Goan cuisine is a combination of different influences i.e.Portuguese, Hindu, christian through the centuries, and though the recipes and techniques have changes and evolved over the years, the basic ingredients remain the same. The staple components of typical Goan food are the local products rice, fish and coconut and almost every Goan meal will have a dish comprising them. The people of Goa are gourmet seafood eaters and use prawns, lobsters, crabs, and jumbo pomfrets to make a variety of delicious soups, salads, pickles, curries and fries.
The Portuguese brought various goods for their own consumption, trade or as a part of their culture to Goa. From the routes discovered and used by the Portuguese came a host of plants/roots producing juicy fruits and vegetables never seen or heard of before such as potato, tomato, pumpkin, aubergine, cashew nut, pimento (chilli), papaya, passion fruit, pineapple and guava to enrich our diet. From Mozambique in Africa, among other things, was introduced a recipe on how to prepare Galinha Piri-piri (Chicken Piri-piri). Fruits, vegetables and herbs like cilantro (coriander) from across the seas added flavour to Goan, especially Hindu, cuisine and also made the food more aesthetic when used as a garnish.
During the Portuguese period (1510-1961) many traditional habits were discarded, new ones added and recipes circulated and modified to suit the needs of the rulers and the ruled or the availability of certain ingredients. Many new food products and customs percolated into Goan society. Among these was the use of potato by people of all communities in making savories such as samosas, batata wadas, and potato baji as well as in meat and fish recipes.
The new food products brought to India changed the lifestyle of the people. Many of the food producing plants became an integral part of the local flora. This changed the economy and food habits of the people. For instance, Chilies, which are widely used in Goan and Indian cuisine, were a stranger to our continent until the Portuguese introduced them from the Americas.
Rulers, merchants, missionaries, Portuguese women in India played different roles in introducing various types of food, knowledge of food habits and for circulating recipes. It has often been pointed out that the nuns of the Convento da Santa Monica in the old city of Goa were responsible for introducing Portuguese recipes and for creating the Indo-Portuguese recipes - particularly sweets like dedos da dama, petas de freiras (similar to the French sweet, pets de none), safeti de natas, safeti de Santa Clara. These sweets are still served as dessert in some Goan Christian homes on festive occasions. Some of the Indo-Portuguese recipes created by them are a blend of Portuguese and Goan recipes or Portuguese recipes adjusted to meet the needs of the time and availability of ingredients. In addition to sweets, the Portuguese brought to Goa their guisados, caldei-radas and assados prepared with fish and meats.
A durable change, first introduced by the Portuguese to Goa was oven-baked bread that a boy from Padeiro (baker) still delivers every morning. Padeiros (Poder in Konkani) have always been from the Christian community, a majority hailing from the Old Conquests, mainly from Salcete. Pao (bread) known as pau in Konkani, though not a staple food has now become popular with all communities. To begin with, pao was a part of Christian upper class diet eaten for breakfast, with mid-afternoon tea and to accompany meat, fish or vegetable dish during main meals.
The Portuguese introduced sura (palm toddy) instead of the yeast in the process of fermentation in Goa, particularly in the making of wheat bread. Sura was also used to make vinegar introduced in the Goan Christian cuisine by the Portuguese for adding flavour, provide a sour taste and as a preservative in meat, fish, vegetable and pickle recipes.
Religion and customs also forced Goans to rename some of their recipes or add different ingredients. Goans, particularly the Hindus, did not easily accept all the products brought to India. For instance, the Hindus, due to religious beliefs and at times superstition, resisted the use of certain types of vegetables and other food products in their cuisine. They avoided the great Mediterranean trilogy of bread, meat and wine for a long time. Pao was not consumed both because it contained sura and probably because a majority of bakers were Christians and it was a European product. Today, however, people of all communities consume bread, though some Hindus abstain on religious occasions.
In the early period, the Hindus of Goa did not eat tomato. Even today most Goan Hindu families do not cook tomato, aubergine, radish and papaya on festive religious occasions when they prepare food for the Gods since these vegetables are from across the seas and considered polluting. Tomato, a fleshy red fruit is associated with blood, considered polluting.
Circumstances forced the Hindu in Goa to eat tomatoes in the early decades of the 20th century. Apparently, during an epidemic of typhoid, patients were prescribed cod liver oil. Because of its unpleasant taste, physicians advised them to mix it with tomato juice. Subsequently, Hindus started using tomato in their food. Kotkotem, a dish made out of several vegetables, pulses and coconut is a favourite dish among the Goan Hindus. Nevertheless, on ritual occasions Kotkotem has to be prepared without tomato, aubergine and other vegetables produced from imported plants.
Christmas confectionery of the Goan Christians that forms a part of consuada (confectionaries sent to relatives and neighbours) draws on many cultures - Portuguese, Hindu, Arabic, Malaysian and Brazilian. The Hindu cookery of the Gods has its influence on Christmas confectionary in the form of neureos, kalkal, and shankarpalis.
Goans prepare different foods for different occasions - daily consumption, festive (religious and non-religious) occasions, food for the gods, rituals, ancestors, and according to the season. Food for daily consumption consists of rice, curry, fish/vegetables and pickles depending on the economic status. Goans are basically non-vegetarian. Fish is an important item of their diet. But Hindus, unlike their Christian counterparts, are usually vegetarian and do not consume fish and meat (chicken and mutton) during religious festivals. Rice is eaten in different forms. Rice for meals is boiled in water and drained. Hindus cook it without salt. A canjee is also made of rice. In the past canjee was cooked in a container called modki and was popular as breakfast or as a light meal when ill. Rice flour is also used to make a variety of roasted breads. Curry is made of coconut juice or by grinding coconut shavings to a fine paste with chillies, garlic, turmeric, dry coriander and tamarind.
Goans are very hospitable and lavishly spend on food during festive occasions such as birth, naming ceremonies, birthdays, thread ceremony, first holy communion, engagement ceremonies (exchange of rings), pre-marriage rituals such as tel/ross ceremony and Bikrem jevon (Bhuim jevon), marriages, religious festivals, village feasts and anniversaries.
On festive occasions like Ganesh Chaturthi, Guddi Padva and Diwali, special food is prepared for the gods. At least a month before Ganesh Chaturthi, which takes place at the end of the monsoon season and before harvest, women prepare sweets. For Diwali, the housewife cooks five kinds of puffed rice in addition to other food. These dishes are first offered to God on a banana leaf.
Just before marriage, an ojem - a basket containing foodstuff, mainly sweets, fruits and among Christians some bolos (a kind of cakes) made of rice flour and jaggery - is sent to the grooms house for distribution among neighbours and relatives. Hindus (parents or brothers) send ojems to the married daughters house throughout her life at the time of important festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali.
On festive occasions, Chinese blue and white pattern porcelain and other imported porcelain is used. Upper class Christians use cutlery to eat which is placed according to the custom in Portugal, usually the French or Russian style - the fork on the left, the knife on the right and the spoon in front besides a dessert spoon. Separate glasses for water and wine are arranged on the table on festive occasions. In colonial times, among the upper class Christians, domestic staff served food, course by course - soup, fish followed by meat, vegetables, rice and curry. It was customary to eat a dessert or fruit after a meal.
Goan food today is a fusion of many cuisines, and in many ways it brought the colonizer and the colonized closer. Goan food drew on different influences - Arab, Konkan, Malabar, Malaysian, Portuguese, Brazilian, French, African and even Chinese. There are many dishes common to Goa, Daman, Kerala, Mangalore (other areas of Konkan), Malaysia, Macau, Portugal, Brazil and Sri Lanka. The history of the evolution of Goan cuisine not only helps us understand the complex processes of assimilation and exclusion, it also serves as an exemplar of Indian multi-culturalism.
The food of Goa is rich in spices and other ingredients. Cashews play an important role in Goan food and are present in almost all dishes.
Despite the two schools of cuisine traditions influenced by the respective religions of Hinduism and Christianity; there are some meeting points that present an interesting harmony. This blend of various cooking styles and influences is what makes Goan food so unique among the cuisines of India.