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Op-Ed: A taste of Goa: food fit for gods and kings Special

By Armstrong Vaz     May 29, 2009 in Food
The very mention of Goa evokes images of sun kissed beaches, swaying palms, Feni and a fun-loving people. But there is indeed much more to this idyllic land than just this, says Beryl Viera Coutinho in her book “A Taste Of Goa”.
Goans are also the connoisseurs of music, art and food. They take delight not only in what they eat but also in how they cook. The local cuisine is known for its exotic seafood and meat preparations. These dishes, cooked gently in coconut juice and laced with aromatic spices, introduce one to ambrosial fare- literally food fit for gods and kings.
A Taste Of Goa
takes readers through the annals of Goan cookery, acquainting them with various recipes which have been influenced by many, as well as those that Goans have adopted from their own – but always with delightful variations.
A daily meal of a Goan consists of rice, curry and an accomplishment. The accomplishment may be fried fish, fish reichado, chilli fry, parra or a papad and pickle.
Goan food drew on different influences -- Arab, Konkan, Malabar, Portuguese, Brazilian, French, African and even Chinese to name a few. There are many dishes common to Goa, the rest of the Konkan, Malaysia, Macau, Portugal, Brazil and Sri Lanka. Goan food has a global touch. The Portuguese were responsible to a great extent for these influences from Europe, Africa, Americas and some other areas of Asia. As result of Portuguese influence Goan cuisine has gone through a series of adaptations, assimilations and 'Westernization'.
Goans of yesteryears cooked on rustic wood-fuelled cookers and smoked their meats. Today they use gas cylinders and dry meats in the sun, says Coutinho, in her 155 pages book which is full of Goan recipes and which was published in 1996 and has since been republished four times. A book which will come handy for both a novice and a seasonised cook and is reasonably priced at Rs.70.
Cooking is matter of personal taste. The cooking time of a recipe is flexible. There is no wrong or right recipe. Recipes vary from North Goa to south Goa and from family to family and from different religious communities.
People of all three communities in Goa -- Hindus, Christians and Muslims -- have contributed to local food, with influences from the outside world more evident among the Christians community than the other two. Both eastern and western culture parleyed for a long period of time in Goa, the headquarters of the Estado da India Portuguesa. This encounter left its impact on people’s lifestyle and brought about a dietary revolution.
Vasco da Gama's journey to India in 1498 led to significant changes in the culinary art of many countries. There was transfer of products, circulation of recipes and food habits from the New World (the Americas), Europe, places en route as well as from areas under the Portuguese control or places where they had settlements like in Africa and Asia.
Archival sources in Goa and elsewhere gives us an idea of the extent of these transfers. These were, very often, carried by ships of the Carreira da India that came annually from Portugal to India via Africa, and in their outward journeys touched Brazil. The Portuguese acted as facilitators in this exchange, with their political control over some areas around the world, enabling them to introduce changes more easily. Prof. M. N. Pearson argues that Portugal played the role of a conveyer belt to the major markets in northern and central Europe.
The Portuguese brought goods to India for their own consumption, trade or as a part of their culture. From the routes discovered by the Portuguese came a host of plants and roots producing luscious fruits and vegetables never seen or heard before. Such as the potato, tomato, cashew nut, pimento, papaya, passion fruit, pumpkin, aubergine, pineapple and guava. These continue to enrich our diet.
From Mozambique in Africa, among other things, was introduced a recipe on how to prepare Galinha (Frango) Piri-piri (Chicken Piri-piri) that was probably brought by slaves, African soldiers or Goan migrants who visited their homeland at regular intervals. Fruits, vegetables and herbs like Cilantro from across the seas have added flavour to Goan cuisine, especially to Hindu cuisine. It has made food more aesthetic when used as a garnish.
From Goa, fruit bearing plants such as mangoes, coconuts and spices made their way to places as far as Brazil via rulers, traders, missionaries and, in more recent times, Goan migrants. These products enriched the culinary art and economy of various regions.
After Gama's journey to India, European markets were flooded with spices which not only added flavour and gave an exotic taste to food and wines but also helped preserve meat at a time when refrigeration was unknown.
Spices were also used in making perfumes and in the material medica. Subsequent to Gama's journey spices began to be used widely in British, Swiss and French cuisine. This was particularly true of peppercorn known as pimenta, pimenta da India (in Portugal) or as pimenta do reino ( Brazil). The term pimenta in Goa has a different connotation. Portugal internally did not consume much spice, but other European countries did. Spices revolutionized their cooking.
Initially people reacted diversely to the introduction of new food products in both the worlds. In Europe, for instance spices were considered by some as a status mark, fashionable, exotic, others felt the condiments made dishes inedible, dangerous for health even poisonous.
Spices and fruits from India had significant impact on cooking in some parts of Brazil. Orlando Ribeiro in his Originalidade da Expanção Portuguesa says “há uma cozinha do norte do Brazil que e em grande parte de herança India, há
uma cozinha goesa que é Hindu na sua origem”. Strong seasoning with spices in the early stages of its introduction had adverse impact on people of Brazil. Slaves and masters alike suffered from ailments of digestive track.
In Goa, since a section of the population considered some fruits polluting and fleshy, these were not consumed for a long time and even when finally accepted, not included in the "food for Gods".
The use of other products depended on the cost, availability, taste at particular point of time or even what was is in vogue in culinary art. Before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1510, the food habits of majority of the people in Goa were more or less uniform, although there might have been
some influences from earlier rulers.
A variety of food was prepared for different occasions -- food for daily consumption, festive occasions, food for the gods, pre-wedding rituals, ancestors, dead, poor and food according to the season. Food differed to some degree according to caste and communities in Goa. Food sometimes made a distinction among the people.
During the Portuguese period, some traditional habits were discarded, new ones added and recipes circulated and modified to suit the needs of the rulers and the ruled or the availability of certain ingredients.
Many new food products and customs percolated in the Goan society. Among these was the use of potato by the people of all communities in making savouries such as samosas, batawadas, potato baji, pao baji as well as in meat and fish recipes.
The new food products brought to India changed the lifestyle of the people, sometimes in a subtle way. Many of the food producing plants become an integral part of the local flora, altering the economy and the food habits of the people.
Few realize today, for instance, that chillies which are widely used in Goan and Indian cuisine were a stranger to our continent until the Portuguese introduced them from the Americas. Chillies, particularly the dried red variety are used to add flavour, pungency, texture, marinate meats and fish and to make the world famous Goan humon -- prawn/fish curry and other curries.
They are also used in tempero (a paste of spices, chilies, garlic, turmeric ground with vinegar) popularly known among Goans as recheio or recheio-masala to stuff fish, make the famous Goan pork sorpatel (sarapatel), prawn or fish or pork balchao, while the green variety is used to make chutneys, pickles, give pungency and taste to vegetables, meat and fish. Without the zing of chilies, our curries, gravy, savouries and pickles would have less flavour, colour and spice.
Rulers, merchants, missionaries, casados, Portuguese women in India including orfas del rei ("orphans of the king"), degredados (exiles) and slaves, all played different roles in introducing various types of food, knowledge of food habits and for circulating recipes.
In addition to sweets, the Portuguese brought to India their guisados, caldeiradas and assados prepared with fish and meats.
Not all food products, plants and dietary habits were easily assimilated. Consequently, various methods were devised to introduce food habits, products and recipes -- regulations, treaties, force and instruction issued by the Portuguese government, Church and its agency, the Inquisition.
The non-eating of pork, for instance, was at one time an offence punishable by the Inquisition. New food habits were also introduced through interaction, miscegenation, marriages, religion and migration. At times new food habits become popular because they were part of Christian cuisine or had been brought in by the rulers.
Afonso de Albuquerque, the conqueror of Goa, was responsible for initiating Politica dos Casamentos (a mixed marriage policy) between Portuguese men and local women in Portuguese India. This policy of mixed marriages must have surely influenced the food habits of the mixed race.
Similarly, the Commercial Treaty of 1878 (Anglo-Portuguese Treaty) with British India brought new elements into the diet. Prior to this treaty a majority of the people had never heard of coffee, tea and sugar. As these items became more easily available they formed an integral part of the diet of the upper classes at breakfast, after meals and as a mid-afternoon beverage.
The Portuguese used regulations to introduce new food habits or to stop those that persisted after a section of population converted to Christianity. Conversion forced the Goan Christians to give up some food habits, adapt new dietary habits or ingredients and introduce radical changes in food processing.
The Church and its agencies issued at times decrees to prevent or to introduce food habits. For example, in 1736, the Inquisition issued a decree banning Christians from cooking their rice without salt. Both this and chewing of pan (leaf and betel) were considered as habits of the 'gentios' (non-Christians).
Evidently, the Portuguese feared that continuation of such pre-Christians practices among the new converts might weaken their religious hold over Christians. The Portuguese also used food habits based on religion to distinguish between Hindus and Christians and again, between upper and lower class Christians.
The rulers introduced the practice of eating meats – beef and pork -- among the converts. Meat was popular with upper class Christians.
In the early nineteenth century, Cottineau de Klougen, during his visit to Goa, noted that the poor did not eat meat more than three or four times a year, a luxury which they obviously could not afford on daily basis. However, on festive occasions such as Christmas, Easter, weddings or feast of a village patron saint large number of Christians irrespective of their social and economic status would consume meat, particularly pork.
Pork became the centre piece of Goan Christian cuisine on festive occasions in Old Conquest territories -- Bardes, Salcete, Ilhas (Tiswadi). No meal would be complete without pork meat with at least a sarapatel or a vindalho and particularly, among the upper strata a roast pigling and pork balchao. However, some pre-conversion practices prevented many Christians in the New Conquests from consuming meat, particularly beef and pork. Instead, they occasionally consumed poultry and mutton, which incidentally is also eaten by non-Christians in Goa.
The Portuguese and the Goan emigrant community took away their food habits elsewhere. Goans carried recipes how to prepare sarapatel, Goan sausages and prawn curry to various places in British India, Burma, Aden, Australia, Canada, Europe, the Americas, Africa to name a few. Many of these food products are today sold in some famous food markets abroad. Could the Portuguese Canja de galinha originated in Goa from the Goan canja or kunjee? In Goa, this rice gruel is eaten for breakfast, as mid day re-enforcement or as light diet when sick.
In the early period, the Hindus of Goa did not eat tomato. Even today, most Goan Hindu families do not cook tomato, aubergine, radish and papaya on festive religious occasions when they prepare "food for the Gods" since these vegetables are from "across the seas" and considered polluting.
Tomato, a fleshy red fruit is associated with blood, considered polluting. Circumstances forced the Hindu in Goa to eat tomatoes in the early decades of the twentieth century. Apparently, during an epidemic of typhoid, patients were prescribed cod liver oil. Because of its unpleasant taste, physicians advised them to mix it with tomato juice. Subsequently, Hindus started using tomato in their food.
In certain parts of the New Conquest territories tomato was not used until the second half the twentieth century. In these areas tomato was neither easily available nor did many know its use. Today, tomato is an integral part of the Hindu diet although not used when food is prepared as part of ritual offering to the Gods. Kotkotem, a dish made of several vegetables, pulses and coconut is a favourite dish among the Goan Hindus. Nevertheless, on ritual occasions Kotkotem has to be prepared without tomato, aubergine and other vegetables produced from imported plants.
Religion also influenced the introduction of wine since it enjoyed religious sanction due to its association with Christianity. Considered the blood of Christ, it plays an important role in the liturgy. Furthermore, it was believed that wine, if drunk moderately, gave strength to the body. The consumption of wine was not approved by the religion and customs of the Hindus and Muslims.
The Christmas confectionary of Goan Christians that forms a part of consuada draws from many cultures -- Portuguese, Hindu, Arabic, Malaysian and Brazilian. The Hindu "cookery of the Gods" has its influence on Christmas confectionary in the form of neureos, kalkal and shankarpalis.
Goa's famous sausages are a modified version of Portuguese chourico. Vindalho prepared in Goa is different from the one prepared in Mangalore where it is known as vindalo. Bebinca, the queen of Goan Christian dessert on festive occasions, is perhaps a modified version of bebingka made in Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia.
The culinary of Portugal and places touched by Portuguese presence has left an impact on cuisine of not only Goa but also many places where the Portuguese had their settlements or places where the missionaries and traders lived in India.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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