Goan food is not just associated with its famous ‘fish curry-rice’ but the authenticity lies in its unique flavours of chillies, toddy vinegar and coconut.
“I would say the food is ‘unique’. Flavors which perhaps are difficult to replicate very easily,” noted Goa-based author and food critic Odette Mascarenhas told PTI.
“Goans were some of the best cooks/chefs. The toddy vinegar, toddy and coconut flavors are awesome. Combinations so intricate that at one point of time only aunties could make those preparations,” she said.
Referring to the USP of Goan food, Mascarenhas said, “We still have a lot of work to do to make our Goan food known in other countries. Many people have tried, but unless one uses the right chillies and the toddy vinegar the taste is difficult to be authenticated. So one plus is that people come to Goa for the food.
“However there have been a few entrepreneurs who have managed to export the ingredients. So if you ask me what quality...the tartness (vinegar) and the spice (chillies),” said the author of ‘The Culinary Heritage of Goa’. Goan spices and the classical traditional masalas are inspiring different cuisines, she further said.
Linda DeSouza, who runs Viva Panjim in the state’s capital city, was also of the view that the spices and chillies are what make Goan food unique.
“This has to be the local spices ranging from the variety of chillies used to the abundance of local produce and fish. Take for example the Feni as well. It’s admired and consumed the world over. And it’s distilled in Goa,” she said.
On people’s preferences, in terms of both vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian Goan cuisine, Mascarenhas said, “Fish curry (Christian Goan), ‘Chicken Shagoti’ (Hindu Goan), ‘Stuffed Crab’ (Portuguese styled with cheese). ‘Pork chops’ and ‘Sausage pulao’ are also favourites.
“Although many homes cook vegetarian food twice a week and during Ganesh festival for 40 days, tourists have not still understood the vegetarian preparation. Some great ones are ‘Moggagathi’, ‘Ambade Sansav’ (during season), the vegetable ‘tonaks’ (depends on the season availability), ‘Tambdi bhaji’ and vegetables made from raw fruits like pineapple and jackfruit,” she said.
Linda, however, says people’s preferences vary as per their beliefs and traditions.
“Depending on one’s beliefs and traditions it varies. Hindu Goans observe Shravan which is the lent period observed by Catholics. This in turn results in the non-consumption of fish for close to 40 days,” she said.
“Goans love their meats and also a wide produce of locally grown vegetable and crop in general. Also an average Goan is very experimental in palate,” Linda said.
Asked how has the Goan food evolved over a period of time, Atul Shah of Mapusa-based Spice Goa said, the state predominantly has been influenced by three cultures - the Christian /Hindu/Muslim - each having played a great part in influencing the food which is distinct to Goan cuisine.
“The distinct feature differentiating the Hindu and Muslim cuisine to Christian food was the use of local toddy vinegar, which is predominantly used in Christian cuisine, but not in Hindu or Muslim food who use tamarind or the ‘kokum’ to add the tangy flavour their food,” he said.
Giving a similar take on the topic, Mascarenhas said that every conquest over the years has created a new aspect where Goan food in concerned.
“The only constant is the fish. From the 6th century BC with the advent of the Saraswat Brahmins, where ‘fresh’ local ingredients were of paramount importance with regards to health and ayurveda,” she said.
“The conquests of the Hindu Kings gave birth to the ‘Sukhems’ (a Konkan styled preparation), Muslims adapted to coconut in their preparations, The Portuguese brought in ‘Vinailho’, ‘sarapatel’ and many other dishes which the locals after conversion to suit their palate added spice to make the famous ‘Vindalho’ and ‘Sorpotel’,” the food critic revealed.
Shah said over the years, on account of non-availability, many ingredients have been substituted or have been deviated in the use of the preparations.
“Spices like the ‘tarvati mirsang’ (similar to the bird’s eye chilli) are being substituted by either ‘badgi’ or Kashmiri variety. The local Goan chilli called ‘kankon chilli’ used for the fish curry is being substituted by either Kashmiri or badgi chilli,” he said.
When asked how have the tourists influenced Goan food, Mascarenhas said, “I would not say they have influenced in any way, although during the time of the foreign visitors food was adapted to suit their palate...squid butter garlic, etc.
“Today many tourists foreigners and Indians alike opt for Goan preparations although Goa has some of the best chefs around cater to every palate...Greek, Pan Asian, Gujarati and now even Modern Australian...besides the old favourites.
“At one time there were only a handful of Goan restaurants in the state. Perhaps because of the tourists who were mostly foreigners. But today the preparations are found in nearly 75 per cent of the restaurants. So its popularity is definitely growing,” she added.