The melting pot that is Goan food

The local cuisine borrows from many influences, to become the delicacy that it is today

Vasco Alvares | OCTOBER 20, 2012, 08:08 PM IST

Every year there is a celebration called ‘Semana daCultura’, a celebration of Goa and everything Goan; cinema, cuisine, art, musicand even photography. The events aim at highlighting what sets us apart fromthe rest of the country through food festivals, folk dance performances, artand movie exhibitions and artisan showcases. Tourism is normally a greatinstrument for promotion and exhibition of the local heritage, but in Goa thereare sections of the population that want to do away with our history and othershave only monetary aspirations, collectively oblivious to the fact that theyare doing more harm than good in terms of preservation of our identity.

Half a century has gone by since the Portuguese were last inGoa as colonisers, and in the process of their trade, inadvertently broughtwith them so many cultures, traditions, cuisines and ingredients, leaving ourtiny paradise with our own unique potpourri of an identity. Make no mistake, itis exactly that exotic infusion that makes Goa so special and attractive, andthe sooner we realize that our best interest is in the preservation of it,rather than its destruction, the better. History is not always peaches androses, but it is important nevertheless, and has to be preserved and told, andnot erased.

Goan cuisine, mainly eaten by the Catholic community is oneof the most unique cuisines in the world, and it is not indo Portuguese orPortuguese, it is just Goan. Given, it has heavy Iberian influences, and evenis based broadly and sometimes takes the names of the dishes they originatedfrom, it is completely different.

The influences in our cuisine are not just Portuguese, but evenoriental and Middle Eastern, and even the Hindu or Saraswat cuisine has beeninfluenced by the introduction of new ingredients. Being a trade port we hostedthe import and export of many ingredients and have lent our fl avour to othernations like Africa and Brazil. It is difficult to fathom and for many difficultto digest that many of the ingredients used by us today are not native and wereactually brought in by the Portuguese.

Basic ingredients like chillies, tomatoes, potatoes,cinnamon and cloves that form the basis not only of all Goan, but even mostIndian cuisine, did not exist in the sub continent even a few centuries ago,and pepper was the main spice in our food.

The first thing that comes to mind when Goa is mentioned, speciallyto someone from outside Goa, is Cashew Feni and cashew nuts. Native to Brazil, thisfruit was brought to Goa along with the distillation process which thankfullyhas been awarded its geographic indication, making Goa the only place in theworld where this elixir is produced. Coconut is one of the most importantingredients in Goan cuisine, but it is the vinegar made from fermenting itswater, developed and used as a substitute for wine owing to it sweetness andless acidity, that is used in almost all gravies and masalas, and is the oneingredient that is unique to Goa. From the Balchao to Vindalho to Sorpatel, allneed coconut vinegar to make them what they are.

Besides its mouthwatering tang it also helps in tenderizingthe meat and the longer it stays the milder and mellower it gets, explainingwhy our left overs taste better after a few days. The Portuguese incollaboration with Goan chefs and bakers developed all the recipes we use todayand although the ideas and imports were foreign, the implementation and finaloutcome are exclusively Goan. Another great

creation is the Goan bread, similar to European crusty breadin many ways but one, and that is in the leavening. In the absence of yeastfermenting toddy was the raising agent for the Poders of yore, a process stillalive and in use today, and a process still as unique as ever. Bebinca, Dodoland even Sans Rival were sweets that came in to Goa aboard the Armadas and weremodifi ed and made our own by adapting the prevalent cooking processes and ingredients.

Another great creation completely imported yet completelyGoan is the Choriço, made the same way, by stuffing heavily salted meat intoanimal casing and sun drying it, except, instead of wine and peppers we usechillies and coconut vinegar.

Sadly in our mad rush to accommodate tourists, both foreign andlocal, and to usher in development, we have failed to realize what it is thatbrings people here year aft er year. It is not our natural beauty and definitely not the beaches, but our unique blend of cultures and our rich heritageand history and most importantly the people of this state, with all theirimperfections and blemishes, and our most unique cuisine.

Vasco Alvares or Vasquito is a chef extraordinaire whose daystarts and ends in the kitchen. He is currently at the Lusofonia Cultural Festin Macau where he will dish out culinary nous about Goan cuisine

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