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Cloudy with a chance of cafreal

Raul Dias | Updated on July 03, 2020 Published on July 03, 2020

Season’s best: The Goan vindaloo originated from a Portuguese dish called carne de vinha d’alhos, which simply meant meat marinated with garlic and wine   -  Getty Images/iStockphoto

Catholic Goan cuisine has an arsenal of fermented, vinegar-preserved dishes and accompaniments that come to the fore during the four monsoon months

* Pantry inventories are taken at a military level to ensure the steady supply of monsoon provisions called purument or provisão in Konkani — grain, spices, cold-pressed coconut oil and, of course, that chief preservative aka coconut palm vinegar called sur.

* Catholic Goan cuisine has a wide repertoire of spicy pickles, mainly of the dried seafood kind, that shows up during the rains.

* Goa’s monsoon cuisine repertoire also inherited preserved dishes from other Portuguese colonies. Chief among these is the dark, rich pork stew called sorpotel.

To say that the average Goenkar is obsessed with food would be putting it way too mildly. Coming from a large, multi-generational Catholic Goan family where food has always been the all-important axis around which our quotidian life pivots, I have seen it all. From heated debates around the dinner table on the ‘correct’ recipe for pork sorpotel (blood in or blood out!?) to a family wedding being famously postponed, all because the top caterer in Margao was not free to display her legendary culinary prowess on the chosen date — celebrating food trumps all. Go to any village in Goa and, to this day, you will be greeted not with a “hello” but the often rhetorical question of “have you eaten?”, never mind the time of day or night!

However, there are a few weeks of the year — if one were to discount lead-ups to major festivals such as Christmas, Easter and the hallowed village feast day — when the food mania gets ready to hit the proverbial roof. Just before the monsoon makes its boisterous presence felt in Goa, homes across the state witness a frenzy like no other. Pantry inventories are taken at a military level to ensure the steady supply of monsoon provisions called purument or provisão in Konkani — grain, spices, cold-pressed coconut oil and, of course, that chief preservative aka coconut palm vinegar called sur.

Mango trees of indigenous Goan varietals such as musrad and mankurad would have been divested of their prized fruit. The juicy, ripe ones are either eaten straight off the tree or pulped and preserved in the form of the sugary mangaad — a jam-meets-thick-paste-like preparation that can be eaten on its own, blended with milk for a shake or slathered atop fresh poi bread.

The tinier, unripe specimens, on the other hand, would be washed, quartered and salted before being submerged in vinegar and sugar to be preserved as the famous Goan water pickle (because of the clear, water-like liquid) called tora shiro. This will most likely be eaten with a bowl of tepid rice water gruel called pez on a rainy afternoon.

In a pickle

Speaking of pickles, Catholic Goan cuisine has a wide repertoire of spicy pickles, mainly of the dried seafood kind, that shows up during the rains. This is because we Goans, like a few other coastal communities in India, avoid consuming fresh seafood in months that do not have the letter ‘r’ in them, which, incidentally, are most of the monsoon months.

And so, well-planned shopping excursions will be organised to the large wholesale produce market in Mapusa to procure a mammoth number of provisão. Dried salted mackerels called sukke bangde festooned on coir ropes will be purchased in dozens, to be made into the spicy-n-sour Portuguese-influenced parra pickle that will jazz up the orange-hued, seafood-bereft sorak curry eaten with red ukde rice.

For prawn balchão, another equally famous pickle, tiny, dehydrated prawns called javla are bought along with dried red Kashmiri chillies. The two ingredients are soon laid out on straw mats strewn about the home’s garden, under the desiccating heat of the blazing summer sun.

Interestingly, and rather confusingly, there is another version of prawn balchão that Goans eat during the rest of the year. Using fresh saltwater prawns in its preparation, this iteration of balchão, less intense and vinegary than its monsoon counterpart, is enjoyed as a thick gravy dish.

Porcine paradise

Just like the balchão and parra, a host of preserved pork-based dishes, too, were born of Goa’s Portuguese past. One of the most famous pork dishes that has now breached its Goan shores to take long strides the world over — and particularly in Britain — is vindaloo.

It actually originated from a preserved Portuguese dish called carne de vinha d’alhos, which simply meant meat marinated with garlic and wine. This was a dish that sailors took with them on long voyages. However, the Goan vindaloo, as we know and love it today, came about when the said sailors, once ashore, localised the dish by adding spices and chillies and substituting the hard-to-procure red wine with coconut vinegar.

Called chauricão and available at most markets in Goa, the tiny beads of fat saturated Goan pork sausages have their origins in the traditional Portuguese smoked sausages called chourico. Another monsoon staple, chauricão are preserved by smoking strings of sausages over coconut husks and used to make a spicy stew with sliced onions and cubed potatoes. Best had with a slab of hot pão bread.

Colonial cousins

Goa’s monsoon cuisine repertoire also inherited preserved dishes from other Portuguese colonies. Chief among these is the dark, rich pork stew called sorpotel. Known as sarpotel in Brazil, the dish is a mishmash of offals such as liver, lungs and heart, mixed with meat and fat. Though contentious, many families in Goa are known to add a bit of pig’s blood to give the dish that special edge.

On the other hand, chicken cafreal,which is a dark green, vinegar-heavy roast chicken dish, is known to have been brought by the Portuguese from their East African colony of Mozambique.

Portuguese, Brazilian, Mozambican, but now wholly Indian, Catholic Goan cuisine has evolved into a delicious genre unto itself. And one that shines in its spicy brilliance even on the rainiest of days.

Raul Dias is a food and travel writer based in Mumbai

Chicken cafreal
  • (Recipe courtesy Ann Dias)
  • Ingredients
  • 1 kg skinless chicken pieces
  • (legs and thighs)
  • 2-inch piece ginger
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 5 green chillies
  • 1/2 tsp peppercorns
  • 5 cloves
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tbsp poppy seeds (khus khus) soaked in a little water
  • 1 cup fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 30 ml coconut vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Juice of two limes
  • 50 ml vegetable oil
  • 2 medium potatoes cut
  • in rounds and deep-fried
  • Method
  • In a food processor, grind the ginger, garlic, green chillies, peppercorns, cloves, cumin seeds, poppy seeds and coriander leaves with a few drops of water to a fine paste.
  • Make slits on chicken pieces and marinate with turmeric, salt, lime juice and the spice paste for two hours.
  • In a large frying pan, heat oil on medium flame and lightly fry the chicken pieces for 1-2 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and keep aside.
  • Pour any residual marinade into the pan along with a little water, vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the semi-cooked chicken pieces back to the pan, mix well and cook for another 8-10 minutes with the lid on, till the liquid has almost dried up. Check that the chicken is fully cooked.
  • Serve the chicken pieces hot, surrounded by deep-fried potato rounds.

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Published on July 03, 2020
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