When in Goa, it’s hard not to feel like a tourist.
Goa is everyone’s favourite beach holiday destination. People flock from all over the country to enjoy the sun, the sea and of-course, the feeling of being in a place which makes them feel far far away from home.
Goa is, as I would aptly like to put: Fun. Pattaya without any gogo bars.
Goa is Vibrant, liberal and open minded. Adjectives usually not associated with most parts of India. This is because Goa very recently formally became a part of India. It was a port based colony ruled by the Portuguese for about 450 years. This is why it is no surprise why people here have more Portuguese roots than Indian.
People in goa don’t seem to mind. Their economy relies heavily on tourism. This is why its dotted with resorts, bars and shacks. The northern part of Goa is more commercial, consisting of popular tourist beaches such as Vagator, Candolim, Calangute, Ashwem and Baga. During the cooler winter months, tourists from all over the world visit these areas and for the locals, its party time as well.
Goa, as stated, is unnaturally liberal. Christianity is the dominant religion here. This means theres nothing on the menu that isn’t allowed. Being next to the sea, Goa reaps its benefits. One trip to Goa usually consists of gorging on freshly caught seafood made in local ways. Local goan restaurants make sure they heavily feature them on menus all over. These restaurants also bank on traditional goan favourites. These usually include dishes such as Vinadloo, Cafreal, Bibinca or Xacuti. Protein choices range from chicken to pork. Some even have vegetarian options. These dishes are spicy and pungent, perfect while gulping down whichever cheaper-than-usual pint of beer you’re drinking.
Goan food is stereotyped today as much as Goa has been stereotyped in Bollywood movies. This cuisine has Iberian roots, which means their traditions are in many ways, similar if not the same. Oh let’s see, Football? Making merry? And, of course, their food. To find out more about unadulterated Goan food, I met two people with two different perspectives.
Mr. Joe Pereira is among many local families who own restaurants in North Goa. His restaurant, “Girin” is on the Calangute beach road. It serves typical Goan tourist food. The usual seafood grills and vindaloo. Lots of other things, too. I ordered my first and only meal at a restaurant in Goa. Jumbo mixed seafood grill, Goan sausages, Pork Vindaloo and a mandatory 1+1.
Mr Pereira even threw in complementary fries.
Happy birthday to me.
After the ordeal, I thanked my host and left. Before leaving I asked him a question:
“Do you cook these the same way at home?” He smiled. I smiled too.
Marmagaon, is the capital of the southern half of Goa. It was here that I was invited to a local family’s house for tea. Finding this place took me deep inside the south Goan capital. It was different from what I saw on the north. Fewer restaurants and fewer bars, the absence of signs in Russian. This place wasn’t meant for tourists like Baga and Candolim. This place was what Goa, truly is.
Whatever it is, it’s the most honest interpretation of Goa I’ve seen whilst here.
My host, Anthony D’Souza works as a chef at the local catering college. After discussing Goan food in great detail with Anthony and his grandmother, I was able to understand the intricacies of authentic home made Goan food.
Goan cuisine relies heavily on the following:
Chillies (green and dried red ones, which are locally found)
Spice mixes (grounded into spice mixes with different combinations of dried spices)
Coconut products (milk, grated etc)
Sirka (malt vinegar)
Proteins feature extensively in their diet. Pigs are reared and the resulting pork products are clean and safe to consume, unlike most parts of India. This is the most popular protein in Goa. Turns out Goan traditions involve elaborate roasted meats on special occasions. Anothony’s grandma was quick to say that the best Goan food is reserved for special occasions and its no surprise that the people of Goa just need a reason to celebrate.
Goan dishes use a masala base or paste, which is quite common in this part of the country. A paste forms the base of any traditional recipe. Proteins are added to this, making each of them unique in their own way.
Here are some traditional Goan dishes; some popular as tourist dishes and others less known as they are eaten at home or during occasions, such as Christmas.
- Vindaloo: The most iconic Goan dish. Vin= Vinegar and “alho“= garlic. This fiery curry blends the best of both cultures. Spices, malt vinegar, aromats (onion,garlic,ginger) and sugar add their own characteristics. The Pork version is considered to be most authentic.
- Bebinca: iconic 16 layered egg pudding.
- Xacuti: A delicate gravy which uses red chillies, spices, grated coconut and white poppy seeds. Preferred with chicken or lamb.
- Cafreal: A dish of African origin, it uses spicy coriander paste. Tastes best with milder proteins such as chicken and fish.
- Balchao: A pickled tomato-chilly paste combined with fresh sea food.
- Rechaud: Used for stuffing proteins or vegetables. Includes chillies, aromats, spices and vinegar.
- Sorpotel: A Goan household classic. Boiled cubes of pork infused in a sauce made by rendering lard along with onions, red chilly paste, tamarind pulp, vinegar,spices and molasses. Spicy and deviously heavy.
- Hearth bread: Local version of brown bread
- Podle: Coconut pancake/crepe
- Alle Belle: Podle with the addition of ginger
- Portuguese Mixed stew: Usually, pork, beef, chicken and lamb are cooked separately. Then they are combined with a spicy green paste, green peas, potatoes and macaroni and stewed. Usually eaten on occasions.
- Ambot tik: Red chillies, cumin, garlic, tamarind and kokum based gravy. Preferred by Goan Hindus. The Catholic version replaces Kokum with vinegar.
- Caldeira: Goan version of the famous Portuguese fish stew.
- Dodol: Christmas special dessert. Sticky pudding made with cashew, jaggery, coconut and rice flour.
- Soj: A local dessert. Gram flour, whole wheat flour, rice flour, coconut milk, cashews and jaggery.
- Batika: Pudding using Semolina, grated coconut, butter, egg and sugar.
- Cabidal: Same as Vindaloo with the addition of pig’s blood as a thickening agent.
- Roasted beef tongue: Goan style roast. Eaten on occasions.
- Fenni: Fermented cashew and coconut beverage
- Urak: Fermented cashew beverage
- Sanna: Like a goan idli which is made with Fermented rice flour and grated coconut . Yeast or toddy (local palm liquor) is used in the batter.
- Goan style roast beef/suckling pig: Goan Sunday roast/ celebration dish.
Celebrations and Iberian culture reflects traditional Goan home cooked food. These dishes are complex and very few tourist restaurants put these items on their menu. The tourist haven that we think Goa is, hardly portrays the real picture. Goa is all about family, tradition and celebrating life, just like at home.
But then again, I wonder if Goa would be as exciting if it reminded us of home.