According to the popular saying, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Perhaps that’s why Goa has found such a special place in mine; I love the cuisine of this Indian state.
Most visitors are drawn to Goa by its reputation for pristine beaches and the promise of long hours of uninterrupted sunshine. But for me, it’s the local food I find enticing; the mouth watering prospect of tucking into regional delicacies such as prawn balchao, chicken xacuti, sorportel, vindaloo and even links of spicy choriço style sausage.
Enjoying Goa’s culinary heritage
Good food is never far away in Goa. Those typically Goan dishes can be enjoyed in establishments ranging from humble beach shacks to the smart restaurants of luxury hotels. Outlets at both ends of the scale attract patrons from around the world.
Europeans seeking winter sunshine mingle with holidaymakers from cities across India. Perhaps, unwittingly, some of the people who make eye contact in Goa might have spoken with each other over telephone or share a multi-national employer?
Globalisation – lauded by some, loathed by others – has flattened the world in such a way that people from different continents share similar expectations as to what makes a good holiday. It can be even be argued that the food holidaymakers enjoy in Goa is a by-product of an earlier wave of globalisation.
Imperialism’s impact on food and drink
Colonialism now has overwhelmingly negative associations. Yet, movements of people and meetings of cultures result in fresh ideas and often influence how food is enjoyed.
The Portuguese, who appeared off India’s west coast in 1498, were the first of the European powers to make their presence felt on the subcontinent. Their exploration followed the Treaty of Tordesillas, of 1494, in which the Portuguese and Spanish agreed to divide the world.
A wave of exploration, trade and conquest soon followed and foodstuffs were among the commodities shipped between landmasses. Many of the ingredients now taken for granted in Goan and Indian cuisine were introduced from the holds of Portuguese ships.
Chillies, coriander, potatoes, tomatoes, cashews, aubergines, pumpkins, pineapples and papaya are among the list of fruits and vegetables that followed Alfonso du Albuquerque and his men into Goa.
Goan cuisine – early fusion food?
Even centuries ago, chefs were experimenting with new ingredients and grafting ideas and inspiration from one part of the world onto the cuisine of another. Just a few years ago, Fusion Food was acclaimed as fashionable but, in reality, the idea of bringing influences from one cuisine to another was nothing new.
Scan down any Goan menu today and, among the dishes on offer, you’ll see the names recipes created after the arrival of Portuguese. It’s subject material that anthropologists and food historians can really get their teeth into.
So, who influenced whose cuisine?
Did homesick sailors, soldiers and administrators long for foodstuffs fondly remembered from their homeland, far away?
Did Goan cooks combine their know-how and the newly available ingredients to come up with winning recipes?
Were the Goan wives of Portuguese settlers encouraged to cook more like their husband’s mother?
Portugal’s influence on Goan food
While Hindu dishes within Goa tended to retain the use of traditional vegetarian ingredients, the Christian influenced Goan food did not shy from using the newly introduced ingredients and meat became a characteristic element. Sorportel is said to be derived from a dish popular around the Portuguese town of Castelo de Vide.
Vindaloo, or vindalho, or added a piquant combination of garlic and spices to salted pork. That same meat also became the basis of Goan sausage; which draws heavily on the recipe used to make Portuguese chouriço.
Sailors and their sausage
Even without refrigeration, the cured sausages remained edible for up to six months. For seafarers, facing the prospect of months on board a ship, the sausages offered a tasty addition to the quartermaster’s supplies. Shipboard life was tough and dangerous and it’s said that Panaji’s impressive white Church of Immaculate Conception was constructed so that seamen could offer prayers for their safe passage.
For residents of Goa, too, the sausages represented a tasty source of protein. Especially during the monsoon months, when seas and unfavourable tides meant the usually plentiful supply of fish from the Arabian Sea tended to be scarce. In summer, prior to the rainy season, the sausages could be strung out to dry under the sun as an alternative to curing them in a smoky barrel.
Von Bismarck’s famous sausage quote
Recalling Otto von Bismarck’s comment, that “the less people know about how sausage and laws are made, the better they sleep at night,” perhaps it makes sense to avoid supplying further details of how Goan sausages are prepared.
Even if it is Goa’s cuisine that attracts you, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy the state’s coastline. In fact, the two go very well together. What could be better for aiding the digestion of an indulgent lunch than a long afternoon walk, barefoot on the fine sand?
See the Goa Tourism website.
Find out more about attractions in India via the Incredible India! website.
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