Gastronomy, the Traditional Goan Foodie Way
Iris C F Gomes
Traditional Goan Foodies is one of the many culinary groups on Facebook, with Leanne Mascarenhas, Karen Coutinho Ahmed, Erica Valles and David D’Souza as the administrators of the group. Erica juggles motherhood duties with administration, while Leanne is in finance, Karen is employed with Toronto’s largest publication the Toronto Star, and David is involved in the information technology sector. The group, which was established in 2015, boasts of over 90,000 members and numbers keep growing under the watchful eye of its administrators, among whom David plays a pivotal role.
‘Goan food needed a “Goan only” platform, and that is what we made our primary mission. Right from the get-go, it was never about getting a higher number of members. For us, it was the content that mattered,’ says David. There are other food groups dedicated to Goan food, but most are unable to adhere to their agenda strictly and are constantly losing their way. David and the other administrators were unceremoniously booted out of another food group on Facebook, which they were administrating under a senior administrator, only for trying to maintain a ‘Goan only’ space. They were even warned by administrators of other groups that it would be impossible to keep to the Goan food concept without veering in the direction of different cuisines. Nevertheless, Traditional Goan Foodies (TGF) has proved them all wrong. It may have been a slow start, but as David says, ‘It’s evident now to one and all that our plan was a good one and that Goan food deserved its own platform. Our Goan only focus is what has set us apart from most of the other groups out there, even those dealing with Goan cuisine.’
Extensive work has gone into saving the myriads of recipes received by the group. Working with Facebook’s limitations, the administrators have not just allowed the unimpeded growth of the group, but have made the older submissions on the group accessible at any time to the members as well. TGF has had these recipes painstakingly and carefully categorised in albums. David says, ‘Our biggest strength though I think is in the nurturing environment that we have created in the group.’ Members are not allowed to criticise or judge dishes harshly. Guidance and encouragement is provided so that members can learn and improve and continue sharing their recipes. ‘We are like a large family that is helping each other grow’, he says. Although there have been times when members have left in anger or have been banned for not being authentic and being overly critical, it is but a necessary requirement of development and progress. ‘The love and support among members is something that is wonderful to watch, especially when looking at it from somebody that has been part of it right from the start,’ says David.
Managing TGF is a challenging endeavour since it has many elements to it and constant monitoring is required. The other administrators chip in when they have time away from their familial and professional duties, but David is a perennial presence. He attributes this to his passion and commitment for the group. ‘Failure is not an option!’ he says. There are people who take grievance to the fact that other administrators do not take on more responsibilities. However, David clarifies, ‘I don't mind. TGF is largely my baby, and as the “job” is voluntary, there's no requirement of the other administrators to do more. They do what they can, and I'm fine with it.’
With no formal training in cooking, David’s passion stems from a childhood love of food preparation, which he appeased by first cooking simple dishes like omelettes and obtaining tips and recipes from relatives. He would try the dishes out on his friends during his college days and later on his family members. ‘Having my daughter was the next step in my culinary journey. I wanted to make sure she had exposure to Goan cuisine, but I didn't want her dealing with our levels of spice. I had to tailor and break down a lot of our regular recipes in order to make them more kid friendly,’ says David. These recipes became a hit with friends, who were soon clamouring for more, and so David continued to grow in his culinary experience, discovering and learning every step of the way.
David’s wife is a professional pastry chef, who does cook at home but prefers baking. She has no problem handing the kitchen over to David, and when she does cook, it is to offer other epicurean options as David leans towards a Goan palette for now. Besides Goan food, the family enjoys a variety of culinary delights ranging from Indian, Thai, Continental, BBQ, etc.
As many of the members of TGF belong to the Goan diaspora, original ingredients necessary for the dishes are not always available to them. For example, you would not find a spice like tirphal in Canada. Using alternative spices can change the flavour. It is a process or experimenting and making alterations based on what works and what does not that can bring you as close as possible to the authentic Goan flavour. The size of the ingredients is important as well. One onion in Canada would be equivalent to two or three smaller Indian onions. David says, ‘This is why I cook with my phone and take pictures of the ingredients and spices used in my recipes. It gives folks an idea of how much of each ingredient they need to add based on where they may be.’
David, of course, has Goan cuisine, with its sumptuous beef roulade, chouriҫo, beef stew, pork amsol, sorak and so many more lip-smacking dishes, on top of his personal list of favourites. He says, ‘It's such a lovely blend of Portuguese and Hindu cultures. While each of the cultures have their own dishes, there are some recipes that are a fusion of both cultures. We are blessed to have a vast array of dishes at our fingertips.’