Goa is on India’s west coast on the Arabian Sea. The area has a tropical climate and that suits the intense flavours in their cooking.
Goan cuisine is typically hot and tangy. Extensive use is made of dried chillies and souring agents such as vinegar, tamarind or kokum.
The cuisine of Goa is influenced by its Hindu origins, the Mughlai rule that followed and then five hundred years of Portuguese presence. The Portuguese introduced Catholicism and the Inquisition, but more importantly, they introduced new ingredients and approaches to cooking. Consequently, many of the local dishes are variants of their Portuguese counterparts in both naming and their primary ingredients.
Fish, seafood, coconut, vegetables, beef, pork, poultry, rice and local spices are some of the main ingredients in Goan cuisine. If you only eat one Goan dish from this cookbook, then I would suggest the fish curry as an exemplar of the cuisine with its use of ingredients and techniques.
Goan food is often chilli hot and we can thank the Portuguese for that, as it was them who introduced chillies to India. They also brought potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples, guavas and cashews from South America to Goa and consequently the rest of India.
Aside from this new produce, they popularised vinegar. Until then, vinegar had been limited to coconut or palm toddy vinegar, but was not commonly used. Previously, the Hindus used kokum and the Muslims used tamarind.
It would not be an understatement to say that the Portuguese influence in Indian cuisine was the biggest of any of the European cultures in India. Far more so, in fact, than the British influence under the Raj.
Another thing the Portuguese did was to refine Indian roasting and baking. Under the Moghuls roasting food was well-known, but the Portuguese took it to another level. Given their love of huge joints of meat or fowls, the technique of slow roasting became more common. A slow-roasted duck, with crispy skin and excessive amounts of chilli, duck recheado, has to be experienced to be believed.
Baking is another matter we can thank the Portuguese for.
They loved big crusty bread loaves and they loved their cakes. Their idea of a great meal would be sitting down to a big pot of carne de vinha d’ahlos eaten with fresh baked bread. Today we would eat vindalu with chapatis, thanks to them.
Their influence on baking in India is profound. They introduced yeast. They experimented with local ingredients and produced some amazing results. Many of these dishes are gluten-free, surprisingly, because they often used chickpea flour, rice flour, or coconut flour. Living in a gluten intolerant house, these baked products are well received.
Bebinca, a Goan version of a Portuguese layered cake, is delightful. The Goan apa de camarao, or prawn cake, is quite a surprise. They also introduced what we know as dinner rolls to the cuisine. These are known as pao in Goa or pav throughout the rest of south India.
The sign of a good Goan dish is when your mouth is numb, you are sweating profusely, your hair is stuck to your forehead, but you are not aware of having eaten anything hot. Their technique for cooking with chilli removes the initial onslaught and allows the main ingredient to present. But it is still hot.
These are some of our favourite Goan dishes.