Goa region along the West coast of India is known for its seafood and vegetarian dishes. Even though there is an abundance of restaurants, pinpointing Goan specialties might be a challenge due to restauranteurs trying to please the travellers with popular fail-proof dishes from all over the country and beyond. Nepalese momos, Hyderabadi biryanis or Chinese sizzlers might leave you wondering if there is anything interesting to try from the regional cuisine that is a fusion of Portuguese influenced Catholic and Hindu cooking.
During my six weeks spent in Goa I was set on a mission to discover the subtleties of the local cuisine. I talked to a few chefs and even enrolled into a cooking class, which helped answering some questions and taught me a few things about ingredients, spices and cooking techniques. Here I put together a list of most memorable dishes I had, and even though the variety of Goan cuisine does not end there, this might serve you as a guide on what to look for on the menus.
One of the most popular dishes you’d find on the restaurant menus is Xacuti – a curry made with lamb, chicken or sometimes prawns. Grated fried coconut, star anise and cardamom are the essential ingredients of this dish. Fragrant and rich, with a toasty flavour of coconut Xacuti is perfect to be spooned, dipped or soaked up with chapati, paratha bread or rice.
Rava is a form of semolina that is popular in South Indian cuisine and is used for coating fish before frying it. You can expect either pieces of larger fish such as kingfish or whole smaller fish, typically mackerel prepared that way. Before frying the fish is usually marinated with recheado masala – red fragrant paste made of Kashmiri chilies, a variation of spices, ginger, garlic and vinegar. Succulent and aromatic from the inside and crispy from the outside this dish could be served as a starter or a main course when accompanied with curry and rice.
This simple yet surprisingly tasty dish is made of ochra, onions and green chilli that are stir fried and then stewed, with coriander, turmeric powder and cumin seasoning. Is is very fragrant, with cumin aroma prevalent and can be served as a side to seafood or meat options.
Usually on the spicy side (unless tempered down per request) Vindaloo curry is made using meat marinated with coconut vinegar (derived from Portuguese vinho – wine, which was later substituted with vinegar) and garlic (alho). Other ingredients include tomatoes, ginger, Kashmiri chilli, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander seeds and peppercorn. Vinegar gives this dish sourness and tomatoes make the curry rich.
Interesting thing that I found out during my cooking class was that Vindaloo does not necessarily have to be served in a form of curry that I was used to having in Indian restaurants all over the world. Longer cooked and thus thicker version of Vindaloo is perfect for serving with fried fish that was unanimously voted as the best dish made during the class.
In Konkani language that is spoken in Goa region ’Ambot’ means sour and ’Tik’ means hot and spicy. As the name suggests this curry is just like that, with an intense sweet and sour flavour. The chef of the restaurant I had this meal in told me that this dish consists of lots of ingredients: cinnamon, garlic, onion, ginger, tamarind, coconut vinegar, sugar and Goan sea salt – brownish flakes that crystallise after sea water evaporates in the sun. Ambot Tik can be made with shark or with squid, which is optionally fried with recheado masala paste before adding it to the curry.
Samarein Chi Kodi is a mild curry made with dried prawns. The tradition of making this curry came from the days when people were shut in their houses during monsoons, so they were getting things ready that could survive the whole monsoon season. Dried prawns was one of those resources. Even though the means of transport available now made fresh food products accessible during the rainy season, the curry remain as one of Goan’s favourites. These days it is often cooked with some fresh prawns added to it with the base of the curry made of tomato, finely blended coconut, tamarind, onions and a little bit of fresh chilli.
Mackerel or any white fish can be used in this curry, made of finely grated coconut, fresh chillies, coriander, garlic and turmeric powder. In terms of texture and ingredients Nustea Chi Kodi is similar to Xacuti. Fish flavour is dominant in it and not overpowered by other ingredients. It is best when eaten with rice.
Bebinca is traditional Goan dessert that consists of 16 layers. This pudding, or some may call it cake, is made of flour, sugar, ghee (clarified butter), egg yolk and coconut milk. Sweet, sticky and rich are the best words to describe it. Bebinca is traditionally served warm with ice cream, however, you might struggle finding it on the menus of the restaurants. If you are determined to try it, don’t give up and ask around in sweet shops and larger stores.
Photo credits: samarein chi kodi