Traditional food in Goa is a reflection of its rich culture. It is a play of flavours with coconut milk toning down Goan spices in most meals. The accompanying cooling and digestive drinks further add to the drama of tastes and to the experience of eating an authentic meal in this coastal state.
It was mid-afternoon when I landed in Goa. The sky was clear and the sun was shining bright. I had kept my sunglasses and hat handy, as a ‘warm’ welcome was anticipated from this coastal state on the western edge of India. The wind blowing in my face had both the coolness and the heat of a tropical land; and in the cloak of this bright yellow day, the only colour to my eyes’ relief was from the green of the coconut and palm trees. A visual treat, the trees weren’t enough to cool me down, so the first thing I did on reaching my hotel, was order a refreshing drink. The smiling waiter presented me a beverage, Kokum juice, whose bright red colour was as refreshing as the drink itself. The gastronomically frenzied kid in me awakened with the very first sip of the drink and enquired about this summer coolant popular in Goa.
Kokum juice is made from the fruit of kokum plant that is rich in B complex vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and manganese and hydroxycitric acid. Besides its therapeutic powers, it is enjoyed for its tangy and fruity flavour, which is given a mild kick by adding Goan spices that makes it interesting, tropically! (There are many spices grown in the state and the local cuisine has quite an explosion of them in it).
Talking of cuisine, by now I was both famished and intrigued by the whole idea of home-grown spices and decided to experience it through one of Goa’s most enjoyed local delicacy, the xacuti. I went for the -vegetarian version but from what I hear, the most ordered one is either chicken or beef. Xacuti is a Goan curry made with roasted grated coconut and coconut milk that mellows down the hot ingredients particularly the peri-peri chilli, the most important part of Goan spices. It is one of the ingredients the Portuguese colonisers introduced here along with potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples, guavas and cashews. A dose of greens, reds, oranges and all sorts of colours, the vegetarian xacuti is a healthy indulgence enjoyed best with the staple rice and the traditional drink, solkadi.
A drink made from coconut milk and kokum, solkadi too has a hit of the Goan spices. It is taken either after meals to aid digestion or along with rice and vegetables. With salt, mustard seeds, cumin, garlic, asafoetida and red chillies, it is a flavourful beverage of a soft pink colour, which it gets from the white of the coconut milk and the red of the kokum.
But above all, Goan cuisine is much talked about for its long list of seafood that is traditionally prepared. And why not, the King fish (vison or visvan), pomfret, mackerel, shellfish, tiger prawns, lobsters, squids, etc., all make for sumptuous meals of a typical Goan style. Prawn curry with rice, and fish curry called humann also known as ambot are particularly famous dishes among both locals and tourists. Fish udid methi, which is another curry based dish of fenugreek and mackerel is also heartily relished.
The dry fish suke or dhabdhabit is a popular side dish and so is the kismur, a dish normally consisting of dried fish (mostly mackerel or shrimp), onions and coconut.
But if you’re looking for something other than seafood and vegetable xacuti, try the cashew curry, a rather rich dish in terms of the quantity of cashews added, the use of coconut in its various forms – coconut milk and oil, and the flavourful Goan spices. Tondak is another such dish with beans complementing the cashews.
With an interesting blend of the mild and mellow along with the hot, Goan cuisine is a derivative of the state’s varied culture with influences from its Hindu origins, Portuguese colonialism and Catholic culture. A delectable experience, every food might also tell a story, only if you listen. Bon Appétit.