavor to the chicken and makes it tender. It's perfect to scoop the gravy with pieces of bread aka 'pao'.
Goan foods to try: Bebinca (Bebink)
If you did get a chance to try Xacuti and found it too spicy, keep Bebinca at hand! Another complicated dish that's a cake but unlike sponge cakes or pastries you've tried before. Laborious and made with a number of layers usually 16, which when the Bebinca is cut are clearly visible and well defined. Traditionally baked in a clay pot in the villages of Goa, this dessert uses only egg yolks, sugar, ghee and flour. The layers are obtained by pouring batter into the mold to form a layer, baking it and once it's partially done, adding another layer on top of it and placing it back in the oven. This is repeatedly done till all the layers are set and the batter is over. Ghee is added between the layers and lastly on top. Called the queen of Goan sweets, Bebinca can be had either hot or cold. I loved heating it in the microwave for few seconds then adding some cream on top! Exceptionally rich, this is one dessert to indulge in sparingly! There are many others I could include on the list, Pinagra (made with roasted rice, jaggery and coconut), Baath (cake made from semolina), Orly, Mol, Caldine...there are many Goan foods you could try depending on how long you plan to spend in Goa. Feni and Urak are local drinks made from cashew and palm trees that are quite strong in flavor. If you prefer beer, there's King's not found anywhere in the world but Goa! The region has depth in in its cuisine, and rightfully so as the coastal Maharashtrians, the Goans and the Portuguese all added a special touch to each dish making it some of the best-loved in the world. Oppressive British rule gets highlighted when it comes to the pre-Independence Indian era, and while I'm unsure of how the Dutch or Portuguese treated us, I can say I'm thankful for the flavors they got with them when they touched Indian shores!
PIN FOR LATER!
- One of my favorite restaurants to try Goan food is Souza Lobo on Calangute beach. The Rechad is amazing!
- The Estrela Do Mar is a good option for accomodation
- The market in Margao will have many ingredients and food items on the list
- There are many other cuisines you can as well try in Goa other than traditional Goan food, many restaurants are concentrated in North Goa
- While in Panaji, The Ritz is agreat restaurant for Fish Thali
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