Warm Beaches, Hot Food: Eating in Goa
Kendra P. continues our eating around the world series with news of food from the Goan Peninsula.
Situated on the west coast of India and lapped by the waters of the Indian Ocean, Goa is perhaps best known for its inviting palm-fringed beaches and many luxury resorts. However, it’s also a paradise for food lovers, offering an astonishing variety of delectable, fiery local dishes that titillate the palate and make you regret when it’s time to leave.
The history of Goa has left its indelible mark on the local cuisine. Goa is an ancient place, with the earliest traces of human habitation dating back nearly 30,000 years. The Sumerians came to Goa in 2200 BC, followed by Dravidians from the Deccan Plateau. Many other peoples came to Goa over the following centuries, and by the 14th century, it had come under the control of the sultans of Delhi. By 1510, Goa was under Portuguese rule—and continued to be so until 1961.
The Portuguese presence gave rise to one of the best-known dishes from the region: vindaloo. The name is actually derived from that of a Portuguese dish, carne de vinha d’alhos, which is pork prepared with wine and garlic. In Goa, the recipe was modified by replacing red wine with palm vinegar, and adding Kashmiri chilies and other spices. Interestingly enough, the fiery dish also became a staple of Anglo-Indian cuisine, although the variety you can find in UK curry houses today is substantially different from the original. One thing you will often find in a Western vindaloo is potato, which you would never find in Goa. This is due to a misinterpretation of the name—aloo means potato in Hindi.
Street food in Goa has to be experienced. Some of the things you may want to try include choriso pao, a local Goan pork sausage that is steamed and stuffed into bread, or a rus omelet, made with onions and finely chopped coriander, and then covered with a chicken coconut curry and lime juice.
Coming back to the food in Goa, one of the things you really must try is the seafood. This is the staple food of Goa, and is both inexpensive and delicious. A Goan fish curry is a great way to start, often made with fresh pomfret, a firm-fleshed white fish from the region—although if you want to try this yourself when you get back home, turbot or halibut is a good substitute. These curries are hot and sour, with the spices tempered with gloriously rich coconut.
Goan cuisine is not exclusively savory. One of the best desserts you will ever come across is bebinca, a traditional Goan confection consisting of seven layers of coconut pancakes. It is made with flour, ghee, sugar, egg yolks and coconut milk. The dish is typically garnished with slivers of almonds and served warm with cold ice cream, making it the perfect end to a meal in Goa’s sultry climate.