Goa's charms go deeper than the immediate images of sun, sand
and siesta its name conjures up. The state's richly flavoured local
cuisine is reason enough to make a pilgrimage (especially when you
pair your meals with time on the beach and a few refreshing beers
afterwards, if you're so inclined). Just be sure to come primed for
exploration: there's certainly more to the cuisine of Goa than its
famous fish curry. For our guide to the region's food, we spoke
with an expert who's dedicated her career to mastering Goa's
Chef Deepa Awchat is an expert
on spicy Goan cuisine © Goa Portuguesa Cookbook
Master Chef Deepa Awchat is a founder of Goa
Portuguesa, a landmark restaurant in Mumbai devoted to the
cuisine of Goa. In another life, the Goan-born Awchat worked as a
customs officer - and is even a former table tennis champion - but
these days, she dedicates her energy to culinary pursuits. Apart
from overseeing the restaurant itself, she's also the author of
The Goa Portuguesa Cookbook, in which she demystifies Goan
cooking and shares some of her most cherished recipes.
To understand Goan cuisine, the chef explains, you first need to
wrap your head around the two main styles of cooking: Goan Hindu
cuisine, which reflects the heritage of the local population, and
Goan Catholic cuisine, which is a vestige of Goa's period as a
Portuguese colony. The former traditionally features coconut and
tamarind-based gravies, while the latter is more vinegar-based.
Goan prawn curry is a classic of
the region © Goa Portuguesa Cookbook
While these two influences are distinct, many Goan dishes offer
a beautiful melding of both. As Goa was a Portuguese colony for
four centuries, it's no wonder the Catholic cuisine imaginatively
absorbed the local culinary influence (and vice versa). "They
introduced gastronomic treasures from their colonies like chilies,
tomatoes, potatoes, pineapple, cashew fruit, mangoes, and more.
Goans meanwhile learnt the art of baking bread and distilling of
alcohol from the Portuguese," Awchat explains.
Whole spices are a key element
of Goan cuisine © Mulecan/iStock/Thinkstock
In the cuisine of Goa, seafood and pork dishes are both
prominent, but there are still lots of choices for vegetarians.
Those who don't eat meat can enjoy specialtiess like ross
(a coconut-based dish), hoomans (local curries) and
karam (salads). Traditionally, cooking was done in clay
pots over firewood, which added a subtly smoky flavour, but that
old-fashioned method is now practised only in the rural parts of
Goa. No matter how the food is cooked, though, the freshness of
spices is key: whole spices are best when freshly ground, and while
the method requires patience and muscle power, the gains are well
worth the pain.
Pork vindaloo melds both local
and Portuguese influences © Goa Portuguesa Cookbook
For those looking for classic Goan dishes to try, Chef Awchat
recommends, apart from the more famous dishes like pork
vindaloo, cafreal (a spicy chicken dish),
balchao (seafood or pork in a fiery sauce) and
sorpotel (a pork and liver stew), that guests veer towards
less publicised local favourites. Must-taste dishes include chicken
baffad (chicken cooked in coconut milk), pork
assad (braised pork), and fish caldine (a yellow
Goan curry). Personally, Chef Awchat loves dishing up a divine
prawn curry with raw mango and rice for a quick classic.
Expect complex seafood dishes
with pletny of spicing © Cathy Yeulet/Hemera/Thinkstock
The stories behind many of these dishes exemplify their cultural
blending. The original version of chicken cafreal is
grilled chicken from Portugal's African colonies, but the ingenious
Goans adapted the recipe by adding coriander leaves, green chilies,
ginger and garlic. The Portuguese word 'vindalho' originates from
vin (wine) and alho (garlic); to make it into
'vindaloo,' Goans spiced up the simple pork stew with red chilies,
vinegar introduced by the Portuguese and fistfuls of local spices.
Sorpotel, meanwhile, hailed originally from Brazil; Goans
later added their own twist and served the dish as a delicious pork
and liver curry.
Now wondering where to sample all these delights? Chef Awchat
has a few recommendations: "My favorite eateries in Goa are Ritz
Classic, Mum's Kitchen, Anandashram, Casa Bhonsle - all in Panjim -
and Spice Goa and Kamlabai in Mapusa." Be sure to add those to your
Whether you're soaking in the sun on the beach, nibbling from
casual beach shacks, or sampling spicy fare at a high-end eatery,
Goan food is, thanks to its mixed origins and continuing evolution,
one of India's most electric cuisines.