Dessert Rein: Why Bebinca is the Queen of Goan Sweets

Gluttonous is hardly the adjective that defines me when it comes to choosing the next meal in Goa. There are unending options. And I am always confused to finalize the place and the food as well. I am never satisfied with the one I opt. There’s always misery in choosing one dish over the other.


But for dessert on the first day, there is a ritual – it has to be bebinca. I keep a packet of this pudding to alternate as a snack when I am in the hotel room.

Many Goans claim that the sweet evokes an extreme reaction in people. You either like it or you don’t. I was an exception to this belief. I had no opinion on it and thought it’s just another Goan food that my taste buds don’t revolt against. The neutrality developed into a liking when I realized that the preparation of the dessert is a personification for Goan spirit. The legends around the dish added to its taste, too.

Bebinca is a pudding that has at least seven layers, though traditionally there are 16. The maker has to patiently add one layer after the other and bake each one before adding the new layer. With modern kitchen facilities like oven, it still takes around two hours (and hard work) for a regular to finish it.

In many lesser touristy parts of Goa, I have witnessed this patience and eagerness in people to offer the visitors best of their culture, especially food and kindness. In some small restaurants that serve authentic Goan food, the staff feeds you like they would entertain a family visitor in their homes. Goans love their food and some can go to any lengths to make you feel the same.

This queen of the Goan dessert is full of tall tales. No one knows the origin of the pudding. Some say that it is a modified version of the Portugal dessert Bebinca das Sete Folhas. A historian suggests that that Bebinca originated in Malaysia, where it is known as binga or kuch lapis, according to Fatima Da Silva Gracias’ book Cozinha de Goa: History and Traditions of Goan Food.

Another one goes that a nun (named Bebiana or Bemvinda depending on the version) from Convent of Santa Monica in Goa first invented this dish. The sweet had seven layers to symbolize the seven hillocks in Lisbon and seven invasions in Portugal. She sent it to priests, who advised her to add more layers to increase the serving. This is the reason for the traditional 16 layers. And the dish is called bebinca after the nun.

Folklore has that the pudding used to have 100 yolks and the person preparing it would start in the morning and finish it by midnight.

While struggling with my usual meal confusion one day, I decided to travel on a rented motorcycle from Calangute to Arambol. The bustling market and honking vehicles were behind me within few minutes of leaving Calangute. I was passing through old Goan houses, like bungalows, that were either owned by an outsider or were available on rent. Each had wild flowers and vines and creepers. As I passed them, I could smell distinct fragrances of flowers and vines mixed with salty air of the beach.

The sight of houses started diminishing and on both sides of the road were empty land with ankle-length dark green grass. Some tracts had a church or a chapel that was sparkling white as if they were recently painted. The landscape turned greener into either forests or paddy fields.

As I was passing a long patch of farm land, I saw the clouds started covering the sun and I could see darker ones overhead. I felt the breeze against my face getting cooler as I got closer to my destination. A small drop of rain fell below my left eye, and then I could feel light trickles of water all over.

I couldn’t reckon whether it would just drizzle or pour sharply. I started looking for a shelter to buy cigarettes and tea and something to eat. I came across a small village that stretched for half a mile on either sides of the road. I parked the bike under the thatched roof of the small store.

Inside the shop, there was a man in his early forties sitting on a long wooden bench that occupied a corner of the shop. His watery and droopy eyes were striking on his dark brown face and gaping mouth. He sat expressionless looking outside at nothing in particular.

The woman, who ran the shop looked at me raising her eyebrows, a gesture for ‘what do you want’?

“Goldflake and chai

She asked me to wait and rushed inside the long passage that seemed to open up in a small courtyard. I realised that it was a house and the room facing the road was converted into the store.

I struck a conversation with the man on the long bench. He gave me the economics of village life and farming. Summarizing, he said: “farming is seasonal and there’s little to do for many months”. His wife (the woman at the counter) and he run the shop to make ends meet.

While we talked, the rain got heavier and louder, and I could hear the drops hitting hard against the tin roof that partially covered his courtyard. Under the shelter of the tin roof, I could see his wife cooking. “She’s making bebinca,” said the man. I could smell liquor in his breath from a distance. It was his father’s death anniversary and old man loved it. They make the pudding twice a year – second time during Christmas.

The woman appeared with a smile and poured tea in a plastic cup from a thermos while I was asking her husband if he is able to find extra work around. “That will be possible only if he finds some time away from drinking fenny,” she said playfully taking a pot shot. He scuffled in what seemed like his usual brashness. She went in shouting to take care of the pudding.

When she re-emerged, I asked her if I could buy bebinca that she was preparing. I thought, an offer to purchase the sweet would increase my chances to taste home-baked bebinca. Yes, Goans posses the warmth but they do not let an opportunity to make a quick buck either. They are used to tourists that bring dollars and pounds, who don’t mind shelling some cents and pence to avail the grand hospitality for cheap.

She has been making the sweet for the past hour and said it would take some more time. They gave me an option to buy it when I am heading back to the hotel eventually after visiting the beach. The rain stopped and I went off my course. I noticed that house-cum-shop was a familiar setup in the following villages; with women running the show. Men were usually living up to their reputation of susegad — a laidback attitude towards life.

When I returned to fetch my bebinca in the evening, the woman was still there, smiling. Her husband had made the long bench his bed before he would start with his fenny ritual.

Already hungry after a long stroll on Arambol beach, I was eager to taste the sweet. I could smell the aroma of ghee (clarified butter) as a piece passed close to the nose before entering my mouth. Once inside my mouth, I could feel the pudding dissolve in my mouth. It just slipped into my throat through the palate and tongue. I realized the true meaning of melt-in-the-mouth.

“May I place an order that I would collect tomorrow?”

“Come during Christmas. Have as much as you like. It will be free.”

Author: Tinesh Bhasin

Presently, a freelance writer, he has worked as a business journalist for over seven years

Comments

  1. Dessert Rein says:

    I did not know about Dessert Rein until I read this article, on my next visit to Goa, I am sure I’ll try it.

  2. Hi,
    Is this Dessert available in US? If so where can I get it.

    • TInesh Bhasin says:

      If you know of any restaurant serving Goan food; it will surely have the dessert on offer. The best option is to have it in Goa lying in the shade of a beach shack with a glass of coconut water to wash it down.

  3. This is the straight Dessert rein-why bebinca is the queen of Goan sweets journal for anyone who wants to act out out nearly this topic. You attention so much its virtually exhausting to converse with you (not that I rattling would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new prolong on a content thats been graphical almost for life. Prissy choke, simply outstanding!

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