Goan Food for 


Thought


Iris C F Gomes


Goan cuisine is oft referred to as an East meets West amalgamation, but we fail to consider the influence of the various dynasties, such as the Kadambas, the Chalukyas and the Mauryas, that have ruled Goa in the time preceding the 451 years of Portuguese occupation. There are the culinary specialties of Daman and Diu to take into account, in addition to the Africans and Arabs interacting with the locals.


Goa has benefited from epicurean contributions from different continents. France introduced us to some types of wine. From Brazil we obtained the cashew fruit, from Portugal we have olives and olive oil, bacalhau (dried codfish), tinned tuna and sardines, chouriços, marmalade, butter, potato; fruits such as avocado, papaya, guava and mango. The chouriços we have now are a spicier and hotter version of the original sausage brought in by the Portuguese. Potato, for one, was an advantage to those who could not afford meat or wished to make up for the scarcity of meat, as it was used as a filler to increase the quantity of a dish and satisfy hunger.


Africans brought in what was referred to as ‘black gold’, that is peppercorns, in the south of India. The other states of India contributed by way of snacks such as puran poli before the Portuguese rule began. The Arab states gave us dry fruits, dates and rose water. The Chinese supplied us with condiments, medicinal roots and porcelain dishes. From the Americas came chilli, which is ironically not a favoured ingredient in the USA today.


These are the external influences. However on an individual level our food habits are moulded by our status, caste, class, religion, wealth, location, etc.

All said and done, the most important element of cuisine is the nutrition it provided to the community it was developed in. Over the years there have been changes made to Goan dishes that have altered their beneficial attributes. Saar (mixed vegetable soup), khatkhate (vegetable and lentil curry), kokum (curry as well as the digestive), prawn curry, caldo verde (Portuguese green soup), prawn balchao, fish caldinho, fish recheado and so on, are some of the dishes passed down to us. Then there is beef assado (beef roast), pork assado (pork roast), both made with meat which were sliced and fried earlier; vindaloo, ambot tik, bebinca, etc. Characteristic local food items and ingredients in Goa are the red rice, which is a parboiled rice; coconut vinegar, made from toddy, lemon berry, hog plum (ambade), bimbli, dried fish, pork sausages, and palm jaggery.


Considering that Goans have begun to lead increasingly sedentary lives, the calorie content of the dishes we are used to has become detrimental to our health. Earlier, those engaged in professions such as fishing and farming would consume the same dishes, in the same quantity, and the menial labour they did would not allow them to gain weight.


Of the vegetables we consume in Goa, there are leafy vegetables, such as amaranth (tambdi bhaji), which have calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. One serving of these will ensure your diet is supported by these essential nutrients. Sweet vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, fresh corn and onions give us vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.


Of the vegetables we consume in Goa, there are leafy vegetables, such as amaranth (tambdi bhaji), which have calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. One serving of these will ensure your diet is supported by these essential nutrients. Sweet vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, fresh corn and onions give us vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Of the vegetables we consume in Goa, there are leafy vegetables, such as amaranth (tambdi bhaji), which have calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. One serving of these will ensure your diet is supported by these essential nutrients. Sweet vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, fresh corn and onions give us vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.


Certain varieties of bamboo shoots are edible but we tend to disregard these in favour of other vegetables because we believe we are already getting our required nutrition. Nevertheless, it is wise to expose your body to a variety of foods even if the nutrition levels are relatively the same, since individual nutritional elements will be in different amounts and combinations. Where bamboo shoots are concerned, some caution must be exercised as cyanogenic glycosides are present in them, which releases hydrogen cyanide and so they must be cooked well to eliminate the chemical.


Dudhi flowers make an excellent vegetable dish and the juice extracted from them acts as an antibiotic. Cucumbers have phytochemicals that protect us from illnesses. Bitter gourd and ridge gourd help in lowering blood sugar levels in diabetics and are also detoxicants. These vegetables should be given to children to build their immunity. Drumsticks are another delicious, slightly tedious to prepare vegetable, which is rich in iron. People need to avoid overcooking vegetables and losing the goodness that they hold.


Among the fruits we have, berries are good cancer fighters, mangoes are full of vitamin A and bananas are known for their rich potassium content and sugar which helps brain activity. Green bananas are in particular given to diabetic patients because the bananas have resistant starch which helps increase insulin sensitivity.


Of the cereals, rice has been used in many different ways in Goa. It is eaten boiled, or ground and made into a paste to make patoleos and paan pole. It is used to make rice payas or rice kheer. A rice soup made of ground rice (something like kanji) is given to TB patients and those suffering from lung problems. Nachni, or ragi, is an important cereal for its iron and calcium content and its energy boosting ability. It is particularly recommended for working women.


The kankonn bread was the original bread of Goa. Other bread like the pão was brought in by the Portuguese. Podreacho bol, which is a sweet bread, has become a rarity these days.

Bebinca and doce come under the category of Goan delicacies but must be eaten in limited quantities owing to amount of sugar and fat used to prepare them.


We can obtain protein from eggs, however country eggs, which are far more nutritious than store bought eggs, are hard to find and expensive when available. Though protein can be found in meat, preference should be given to fish which has polyunsaturated fatty acids as well as protein.


Fats are essential for our body, as are other nutrients, but they must be consumed sparingly. Butter, margarine and lard should be eschewed in favour of oils. Coconut oil for one is beneficial in lowering the risk of heart disease because it increases HDL (high-density lipoprotein) that is the good cholesterol which prevents the build-up of plaque in blood vessels.


The herbs that we use are immensely beneficial. For example, coriander is good for anaemia, and curry leaves build immunity and contribute to better functioning of the heart.


Wild mushrooms, called olmi, are extremely nutritious but have become expensive and rare to find in Goa. Vinegar is a common ingredient in Goan Catholic cooking and its acetic acid lends it its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. It may also play a role in controlling blood sugar in diabetes.


Traditional drinks like orchata, a drink made from almonds, serve as energy drinks; kokum has garcinol, which can reduce the risk of cancer, reduce cholesterol, etc; and panna, the mango drink, is a digestive and cools the body.


Over the years, Western influence has overwhelmed our Goan diet and healthy options like kanji (rice gruel) for breakfast have been replaced with cornflakes, and bacon and eggs and the like. Aside from this, food products have become substandard, thus cheating the customer of nutritional advantages. It is time to go back to the past and rediscover our traditional foods and drinks and the authentic methods for producing them. We will reap huge benefits in our nutrition and general health as well as enjoy our diet.

(This article is based on the lecture Healthy Nutrition and Goan Food Habits: Past and Present given by Valentina D’Souza, during the History Hour at the Xavier Centre of Historical Research. Valentina D’Souza is a lecturer in Food Science and Nutrition at the National Institute for Hospitality Management (IHM), Porvorim)