Goan Food: Although Indian food is found almost everywhere around the world today, Goan cuisine is a completely different subset and few Goan dishes are seen on typical Indian menus in the UK, USA etc. Although one of the most famous Goan dishes, vindaloo, might be well known, there are many others that are harder to find. In this foodie guide, what to eat in Goa, discover some of the best Goan cuisines!
There’s not too many big cities around the world that don’t have a couple of Indian restaurants offering a selection of curries, naans, and poppadoms. But did you know that, until very recently, the food most of us know as ‘Indian’ in western countries was normally North Indian cuisine – to be more specific, Punjabi or Bangladeshi?
Goan Cuisine: Brief History & Essential Ingredients
Goan cuisine is a rich combination of its history and environment. Being located in a tropical part of India, right along the coastline, you’ll find a lot of seafood, rice, and coconuts. Its position on the Indian Sub-Continent, of course, leads to a tradition of curries and complicated combinations of a multitude of spices.
Goa’s colonial past, ruled by the Portuguese has created an exciting blending of east and west in the cuisine. On the whole, you’ll find curry style dishes, some of which have a Portuguese twist – such as using pork and vinegar. Some of which seem closer to south Indian cooking. Other Goan dishes are quite clearly adaptations of traditional Portuguese dishes using local Goan ingredients – such as Feijoada (A Pork & Bean Stew), and Goan sausage (Very similar to Portuguese Chourico).
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Essential Goan Ingredients
To understand exactly what to eat in Goa, first learn about the ingredients that lend themselves to creating a local taste of Goa. These essential ingredients will be referenced throughout this Goan Food Guide.
Coconut. Coconut milk, pulp and any other way of using coconut flesh, is an essential part of Goan Cuisine.
Coconut Vinegar. Vinegar is made from what is easily abundant… Coconuts. It forms the sour element for a huge number of Goan dishes. Coconut vinegar is seen as a substitute for wine in most Portuguese influenced dishes.
Cashews. The Portuguese introduced cashews to Goa. Cashew paste is now an important element in Goan Food, and even the cashew flowers are used to make the local Goan spirit, Feni.
Kokum is a fruit related to the Mangosteen family. It has a distinctive sweet and sour flavor. It is often sun-dried. It may be used in cooking or made into a juice.
Recheado Masala. A red Goan spice mix used to flavor curries and stuffings. The word “Racheiado” is Portuguese for “stuffing”, and the spice mix eventually gained its name due to how spices were used to make the stuffing.
Tamarind is another tropical ingredient that can add tartness to Goan Cuisine. It’s a typical south Indian ingredient.
Triphala or team seeds. A type of berry with a slight resemblance in culinary character to Sichuan peppercorns.
Jaggery. A concentrated, dense block of sugars made from a mix of cane sugar and palm sap from the local date palms in Goa. The sugars are boiled together to remove moisture. Then sold as a solid block of sweetness used as a culinary sweetener.
Goan Dishes: Curries
Some of the most popular and famous Goan Dishes are Curries. Spices blended with a liquid or pureed base to make a gravy. Each curry then contains either meat, fish/seafood, vegetables or legumes – or a mix of these.
A spicy mix of vinegar, lots of garlic, chili & local spices.
This dish is a favorite on menus all over Goa and is even a favorite in the famous English curry scene (although it’s a much hotter dish in England). The name Vindaloo has some interesting origins with Vin – referring to “vinho”, meaning wine in Portuguese and Alho, meaning garlic in Portuguese, and some believe Vindalho is the original pronunciation. Others claim that with the addition of potato (Aloo in Hindi), which is common in most recipes, we get Vind-aloo which could be a corruption of vinegar and potatoes.
However, the Portuguese etymology seems more likely given the history of the region. With very little availability of wine in Goa, vinegar was an ideal substitute. In Portugal Carne de vinha d’alhos – meat in wine and garlic – was already a popular dish before colonization of Goa. Add a few Goan spices and you have a local adaptation of the Portuguese classic.