* In Goa, every feast day and ailment have their own ‘patron’ sweet treat. One sweet helps celebrate, the other helps cure, or so goes the belief
* The patoleo is made with Goan parboiled rice called ukda tandul , dark palm jaggery called madachem god and fresh coconut scrapings
Like many micro-communities, we, the inhabitants of the tiny state of Goa, have our set of peculiarities. Chief among these is an all-consuming hypochondria, where running to the doctor at the slightest hint of a malady is almost a state pastime. A close second is our unbridled love for feasts of all kind. This could take the form of village feasts, religious feasts or those that pivot around sowing/harvesting seasons.
Interestingly, this truism is augmented by the fact that in Goa, every feast day and ailment have their own ‘patron’ sweet treat. One sweet helps celebrate, the other helps cure, or so goes the belief. The humble patoleo has the distinction of holding both ‘portfolios’!
Loath as we are to call it a mere ‘steamed dumpling’, the patoleo , made with Goan parboiled rice called ukda tandul , dark palm jaggery called madachem god and fresh coconut scrapings, is anything but simple to us Goenkars. Even its full name is a tongue-twisting haldikolyanche patoleo , with the first part referring to the all-important haldi or turmeric leaf that the sweet is wrapped in before it is steamed. The leaf gives the patoleo its gingery, almost floral fragrance and taste when steamed in a traditional copper vessel with an airtight lid.
But what brings the patoleo into focus today — August 15 — is the Catholic feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is celebrated all over Goa with street processions and dances, and plates overflowing with the hallowed patoleo . This is also the time of the year when churches across Goa celebrate the harvest festival — again with patoleo — that is multifariously known as the Festa de Novidades, Novem or the Konnsachem Fest.
Now, coming to the medicinal properties of patoleo , it is said to be a great antidote to whooping cough among children, thanks to the antiseptic properties imbued in the turmeric leaves. August sees a profusion of turmeric plants all over Goa and the other western coastal regions, so there truly is no better time of the year to celebrate the patoleo .
It would be remiss of me to co-opt the patoleo into being just a Catholic Goan sweet. It is also prepared by the Hindu Goan community to celebrate the festivals of Naag Panchami and Ganesh Chaturthi. In fact, the Hindus celebrate the aforementioned harvest festival on the second day of Ganesh Chaturthi. In neighbouring Karnataka, a salt-free version of the patoleo , called haldi panna pathali , is offered to Goddess Parvati, who, according to legend, craved the dish during pregnancy.
While researching for a book that she’s currently working on, author and Goan food historian Odette Mascarenhas dug up some interesting patoleo facts. The most surprising of all is its possible origin in faraway Bengal. “The patoleo is quite similar to the preparation called pitha in Bengal, which is also a rice batter and coconut-jaggery stuffed steamed dumpling made in January for the seasonal harvest of rice there. I believe that migration [triggered by fear of foreign invasion in medieval India] brought it to Goa,” she says.
This is probably true, for the patoleo can even be found among Mumbai’s East Indian Catholic community, where it is called pan mori , and patoley by Mangalorean Catholics.
While the ground rice and salt paste smeared onto the turmeric leaf is the base for all patoleo , each family tweaks the recipe to its liking, mainly in the coconut-jaggery filling, called chun , that sits in the centre of the leaf.
“The inherent diversity of each household brings uniqueness to the precision with which the dessert is prepared, as a curative snack or as a prized festive dessert,” says Jerson Fernandes, executive chef at the Novotel Goa Dona Sylvia Resort Hotel, who has come up with versions that use ghee-fried charoli or chironji seeds to cardamom-flavoured chun . He claims to have even come across a patoleo version that is steamed in cups fashioned out of jackfruit leaves .
And speaking of interpretations, the Mumbai-based modern Goan restaurant O Pedro recently took things a few steps further when their pastry chef Heena Punwani sent out her jazzed up version of the warm patoleo . She teamed it with a light palm jaggery caramel, poha granola and a vanilla bean ice-cream on the side.
Deliciously blasphemous enough to send any patoleo -loving, hypochondriac Goenkar scurrying to the nearest doctor!
Raul Dias is a food and travel writer based in Mumbai