Eating Well in Goa
Abundant seafood from the Arabian Sea, coupled with Goa's location on the spice route, ensures a wonderfully diverse cuisine.
Goan food is distinguished by the continued presence of Portuguese cooking techniques and ingredients. Chillies from the New World were incorporated into the local arsenal of spices relatively early, possibly with the arrival of Vasco da Gama in the late 15th century. The Portuguese also popularized eating pork, the use of vinegar, and certain desserts, and Goan Catholic eating habits continue to be influenced by these Portuguese methods, as well as those of the native Konkani-speaking inhabitants of the area.
The fact that Goa is a major tourist destination has also had an effect on the food you'll find here, and there are now plenty of international restaurants to be found, particularly in the north, where everything from Italian and Japanese to Greek and Mexican food can be found. There is also, of course, the gamut of Indian cuisines, from home-style Goan cafés to Punjabi restaurants that comparable to anything in North India.
An important cash crop in Goa, cashew trees grow all over the state. The tree, which is native to Brazil, came to Goa with the Portuguese. A local liquor is distilled from the cashew tree’s fruit: the cashew apple. The first distillation, called arrack, has lower alcohol content than the pungent feni, which is the third distillation and can be up to 80 proof. Goan distilleries also make a coconut feni.
A layered glutinous dessert, bebinca is traditionally eaten on special occasions, but due to its popularity with tourists, it is available in Goa all year round. The dish most likely evolved in Goa, likely with some Portuguese influence, but it has since migrated to Portugal as well. Making bebinca is a slow process: a batter of refined flour, coconut milk, egg yolks, and sugar is poured and baked, in layers, in a low-heat oven. The slight caramelizing between layers makes for an attractive tiger-stripe treat. You can buy bebinca in vacuum-sealed packages to take home.
A much-replicated Indian dish, vindaloo is the culinary pinnacle of the merging of Konkan and Portuguese cultures. A Portuguese meat dish cooked with red wine and garlic (vinho and alhos) was baptized in the fire of Goan spices and became vindaloo; the Goan version uses vinegar rather than wine for a slightly acidic-sweet taste. Vindaloo is originally a pork dish, but has since been adapted to chicken and lamb. It may include potatoes, too, and it generally incorporates red chilli for color and green chilli for spice.
A dish of Portuguese heritage that was adopted by Goan Christians, sorpotel (or sarapatel) is often somewhat toned down for tourists: it's an offal stew that is made using the liver, heart, and tongue of pork or other meats. By some accounts, the stew traditionally also includes the animal’s blood, which some cooks still use as a thickener—but probably not in the version tourists encounter. This flavor is enhanced by the use of vinegar.
If you happen to be in town on a market day, you might see strings of bulging Goan sausages gleaming dark red in the sun. Called chouriço, these are the local descendents of Portuguese chorizo, and are made with ground pork, vinegar, chilli, and other spices, and stuffed into casings. Chouriço can be very spicy or mild and varies in texture from dry to juicy. This type of sausage must be cooked, and is usually eaten with rice or pao, local Goan bread.
Chicken xacuti is one of Goa's most successful dishes outside of the state—and it can also be made with fish or lamb. It's a milder curry than some of the fiery red Goan curries. Coconut, white poppy, other seeds (peppercorn, cumin, and fennel), and warm spices like cinnamon, star anise, and cloves are roasted and then fried and simmered with the meat for an aromatic addition to rice or a piece of pao.
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