Goa’s Culinary History a retracing – done by late chef par excellence Fernando Costa – Fernandos Nostalgia Restaurant
As reported in the Navhind Times (Panaroma) 26-08-2012
…done by late chef par excellence Fernando Costa, in which he has theorised, dissected and presented Goa’s culinary evolution, even clearly discussing the manner in which Goan Catholic and Saraswat cuisine developed individually; everything traced in the light of the society of those times
Goan cuisine, used in the right proportions, has a distinct combination of four different tastes. Here I would like to quote a dear old friend, a staunch supporter and a diehard fan of my culinary endeavours, Mr Vivian Coutinho, a very good cook himself, and who is unfortunately no more. He has rightly said that the four different tastes comprise of four S’s -“Sourness, Spiciness, Saltiness and Sweetness”. Whether cooked in Hindu Saraswath or Catholic homes, these four tastes make the essence of every Goan dish. Whilst only the usage of the first varies, the others remain constant for both the type of cuisines. The Catholics mainly use Coconut vinegar to impart sharpness to their dishes as an ingredient, besides, sometimes using chinch, bhirand, otombachim solam, bimblam, ambade, limboo, etc. The Saraswath community rely on all the others aforesaid, except for vinegar, since they are of the belief that there are living organisms in it, which is actually true.
Another distinct feature that distinguishes both cuisines is the use of artificial taste enhancers. Even today, whilst browsing through a few culinary books on Goan cuisine and much more so, whilst watching, a number of local cooks at their work, one will come across the usage of Maggie cubes, for the purpose, of imparting extra taste to it. The Saraswath cuisine has none of it and relies on a good ‘baghar’ to obtain the desired result, thus proving that it really has not been much influenced by the dominance of later external cultures.
Though the Catholic Cuisine was not directly influenced to a large extent by the 450-years of Portuguese rule in Goa, it perhaps was the ingenuity of the Goan members of their culinary team to reproduce traditional Portuguese dishes here in Goa by the usage of locally available raw material that helped create a whole set of new dishes slightly varied from their original tastes like Feijoada, Sarapatel, Cabidela, Vindalho, the Goan sausage, Arroz doce, Bebinca , Fios de Ovos, etc. Besides some basic raw materials, the usage of coconut vinegar for wine and the green chilly differentiated the tastes in Goan Catholic cuisine from the Portuguese variety. It has to be remembered here that even though there was trade in chillies, etc, earlier to the Portuguese, it was they who were the ones who brought and taught the usage of chilly, turmeric and black pepper to Goans through their contacts with the upper classes of Goa.
Portuguese being mainly carnivorous, and fishtarians, Goa suited them perfectly to indulge in their food habits. But, what could have come as a block in their day-to-day culinary activities is the non availability of kitchen helpers, and it is here that it came as a blessing in disguise for the large number of unemployed locals to work and learn and improvise on their preparations. There was also a section of the local upper class, who mingled and partied with the higher echelons of the Portuguese and shared our culture and food with them whilst at the same time absorbed and learnt the finer nuances of their cuisine. The Goan upper classes, who had the advantage of closeness with the Portuguese, influenced Goan cuisine to a large extent, especially in the variety of ways of usage of the prime product – coconut. The locals, poor as they were, generally used the grated coconut in their preparations as ‘Soimirem’, but the upper classes taught them how to use the extract, thus upgrading the product quality. It was these locals, who helped the upper classes prepare the food, who actually took it to the masses during weddings and other festivities. Goans were and still are famous for banqueting at the drop of a hat. Any excuse will do to throw a party. It was such occasions that gave the local help an able platform to showcase their learnings from their Portuguese masters and the Goan upper classes. The expertise of the Goan upper classes, to a large extent, remained somewhat indoors, confined to their homes due to their limited public exposure, only among their close circle of friends, and due to their non involvement in day-to-day activities in the affairs of the middle income group. It was the local help, and we have had in the last generation some excellent chefs known as ‘Mestas’, who in their younger days worked as kitchen help for the Portuguese, in the persona of mesta Santan, mesta Pascoal, mesta Sebastiao, etc, lady mestin like Ms Magdalena (Magdu) and Ana Maria, who incidentally are no more but left a deep imprint on everybody’s mind with their culinary wizardry, and who dished out not only Goan delights, but also exposed their knowledge in Portuguese cuisine successfully. After the liberation of Goa these Chefs and a few others were so much in demand that their services were sought and they were booked at least a year in advance. With their demise it is their wives and close family members who carry on the task of showcasing this form of cuisine. Unfortunately, somewhat uneducated as they were, there was no written matter left behind by them for posterity. But lately fine efforts have been made by a few personalities like Ms Carlota Mesquita Correia, Ms Ana Maria, Ms Joyce Fernandes, Dona Berta Menezes Pereira, Ms Gilda Mendonca, Dona Maria Fernanda Noronha da Costa e Sousa, Ms Maria Teresa Menezes, Dona Lourdes Bravo da Costa, among others, to have as much possible in black and white for the benefit of the present generation and posterity.
Goan Catholics, besides their regular staple food of rice along with a variety of curries and tondak in the form of sea food, pickles and chutneys are also big time meat eaters and one is awestruck to note the large number of preparations of pork, chicken, beef and mutton. Goan Catholics, though not necessarily pure vegetarians in their food habits, also ate vegetables and there are a number of vegetable preparations like mergol , sukhem, ros, caldinho, etc, but in a combination with seafood to enhance the product taste. The mass of Goan populace continued eating their regular meals made up of traditional and unchanged Goan cuisine whilst only a few belonging to the higher strata made use of the fused Portuguese dishes to which they had free access.
Thus we can infer that as far as Goan Catholic traditional food went there was limited influence from the Portuguese regime except in the display of food in chafing dishes and self service in banqueting, the usage of spices and the coconut, potato and tomato, and the use of additives or taste enhancers in form of Maggie cubes, etc. Here, the Saraswaths continued to churn out their bulk produce in their traditional style by the use of large vessels directly to portion individual quantities at the banqueting arrangement, which is a long white narrow cloth spread on the ground, with banana leaves as plates and still continue to do so, and remained aloof to the usage of taste enhancers.
(These are the views of late chef Fernando Costa (Nostalgia) on Hindu Saraswath and Catholic cuisine of Goa)