Goan cuisine

Above all things good about Goa is its cuisine…Oh! nothing can perhaps beat the xacuti and Sorpotel. The Goan cuisine is a blend of different influences that the Goans had to endure during the centuries. The staple food in Goa is fish and rice. All the more reason why I love Goa.

If in Goa, act like a Goan — enjoy the food, drink and be happy. I’m really grateful to have a Goan as a friend. Although it’s very difficult to get him to talk about topics other then himself — he is a poet — when it’s about Goan food, he can really leave your mouth watering and your taste buds titillating. His description of the colour of his mother’s vindaloo gravy and the smooth texture of the old Goan Bebinca leaves me envious and cursing for not being a Goan.

Now, for the sake of tourists, many beach shacks and restaurants present these very same food lightly spiced, or without spices at all. This food is generally either fried, grilled or cooked in garlic sauce. Traditional Goan cooking methods, however, generally involve meticulous seasoning.

Here is a list of some of the most popular Goan dishes:

Sorpotel: A spicy recipe which rightfully has its own fan base and most of the time is the centre of meal-time conversation in any Goan celebration. It is said to have originated by the Portuguese and Goa carries on the tradition. Another mouth-watering delicacy made of pork is the sarpotel. A curry with a thick gravy to the layman, this exotic concoction comprises boneless pork, liver, heart, kidneys, red chilies, cinnamon, cloves bathed in tangy toddy vinegar, which is needed to balance the strong taste of pig’s blood: another traditional ingredient of this revered dish.

Vindaloo: The interpretation of the origin for this word-vinho for wine, alhos for garlic (Portuguese), viande, and aloo-meat and potato (French and Hindi). It is usually referred as “The king of curries.” It is a spicy concoction with plenty of red chilies, garlic, cooked with chunks of meat, Goa vinegar, hard palm jaggery, and is best enjoyed with plain boiled rice. The Vindaloo style of cooking is of Goan origin and is essentially a fiery-hot “sweet and sour” style curry. It can be cooked with any meat, be it chicken, pork or mutton. This dish involves a few more spices than usual. The combined aroma of freshly roasted cinnamon, mustard seed and cloves is heavenly.

Balchao: Fiery as all Goan dishes are, balchao is almost like a pickle and is usually served with hot plain boiled rice. The red, rich gravvy comes from the whole spices like cumin and dry red chillies and a little sugar which are soaked in vinegar for a while and grounded into a thick paste. Ideally the usual stone and pestle is used to keep the flavours intact. Meat, shrimps, fish or prawns are most commonly pickled in this mix for a couple of days and then cooked into a dry dish. Because of the preservative qualities of the sauce, balchao can be cooked in advance and reheated up to four days after preparation.

Racheiado: The undeniable Portuguese influence can be seen in this dish of racheiado. This is a delicious preparation in which a whole fish, usually a mackerel or pomfret, is slit down the center and stuffed with a spicy red sauce, after which it is cooked normally.

Caldeirada: This is a mildly flavoured offering in which fish or prawns are cooked into a kind of stew with vegetables, and often wine is added to get a more consistent and accommodating flavour.

Cabidela: You will not find any other dish which has strong Portuguese influence than Cabidela. The Portuguese name is Arroz de Cabidela (Cabidela rice). This dish adopted by Goans, particularly by the Catholic Goans, is a Portuguese dish made ideally with chicken. After the chicken is killed, it is hung up upside-down, so the blood may be captured as it drains out. The rice is then cooked together with the meat and the blood of the animal, imparts a greyish-brown colour to the dish. My personal advice: though it seems yucky, it tastes good. I have tasted its variation with eel and is a good energizer.

Caldinha: This is a metro stew but with a local flavour. Usually served with boiled rice, its vegetarian version in a concoction of fresh assorted vegetables cooked in coconut milk, garlic, ginger and green chillies. While fish Caldinha is prepared by cooking any fish in a thick milk-like extract made by grinding a list of ingredients that include: green chillies, flakes garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, pepper corns, cinnamon, turmeric powder, tamarind and scraped coconut.

Bebinca: If you haven’t tried bebinca, then your trip to Goa was just a waste. And if you just had an sumptuous Goan meal this is the best dessert to calm your senses down. This traditional rich Goan dessert is a must have at any celebration. Making Bebinca requires patience — a layer can only be added when the one below it is cooked — but the end result is well worth the effort. Traditional Bebinca has 16 layers, but you can make as many as you like. The ingredients include plain flour, egg yolks, sugar, ghee and coconut milk. This desert is baked, in a specially made clay oven, with hot coal as a source of heat, placed above. Ideally before being served, butter or margarine is spread and sugar is sprinkled over the bebinca. It is typically served with grated coconut. Now you don’t even have to go through this laborious process of making bebinca. Ready to eat bebinca is available in leading confectioneries across the state.

Seafood: Goa is famous for its seafood, the ‘classic’ dish being fish curry and rice. With the variety and range on offer, combined with the skills of the local cooks, there is a list of mouthwatering choices. Kingfisher is probably the most common item, on the menu, but there are many others including pomfret, doumer, shark, tuna and mackerel. Among the excellent shellfish available are crabs, prawns, tiger prawns and lobster. Other seafood includes squid and mussels.

Breads: In the early hours of the day, bakers regularly do the rounds of each village in Goa, pushing bicycles laden with fresh bread. There are several types of local bread. From small round crusty rolls to steamed rolls made with rice flour, ground coconut and coconut toddy. These breads are ideal to eat with any of the spicy Goan dishes.

Goan cuisine is a complicated one. Traditional Goan cooking requires plenty of muscle and time. Grinding is always part of the recipe and the nicer the dish, the longer it takes to make. For instance the Xacutti masala, which is a famous Goan preparation for chicken, mutton and vegetable dishes, has 18 spices roasted individually and ground together.

If you are in Goa then don’t forget to give these dishes a try. You can take it from me: they are worth trying!