Why you should care
Because it’s the best of both countries in one dish.
Goan food makes me weak in the knees. I could write poems about drowning in the kokum-laden depths of a well-made fish curry.
Goa, a tiny state on India’s western coast, owes quite a few of its dishes to the Portuguese who ruled the land for 450 years and brought in continental food influences, ideology and ingredients — potatoes, tomatoes, cashews and spices. The Portuguese came in as missionaries, traders and soldiers, says Odette Mascarenhas, a Goa-based food critic, author and TV host. “The story goes that to keep their soldiers back, they were promised a plot of land, marriage to a local woman and a pot of gold. After marriage, the local women had to prepare Portuguese dishes but also added local ingredients in them, creating something new.” This meant curries with a lot more spices and desserts with local nuts.
Here are some of Goa’s tastiest dishes that come from Portuguese influence.
Bolo Sans Rival
This name of this delicate and decadent cake translates to “cake without rival” (bolo is cake in Portuguese, sans rival is French for “no rival”). A cashew-nut dacquoise with rich buttercream filling, it comes topped with slivers of nuts. When the Portuguese brought this traditional gâteau (cake) to Goa, the almonds were replaced with cashews, Mascarenhas explains.
Sorpotel (mishmash or confusion) is made of chopped pork and offal, chilies, vinegar and pig’s blood. It’s typically eaten accompanied with sannas (steamed savory rice cakes). Some believe the dish’s origins can be traced back to Castelo de Vide, Alentejo, Portugal, where it was originally made with lamb and kid’s blood. To make meat last longer while traveling, the Portuguese would cut it into small pieces and marinate it with apple cider, Mascarenhas explains, then later cook it with garlic, bay leaf and onions. When the dish made its way to Goa, the thrifty locals used the whole pig, adding in spices and toddy (coconut) vinegar — the marination ensures that sorpotel tastes best eaten several days later.
It’s believed this sweet was named after a Portuguese nun, Sister Bebiana, who lived in the Santa Monica convent in Old Goa in the 17th century. Its seven layers (later increased to 16) are rumored to symbolize the seven hillocks in Lisbon and Old Goa. “Egg whites were used for gilding gold in churches and to not waste the yolks, the nuns decided to make the custard-like dessert, which came to be known as bebinca or bebic,” says Goan chef and author Floyd Cardoz, known for his restaurants Paowalla in New York and The Bombay Canteen in Mumbai. Made with plain flour, butter, egg yolk, ghee and coconut milk, the cooking process is elaborate — each layer is cooked before the next one is added. Bebinca is sometimes enjoyed with plain vanilla ice cream.
This pork dish, known for its fiery taste, is often mispronounced as vindaloo. The actual name of this meat in a spicy wine garlic marinade is vinha d’alhos (wine and garlic). “Since there was no wine produced in Goa, they substituted it with palm vinegar and added chilies soaked in this vinegar to form the base of the dish. It was then called vindalho,” says Gracian de Souza, founder and chef of Goan restaurant Porto & Poie in Mumbai. Goans also added black pepper, cinnamon and tamarind to this dish.
More Goan Goodness with Portuguese Roots
- Prawn Rissoles or Rissóis de Camarão: These crescent-shaped, golden brown patties (prawns or shrimp) are cooked in a creamy béchamel sauce, dipped in egg, coated with breadcrumbs and then fried.
- Cafreal: This spicy chicken curry originated in Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony, before it was adapted and brought to Goa.
- Balchão: This spicy and tangy pickle-like dish made with dried shrimp is believed to have originated in Macao, also once a Portuguese colony.
- Feijoada: The Goan version of this pork and bean stew, popular in Brazil and other Portuguese colonies, uses choris (sausages) with red kidney beans. Feijão is Portuguese for beans; when cooked with beef or pork, the stew is known as feijoada.