Goa-Paradise for food lovers

When different elements come together in perfect harmony, there is always something to cherish. When artists combined blues, country, jazz and gospel music, we got rock music. Influence of European colonisers, African and Brazilian slaves, and Mughal rulers, has created the present-day Goa cuisine that has delightful dishes and some culinary wonders. But you need to go beyond vindaloo (or vindalho) and fish curry, the two prominent Goan dishes outside India.

Chicken cafreal is one such delight from Goa that originated in Africa and was introduced by Portuguese in the region. The dish is prepared by marinating chicken with a paste of spices and herbs and then frying it. The chicken, if well-marinated and well-cooked, melts in your mouth. Restaurants in Goa serve this green-coloured dish either with pita bread or any other freshly baked bread. This is similar to Portuguese-style grilled (or fried) chicken. The two, obviously, taste very different as Goans modified the dish to their taste by adding different spices.

When pork meets Indian spices, the result is sorpotel, a spicy dish, resulting from the Goan-Portugal melange. It is a modified version of Portuguese dish Sarabulho. Of course, the main modification is generous use of spices. It looks just like another Indian curry. In most hotels it is prepared from pork liver. Some even include heart and kidney. The red (or sometimes maroon) gravy of sorpotel gives an impression that it is extremely spicy. By Indian standards, however, it is not. In many Goan homes, families eat this dish for three-four days as they believe that the taste gets better with time.

Then there’s chicken xacuti (pronounced as shakuti or sagoti), prawn balchao, recheado… The list of unique Goan dishes is exhaustive that also include deserts, which has egg yolk as the main ingredient. And it not just the non-veg that one looks forward to when in Goa, there are spicy curries made of jackfruit and drumsticks; there’s mushroom xacuti; pineapple; mango sasvam (not a desert but a dish cooked with coconut, tamarind, red chillies and mustard seed); the exotic khatkhate curry; and food of gods that Goan hindus prepare during festival seasons or periods when they cannot eat non-veg due to religious reasons.

Gaon cuisine has been one of the significant reason that converted visitors to long-term travelers. There are many, who include food as one of the charms of the state that draws them to the small western state of India. I experienced this on the first day of my recent visit to Goa. I was sitting with the owner of a restaurant at Baga Beach. A lady in her fifties with white and brown hair came to our table and greeted the pot-bellied big man, whom I was sharing the table with. She hugged kissed him on both cheeks.

“I need to taste some fish curry rice really fast,” was the first thing she told the owner. It was Susanne’s first day in the Goa and she was said that all she was thinking while traveling was the food.

During our conversation, Susanne mentioned that she’s been coming to the region for over 20 years. When asked what draws her here regularly: “it’s about a special bond, beaches (obviously), and the food,” she said

If you observe tourists on any of busy beaches (Calangute, Baga and Candolim) you will realize that tourists spend most of their time between beach and restaurants. Try stepping in a popular restaurant even in low tourist seasons, say June, you would be in waiting list. It’s remarkable because Goa tourism is virtually shut between June and September. Keep your fingers crossed, the next time you head for a popular joint like Souza Lobo or Brittos or St Anthony’s Beach Shack.

Who wouldn’t love the food of the people, who themselves are passionate about eating. Goans love discussing food, and particularly fish, among them. Even their festivals are all about food. There’s feast of St Anthony on June 13 for arrival of monsoon and Feast of St John 11 days later that’s a thanksgiving for the monsoon. They even celebrate Feast of St Lawrence in August to celebrate end of monsoon.

In the book Cozinha de Goa History and Traditions of Goa Food, Fatima da Silva Gracias has fittingly included a poem by Bakibab Borkar. The poet is talking to Yama, God of Death and says, “Please sir, God of Death. Don’t make it my turn today. Not today, sir. We have fish curry for dinner.

It not surprising then that one of the first celebrity chefs from India, Miguel Arcanjo Mascarenhas, was from Goa. He had cooked for international celebrities and even for the Pope and the Queen of Britain. In 1976, the Taj Magazine declared Masci, as he is popularly known, “the greatest Oriental Artist of Occidental Viands”.

My first visit to Goa was all about beaches, booze and babes. When I came back I still missed the beaches but the fond memories were of the food.

The writer can be contacted at tineshb (at) gmail (dot) com

Goa pictures

Author: Tinesh Bhasin

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

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